Hello from the rolling Montefeltro hills! The verdict so far is that things are blissfully as they always are here: lazy, sunny, delicious, mosquito-filled.
We have not done much since getting here. Which is sort of the whole point, of course. There have been a few dinners with friends, an excursion to the beach or two, and there has been beer with lunch and dinner almost every day so far (we are nothing if not livin'-on-the-edgers).
Also, there has been a lot of crostata. Crostata is the very first thing I ever learned to bake. For a long while, it was the only thing I ever baked. It is, to explain, a jam-filled tart of sorts, except the dough is sort of cakey as well as crusty. It is eaten for breakfast and for dessert. It can be filled with any jam you like, though we are partial to sour ones like plum or sour cherry. A grade-schooler can master it and it requires nothing besides a countertop and a baking pan. I make one every couple of days since that's about how long they last.
In the grand tradition of Italian desserts, crostata is a little dry and almost aggressively simple. I would urge you to resist attempts to fancy it up.
I suppose it will be the first thing I teach Hugo how to bake one day. He is showing more and more interest in what I get up to in the kitchen these days. I plop him on the counter next to me and he watches as I knead pizza dough or helps measure oats when it's time for oatmeal. For now, though, he's content just eating crostata. And I'm happy to still be the one tasked with making it.
A few notes on the recipe:
1. I've given you both metric and US measurements, but I haven't tested it with the US ones yet.
2. If you have access to Italian "00" flour, you can use that instead of all-purpose. If you don't, no sweat.
3. The baking powder here in Italy is conveniently flavored with vanilla. If you happen to have access to Pane Degli Angeli baking powder, you need half a packet. If not, use 3/4 teaspoon (8 grams) of regular baking powder and then add either a spoonful of vanilla sugar or of vanilla paste/extract.
4. The eggs here are smaller than in the US, so I've noted "medium" eggs. If you can't find those, you can use large but you may need to use a bit more flour as you go.
5. The butter must be very soft to be able to be quickly incorporated by hand into the dough. Let it sit out overnight before making the crostata.
6. My favorite jams in crostata are sour ones. Sour cherry, plum and apricot are all great choices. But you should feel free to choose whatever jam you like. You can even divide the crostata in half and fill it two different jams for variety. As for other fillings, there is such a thing as Nutella crostata, just FYI.
Makes one 9-inch tart
200 grams / 1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
50 grams / scant 1/4 cup sugar
8 grams / 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract if not using Pane Degli Angeli baking powder
2 medium eggs, room temperature
50 grams / 3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
About 1/2 jar sour cherry or plum jam
1. Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F. Dump the flour onto your work space and make a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt, sugar and baking powder into the well, making sure to sift out any lumps in the latter. Add the grated lemon peel and vanilla flavoring, if using.
2. Crack the two eggs into the well and, using your finger, stir them gently to break up and start incorporating into the dry ingredients. Then add the very soft butter and continue to stir until a rough dough starts to come together. Knead gently until it is smooth and uniform. Try not to overwork or add too much additional flour, but don't overthink things either; this is not pie crust.
3. Pull off a quarter of the dough and set aside. Pat the remaining dough evenly into a 9-inch pan and make sure to push the edges of the dough about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan to create a crust.
4. Spoon the jam into the crust and spread out evenly. Pinch off small pieces of the remaining ball of dough and roll them out into strips of varying length that you lay on top of the jam to create a lattice top.
5. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tart is browned and the jam is bubbling. Let cool on a rack for an hour before turning out of the pan. Keeps for several days at room temperature.