Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Crostate are a staple of Italian home baking: versatile and buttery open tarts, they're the highlight of any merenda worth its name. As a child, the prospect of sinking my teeth in a stratum of warm Nutella spread, thickened in the oven, and then hitting the crumbly pasta frolla (shortcrust) base has been the most attractive feature of many afternoon playdates.
Thus, making two crostate - one with ricotta and chocolate chips, and one with berries and crème pâtissière - for my flat's rule-of-six-compliant pandemic-time Christmas dinner was one madeleine moment after another, bringing back the happy memories I needed on my first Christmas away from home.
I'm not one to brag, but they were an absolute triumph. Here are the recipes: crostate are not exactly rocket science but they have an amazing effort-to-result ratio.
Ricotta and Chocolate Chips Tart
For the pasta frolla: 375g plain flour, 190g butter, 150g sugar, 2 yolks, 3 whites, half a teaspoon of baking powder, the zest of one lemon.
For the filling: 650g ricotta, 110g sugar, one egg, four tablespoons of cognac (brandy, bourbon, cointreau etc. work just as well), 150g dark chocolate chips, the zest of one lemon
To make the pasta frolla, whisk butter and sugar until the mix is light and smooth. Add the eggs, and keep whisking. Using a spatula, add in the flour (sifted), the baking powder, and the peel of one lemon (smallest grater blades). Transfer on a surface covered in flour, and knead until the mixture comes off your fingers. Make a ball, cover in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for about one hour.
To make the filling, remove the water residues that form at the bottom of the ricotta packaging; mix ricotta with sugar, egg, cognac and lemon zest with an electric whisk, until the mixture is runny and soft. Add the chocolate chips, making sure they're evenly distributed.
Take the pastry out of the fridge, set about one-eight of the pastry aside, and roll the rest to ~4-5mm depth. Grease the entire surface of a cake tin with butter, add a tablespoon of flour, tip the pan around until it sticks everywhere and remove the remaining flour. Add the pasta frolla dough, making sure the pastry covers the edges evenly for about about 2.5-3cm (if the pastry is insufficient, sacrifice some of the pastry previously set aside). Prick the base with a fork, dump the ricotta mixture in, and fold the edges of the dough inwards. Roll the remaining dough, and make 8-10 strips about 1cm wide; lay them on top of the cake, forming a lattice decoration.
Bake for about 45 min (or until the lattice browns) at 180° in a fan oven. Prick the sides with a toothpick to make sure the base has cooked through.
Berries and Crème Pâtissière Tart
For the pasta frolla: 330g plain flour, 165g butter, 130g sugar, 1 egg yolks, 3 egg whites, half a teaspoon of baking powder, the zest of one lemon.
For the crème pâtissière: 200 ml milk (full fat), 40g cornflour, 3 egg yolks, 70g sugar, 60g double cream, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, the zest of half a lemon.
For the topping: 500g of berries (any combination of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, wild strawberries, redcurrant, blackcurrant), a tablespoon of icing sugar.
For the pasta frolla, the proceeding is the same as above: whisk butter and sugar until the mix is light and smooth; add the eggs and keep whisking. Using a spatula, add in the flour (sifted), the baking powder, and the zest of one lemon. Transfer on a surface covered in flour, and knead until the mixture comes off your fingers. Make a sphere with the dough, cover in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for about one hour.
In the meantime, make the crème pâtissière. Using an electric whisk, mix the yolks with the sugar; sift the cornflour and add. Bring the milk and cream to boil, add the vanilla extract, and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Add the milk and cream to the eggs mixture, incorporate delicately using a spatula for about 30 seconds. Then transfer the whole thing back onto the cooker (medium-low heat), and whisk using an electric whisk until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a thick custard (~5 minutes). You don't want to burn the thing, but you really want the custard to be thick, or the berries will sink when the tart is assembled. Transfer the custard into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to stand in the fridge.
Take the pastry out of the fridge, roll it to ~4-5mm depth. Grease the entire surface of a cake tin with butter, add a tablespoon of flour, tip the cake tin around until it sticks everywhere and remove the remaining flour. Add the pasta frolla dough, making sure the pastry covers the edges evenly, about about 1.5-2cm above base level. Prick the base with a fork.
Cut out a circle of parchment paper the same size of the cake tin, lay it on top of the dough base, press delicately, making sure it covers the inner edge of the sides; fill parchment paper with about 250g of rice (dried bins work just as well) and blind bake at 180° in a fan oven for about 25 minutes. If necessary, remove the parchment paper and the rice for the last 5 minutes of baking, to make sure the base cooks through and comes out of the oven lightly brown.
Assemble when both the base and the custard are entirely cool. Spread the custard on top of the pasta frolla, and add the berries on top. If the berries sink in the custard, you may want to leave the pasta frolla and the custard filling in the freezer for half an hour before assembling. Coat with a sprinke of icing sugar before serving.