berry crostata

Let’s bake something comforting, yes? But first, a new cookbook.

I’ve been holding back telling you about this one, mostly because I’m not sure what I think. I mean, I watched all four of her video lectures before buying the book, and I appreciated her techniques: draining the fruit and reducing the juice to get a consistently saucy-yet-sliceable filling, parbaking the crust, admitting that the first slice of pie always looks like crap and is thus called “The Sacrificial Slice,” etc. Her clear instructions and contagious enthusiam encouraged me to make the switch to eyeballing the water when making pie dough (I KNOW), and now I roll the pastry out directly on a lightly-floured counter using my French rolling pin (which is a lot fancier sounding than it is) and it’s so, so easy.

Plus, I could see that all the pies in her videos had crisp, well-browned bottoms. Which is HUGE. All too many fancy pies made by so-called experts showcase pies with limp, pallid bottoms which is a dead giveaway that they haven’t a clue.

Since the lady, judging from her (pie) bottoms, clearly knew her way around a pie, I bought the book and straightaway read it from cover to cover. (And when I saw that her pretzel dough pie called for honest-to-goodness lye, I whooped out loud. This woman was serious.) But then I plunged in and promptly turned out a handful of truly dreadful pies: too sweet, too gummy, too salty. Were my tastebuds off? Were hers? 

But I kept going and gradually I landed on some winners, including this crostata. 

Which isn’t actually a pie pie — it’s more of a layered fruit crumble — but it’s still sliceable and baked in a round pan so: pie. (Never mind that cake is also sliceable and round. Whatever.)

Red raspberry and rhubarb, I think.

Freshly baked, the crumb topping is crunchy and the fruit sharp and saucy. But Day Two is where things get good. The oaty layers soften and the fruit looses a bit of its bite, and the whole things feels almost cakey. Actually, it reminds me of these blueberry bars that my aunt makes. I love these bars, but I rarely make them because the rolling feels finicky. This crostata, on the other hand, just gets wacked into the pan, free-form, and the fruit — you can use whatever you want: odd ends cluttering up the kitchen counter or bits of berries gathering freezer burn down cellar — is left raw. The whole thing is satisfying to make, and it ends up tasting almost nourishing. 

In fact, it feels more like a fruit-packed coffee cake than a dessert. I eat it for breakfast, and if I’m not saving it for anything in particular, I let it sit out on the kitchen counter so the kids can cut off thick wedges to accompany their tall glasses of milk whenever they get hungry. 

Of course, if you want it to be fancy, be my guest: served warm, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cup of strong coffee, and everyone will be wowed. 

Berry Crostata
Adapted from The Book On Pie, by Erin Jeanne McDowell.

When I made a red raspberry rhubarb version, I thought the filling was too tart at first, but by day two it had mellowed and sweetened and felt just right. Just something to consider….

Some of my plans for future crostatas incude:
*stone fruit medley (plum, apricot, peach)
*triple reds (strawberry, sour cherry, red raspberry)
*rhubarb, straight up (with orange)
*apple cranberry

for the crumbs:
1½ cups rolled oats
1½ cups flour
⅓ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
170 grams (1½ sticks) butter, chopped
½ cup chopped pecans, reserved

Toss together the oats, flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Using your fingers, cut in the butter until crumbly. Press two-thirds of the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9-(or 10)-inch springform pan. The crumbs should make half inch-high border. Add the pecans to the remaining crumbs and set aside.

for the fruit: 
900 grams mixed berries (strawberry, red raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, blueberry, etc)
juice of ½ lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt

Add the lemon juice and vanilla to the berries. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (so the cornstarch doesn’t get lumpy when it hits the fruit) and then toss with the berries.

Tumble the berries into the crust-lined pan. Top with the remaining pecan crumbs. Bake the crostata at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until golden brown all over and the fruit is bubbly. Note: I usually end up baking it another thirty minutes or so, reducing the heat to 350 and slipping a tray under the pan (and covering the top with some foil) to protect the crostata from burning; I like the middle to be bubbling and the whole thing to be quite toasty.

Cool completely (or mostly completely) before slicing and serving. Store any leftovers at room temp, covered with plastic.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.2.20), we nailed it, dusty magic, the quotidian (3.2.15), the quotidian (3.3.14), grocery shopping, air, print, internet, a monument to childhood, good holes.

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