The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.
Back in late October, I decided to join the Daring Bakers community because I’d seen several other people doing it and having lots of fun trying out new recipes. They tend to choose things that are a bit more complicated than I would normally bake without some sort of impetus, so I thought it’d be a great way to push myself into learning different techniques. After being accepted, I waited impatiently to find out what my first challenge would be, then went out and enthusiastically bought the ingredients on our first grocery trip after the announcement.
I decided to serve my crostata with the rest of my full Thanksgiving dinner spread on the 27th of that month, made all the components beforehand, and was uploading pictures to start working on a draft of my blog post. Then, my laptop choked on me and began its slow decline into oblivion. What should have been a time of happy holiday celebration because a desperate race to back up data and rescue files from a dying machine. The Thanksgiving dinner turned out wonderfully, by the way, but the several posts following this will detail more of what happened on that end.
Anyway, I spent the next few weeks mostly offline, occasionally sneaking in email time on T’s computer but not really having the tools I needed to accomplish much more. Happily, my shiny new Samsung netbook arrived earlier this week and now, after installing all the necessary programs, I am back online. So that little drama is why this challenge post is a few weeks behind schedule. Talk about showing up late to your first day of school.
I used Simona’s pastry cream recipe for the filling and made the rest using our Daring Bakers’ prompt for the challenge. Recipe quoted below comes from there.
I started off by making the pasta frolla base, which needed to be refrigerated for a while before it could be shaped to the pie tin. The ingredients list consisted of 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar (I used the powdered sugar), 1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt, 1 stick [8 tablespoons/4 oz. /115 g] cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces), grated zest of half a lemon, 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk (lightly beaten in a small bowl).
Using the food processor, I pulsed together the sugar, flour, salt and lemon zest. Then I added in the chunks of butter and pulsed a few more times to mix it. The texture of the mix afterwards was coarse and sort of crumbly, but still very moist. I then dumped the food processor contents onto a clean work surface, making it into a mound. I made a well in the middle of the flour mixture and poured the pre-beaten eggs into it. The recipe recommends saving some egg for glazing the crust later on, but I wasn’t really doing any decorative baked strips on top so skipped that part. Add the lemon zest into this mixture as well.
The recipe says to use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, then switch to fingertips. I mashed it all together with my spatula for the majority of the process, then rolled into a ball with my hands. Knead gently until it starts coming together and acting like dough. I stuck the dough into a large plastic bag and smashed it as flat as possible, to make it easier to roll out later. The dough should chill for at least two hours in the fridge — I just threw mine in overnight.
Next, I made the custard. This also had to sit overnight, so I started working on it after the pasta frolla went into the fridge. The ingredients included 2 extra-large eggs, 1/3 cup sugar (65 g), 500 ml milk (slightly more than 2 cups), 3 strips of lemon peel about 3″ long and 1/2″ wide (using a potato peeler to cut the strips makes it easier to avoid cutting the white part of the lemon), and 3 tablespoons pastry (or unbleached regular) flour (25 g).
First, the milk went into the pan with the lemon peel, warming up on low to infuse the lemony flavor. It should be well below boiling point, to avoid compromising the dairy.
Next come the eggs and the sugar.
Beat the eggs with the sugar in a bowl until it’s all bubbly. Sift the flour into this mixture and beat again to incorporate. Mix in just one ladleful of the warm lemony milk to temper the egg mixture. Once that’s mixed, slowly pour in the rest of the milk and mix with a wooden spoon. Why use wooden? Well, the main reason I prefer them is because they don’t transfer heat and are a bit gentler on bowls. However, it does seem that the vast majority of baking recipes I see specify wooden spoons, and I have yet to find any scientifically backed reason behind it. Some people claim metal affects the flavor of milk and eggs. Never noticed that myself, but I suppose it’s a possibility.
Pour your cream mixture back into the pan on low heat, stirring at least every couple of minutes. You’re going to have to be patient on this one — as far as stir-tastic cooking excitement goes, it’s right up there with, say, making risotto. The froth on the surface will disappear completely after several minutes and the cream will start getting thicker. Slowly. In the bottom left picture, you can see that the spoon is starting to leave a slight trail as I stir, showing that it’s thickening. Stir almost continuously from this point on, unless you want a clumpy custard. When the cream reaches boiling temperature and is getting pretty thick, cook it for a couple of minutes. Then, remove the pan from heat and quickly fish out the lemon peel.
Immediately after that, place the pan in a cold water bath. In my case, I decided to just take it out on the balcony and stick it in some snow. Why fill the sink when nature provides, eh? Stir the cream while it’s cooling to evenly bring down the temperature and keep a film from forming over the top.
Once it’s stopped steaming, pour it into a covered container and stick it in the fridge next to your pasta frolla to firm up a bit overnight. Yes, it’s as silky as it looks, with the perfect amount of lemony tang and slight sweetness. I had to stop myself from eating it straight out of the pan, but I might just make up a separate batch for that purpose later on.
The next morning, I rolled out the pasta frolla for my crust. I borrowed a trick learned from cookie-making several years ago and rolled it out between two sheets of parchment paper. You can get it to any thickness you want and it leaves absolutely no mess behind on the table. Preheat the oven to 350ºF [180ºC]. Once the crust is even and can cover your entire pie tin, drape it on and mold it to the sides of the tin.
Trim off the extra crust with a pair of scissors. I rolled the leftover dough back up in a ball and refrigerated it again — it can be used to make tasty sugar cookies later! I poked some holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork to let it aerate a little during baking. Then, I weighted down the insides of the crust with rice and blind baked it for 20 minutes. Some people use dry beans or pie weights, but rice is what I always have the most of so it’s what I use. If you only bake the rice once, you can still cook it and eat it as you normally would. If you do a lot of pie-making, though, you might just want to set aside a batch of beans or rice to reuse for that purpose alone. After the 20 minutes, I removed the rice and the top layer of parchment and let the crust bake for another 5 minutes until the edges were turning a light golden color. Remove from oven and let pie shell cool completely on the counter before filling.
The assembly of the tart happened on Thanksgiving morning, so I forgot to take step-by-step photos in the bustle of preparation. I filled the baked pie shell with the pastry cream from the previous evening, then we covered the top with fresh fruit. I had the lovely cimorene and waxjism over as guests and they were extremely helpful in taming the culinary chaos. Wax peeled and sliced apples like a red-headed tornado and Cim (above) deftly arranged them into a pleasingly symmetrical artistic display. We added some fresh lingonberries for color and then popped it back in the fridge to sit until dinnertime.
Some additional notes, then. This tart is meant to be served cool, but not cold. The recipe recommended taking it out of the fridge half an hour before serving to let it reach proper temperature. It is also best eaten the same day it is prepared.
How did these suggestions stack up with what really happened? Well, in our rush to warm up all the other dishes and the pumpkin pie, the fact that this was a cold dessert momentarily slipped my mind and it ended up being popped into the oven to warm up with the pumpkin pie. Surprisingly, it did not fare that badly when it was served. Okay, the custard cream ended up being a bit more gooey than it should have been, but otherwise it was still fruity, lightly sweet and a generally tasty (and tasteful) dessert. It actually ended up disappearing faster than the pumpkin pie, since it was a much lighter dessert and I think most people were too full to tackle a dense slice of pumpkin pie after the several courses they’d just been through. Since there were no leftovers to test the next day, I cannot say if it was any worse being eaten the next morning. I’m guessing that if you ever make this for a gathering, you will also have a similarly woeful lack of leftovers. Mmm, pie.