Nothing to me is as homey than the smell of something baking, and a delicious jam crostata fits the bill perfectly. It’s cucina casalinga at its finest. This is a dish that is ever so prevalent in Italian kitchens because it’s so easy to prepare, yet so impressive to serve. A jam crostata is rarely missing from an Italian household.
In 1997, I was (gasp) 20 years old and went to Italy to spend the summer with family. During this trip, I first learned to prepare a delicious jam crostata. The aunt I was staying with always had one prepared. It seemed that the family wasn’t yet finished with one jam crostata, and the next one was in the oven. The most popular version she made was with jam, but she also made a fancier version filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh fruit. She even made it with Nutella. And so one afternoon, instead of going to the beach with my cousins, I asked her to teach me to prepare her famous jam crostata. And since that summer, I have made this dessert hundreds of times. It’s a family favorite. And with my sister’s birthday next week, guess what she requested? Not a fancy cake, but a jam crostata with her favorite jam flavor, dark cherry.
“Crostata” refers to the word “crosta,” which is crust. The delicious buttery crust is as essential as your topping. Once you master the crust, the possibilities are endless, and like my aunt, you can top it with jam, the most famous of toppings, homemade pastry cream, or yes, even with Nutella. One of my favorite jams to use is fig jam.
What’s your Jam?
Figs are my favorite Italian summer fruit; so I get my fill when traveling to Italy. Growing up in Calabria, we had several fig trees of various kinds, and we were lucky that they often produced more fruit than we could keep up with. What is a frugal Italian to do when there’s more fruit than we can enjoy, even after sharing with friends and neighbors? But conserve it, of course! The fig jam was always prepared at the end of the summer when the trees were still bursting with fruit, but by that point, we were tired of eating them! By fall, when the baking season rolled around, we’d often bake fruit-filled cookies or tarts with those precious jars of preserves. Be sure to use jam, not jelly, as jelly will not work in this dessert.
5.5 ounces (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large egg, divided
2½ cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting your hands and pan)
Zest of 1 organic orange or 1 organic lemon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 – 2 tablespoons milk (but use only if needed, see note below)
1 (15 ounces) jar high quality jam of your choice of flavor (plus extra, if desired, see note below.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-inch tart pan, set aside.
- With a stand or hand-held mixer, mix the room temperature butter with the sugar. Mix until just combined, mixture will be slightly crumbly. Add the whole egg plus one egg yolk and mix well.
- Slowly add the flour in 2 – 3 additions. Add the zest and baking powder and mix until combined.
- Invert the dough on a slightly floured surface and work the dough with your hands until it forms a nice, smooth round ball. Divide the dough into 2/3 and 1/3 pieces.
- Press the larger piece of dough into the prepared pan. Coming up about mid-way up the sides of the pan. Dock the crust with a fork at least 15 -20 times. (This will prevent any air bubbles from forming while baking.) Spread the jam evenly on the crust.
- With a rolling pin, roll out remaining dough and cut 8-10 equal strips of dough about ½ inch wide. Decorate the crostata with a simple lattice topping.
- Mix the remaining egg yolk with a few drops of water. Brush the lattice strips of dough with the egg wash. (This step is optional but will give your crostata a nice, golden look.)
- Bake for 35 minutes, cool completely before removing from the pan and serve after crostata has cooled about 1 hour.
Note #1: If the dough is dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk. Amount will depend on the softness of butter, and if the eggs you are using are on the smaller side. You may not need any milk at all to have a formed and cohesive dough.)
Note #2: I prefer a thicker layer of jam, as seen in the final product below, so I generally use one full jar, plus a few additional tablespoons from a second jar of the same flavor. If you only have one jar of jam, you can use just that, and the filling will be a bit thinner.
What to Pack for Italy
Cosa Mettere in Valigia per l'Italia
Everyone is always asking me what they should pack for Italy,
so I’ve created a quick reference guide that you can use for your next trip.
Hint: You don’t need nearly as much as you think you do!