Monday, October 6, 2008

Crostata di Marmellata Tradizionale (Traditional Jam Tart)

This week Hippocrene Cooks features entries from Madeline Armillotta and Diane Nocentini the authors of Tastes from a Tuscan Kitchen, which brings the rich flavors of Tuscany to the everyday American kitchen. In our first entry, Diane imparts some tips for preparing a delicious dessert:

The recipe I have chosen to share with our readers is a timeless classic, the Crostata di Marmellata Tradizionale, or Traditional Jam Tart. I have always had a weakness for desserts and I chose this one mainly for selfish reasons. It is one of my favorite desserts, and I also enjoy the preparation. It gives me a real sense of home when I set about baking a tart. Combining the flour and butter, kneading the dough, rolling it out, spreading the jam, decorating the top, and finally the smell that emanates from the oven while it bakes. This may sound a bit strange, but I find the whole process very relaxing. Another reason is that I connect this dessert with the word festa (party), as all celebratory meals in Tuscany include two or three mouthwatering tarts on the dessert table. From baptisms to weddings, or even simple family gatherings, it is the dessert most commonly served. There are several reasons behind the popularity of crostata: it is a wholesome example of genuine Tuscan cuisine, it is delicious, attractive, and utilizes the seasonal fruits of the region. Homemade preserves are frequently used, but a high quality store-bought variety is a fine substitute. Blackberry, apricot and strawberry jam are the most popular varieties selected by Tuscans. My mother-in-law makes her own blackberry jam, and I can personally testify that the resulting tarts are divine. Before you start, ensure that you have soft butter. I take the butter out of the fridge the night before making this tart. I work with my hands and combine the butter and flour until it is crumbly, and then I add the remaining ingredients (except for the jam). As the recipe specifies, you must allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes, prior to rolling it out. To save time, I usually press the dough directly into the flan dish. If you are left with any excess dough, the following recipe includes a “variation” for making excellent cookies.

Makes one 10½-inch tart.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten

¾ cup butter, softened
grated zest of one lemon
2 cups jam

Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add all the other ingredients except the jam to the bowl, and working with your hands, gently incorporate them. For best results, try not to knead the dough more than necessary. Cover and let the dough rest for a ½ hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Flour a pastry board and roll out two-thirds of the dough until until it is 1/3-inch thick and will fit a 10½-inch diameter flan dish. Line the flan dish with the pastry. Fill the pastry base with the jam topping. Roll out the remaining dough and cut into long strips. Crisscross these strips over the jam to create a lattice effect. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

This pastry also makes excellent cookies. Roll out the dough, until it is 1/3-inch thick, and using cookie cutters, cut into your desired shapes. They can be decorated with pine nuts, almonds, raisins, chocolate morsels, or blobs of jam. Bake in a preheated oven (350°F) for 10 to 12 minutes. Kids love them, especially if they participate in the decorating!

Thanks to Diane for the wonderful pictures!

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