When I started to cook for a living, baking was not my preference. Absorbed as I was with herbs and vegetables, working with sweet ingredients was an absolute afterthought. My desserts were simple and bowls of fresh fruit were invariably at the center of the table. In the summer, I topped fresh fruit (especially strawberries) with Marsala and honey mascarpone. In colder seasons, oven-baked fruits and homemade biscotti were an effortless alternative to cake.
My shortcrust pastry efforts failed on a regular basis, thus confirming an old bias that cooks are generally skilled in either the sweet or the savory. One day, I discovered the beauty of patience and of flour!
The process of mixing cool finely ground grains with cold butter and the richness of egg yolks became a fascination as well as an early morning ritual (because baking somehow still turns out best when it’s my first task of the day . . .)
Below you will find my recipe for sweet crumbly pastry, the type I like to use when making a marmalade crostata, a fresh fruit galette or simply delicious shortbread-like biscuits. It is a variation on a recipe I love from Emiko Davies‘ beautiful Tuscan cookbook Florentine.
- 240 grams unbleached organic wheat flour
- 120 grams unsalted organic butter
- 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk from organic sources
- 30 grams of raw cane sugar
- the zest of two organic lemons
- a smidgen of sea salt
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Scrub the lemons in hot water, then grate the bright yellow aromatic lemon peel with a zester. Slice the butter into thin pieces and drop it into the flour. (In the summer, I put the pieces of cut butter in the freezer for about 10 minutes before making the pastry.) Rub the butter and lemon zest gently with both hands through the flour into coarse pale yellow crumbs. Use as little pressure as possible while rubbing the flour and butter together, as this is one of the essentials to a nice light crust.
In a separate bowl whisk the whole egg, egg yolk and raw cane sugar together with a fork and pour it into the mixing bowl. Incorporate the egg mixture through the flour until all the ingredients come together and a smooth, pale yellow dough forms. Knead the dough into a ball with the gentle pressure of your hands. Wrap it with parchment paper and chill the dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Cut a piece of baking paper into a circle large enough to cover the bottom and edges of a tart form of 18 centimeters in width. Shape the baking paper to fit, folding it into pleats around the edges. Remove the pre-shaped baking paper from the tart form and flatten it slightly. The chilled dough will be rolled out directly onto the paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Cut the pastry in two. Set one half aside for the lattice work to a crostata or pie. Then proceed with the second half of the dough.
Dust the rolling pin and the parchment paper with flour. Press the dough gently into an even disk with the palm of your hands on the pre-cut baking paper. Shape the dough into a flat circle with the rolling pin by moving outwards with pin from the center of the dough to the top of the baking paper, from the center to the bottom, followed by quick rolling movements from the center to the left edge and finally, from center to the right edge of the baking paper. (The less a dough is rolled, the lighter the crust will be).
Lift up the rolled out dough along with the baking paper and place it in the middle of the tart form. Pinch any extra dough into nice pleats around the edges. Roll out the second half of the dough as described above. Cut the dough into even ribbons with a knife. Chill the rolled out pastry for 15 minutes in the fridge. (This helps the dough to bake golden brown). The sweet and crumbly crust is now ready to be filled with something special and freshly made, like fresh fruit jam, homemade or simple oven-baked fruits.
In Italian pasticcerie pastry shops and bakeries, a sweet crumble pastry filled with apricot or black berry jam is a simple tradition. Almost every coffee bar arranges neat little squares of jam-filled crostata next to their assortment of sweet brioche. It is to my mind the perfect and more luxurious replacement to buttered toast and jam.
Recipes for simple jams as well are on their way and soon to be published on the blog, with relative links noted here once they are done ! Meanwhile, if you can find some rhubarb, make this strawberry and rhubarb jam!