Easier than Pie — Apple Crostata

Apple CrostataA couple of weeks ago, the Culinary Enthusiast and I headed out to his favourite apple farm, about 30 minutes south of here, to pick apples, enjoy some pie and coffee, and generally have a wholesome good time in the fresh fall air. We picked Macs and Royal Galas, loading pounds and pounds into the car. Many of these were destined for his workplace, but we kept a good supply for ourselves.

Ours is a match made in apple heaven, as we each enjoy crunching our way through many in a day. We take them with us on car rides and motorcycle trips, to stave off hunger pangs along the way. Within commonality, there is diversity: he prefers Red Delicious, Royal Galas and Pink Crisps, and I generally go for McIntosh, Empires and Granny Smith for eating out of hand. For pies and crisps, I also add Ida Reds and Spies to the list, and like to use a mix of two or three varieties.

Anyway, back to the story …. We arrived back home from the apple farm to the wonderful aroma of a beef stew that I had made that morning and put into the slow cooker. This was one of the first cool weekends of autumn, and I was definitely getting into cold weather cooking mode. Of course, with apples on the mind, I thought about making a pie. After all, apple pie and fall just go hand in hand. But, time was getting short so I decided to make an apple crostata instead of a traditional double crust pie.

I used the recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties! for the crust. For the filling, I didn’t have oranges in the house, so used some lemon juice and zest,  plus freshly grated nutmeg instead of ground allspice (recipes are just suggestions, right?).

The advantage of a crostata is that it’s a free-form tart, requiring less rolling and less time, but resulting in a charmingly shaped pie that’s a little different in shape each time you make it.

Apple Crostata

I adapted this recipe (some aspects of both ingredients and method) from Ina Garten’s “Apple Crostata” in Barefoot Contessa Parties!.

For the pastry:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup (half of one stick) of very cold unsalted butter, diced (I’ve also used salted butter)

For the filling:

Pre-heat the oven to 450 ℉.

  • 1-1/2 pounds apples (experiment to find a mix you like, or use what you have on hand, but different varieties really make a difference!)
  • 1/4 tsp grated lemon zest
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, diced (I omitted this; I could have substituted margarine, but didn’t feel the need for any extra fat, in the pie or on my person)

Directions:

For the pastry, stir together the dry ingredients, then toss in the cold diced butter to coat with the flour mixture. Cut the butter in with a pastry cutter until about the size of small peas. Add about 1/8 cup ice water in a couple additions (easy to add more, hard to remove if you’ve overdone it), and stir with a fork until you’re able to pull the dough together into a soft ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter, form into a disk, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.

Note, the trick when making pastry is to work with cold fat and cold water, and to work fast — this results in a flakier crust. I confess, I’m a flaky crust snob, but I digress.

For the filling, peel and quarter the apples, and cut them into chunks. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and a bit of juice, flour, sugar, salt and spices, and stir together.

Flour the counter and rolling pin lightly (I have a lovely French rolling pin that I love to use), and roll the pastry into a more or less round shape about 11 inches in diameter. Remember, this is baking, not geometry: imperfection makes for a more charming outcome.

Place the rolled pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Top with the apple filling, leaving a border of about 1-1/2 inches all around. Then fold the border over the edge of the apples, pleating it as you go. As a final touch, brush the edge with milk and added a little sprinkling of sugar. When I made mine, the sugar that fell onto the parchment burned during the baking process (you can see a bit of it in the photo), but that’s life in the kitchen, isn’t it?

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is appetizingly golden and the apples are tender. Cool for 5 or so minutes, then transfer carefully to a wire rack using a couple of large spatulas, if you have them, to cool further.

This crostata is a wonderful way to celebrate apple season!

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