When I was younger, my parents would bring my siblings and me to Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse for dinner about once a month. If you’re reading this article from New England, it’s likely that you know this chain restaurant, though I haven’t seen any in a while and as I write this wonder if they still exist (I will look this up!) Going to Bugaboo was always a treat – I loved their chicken fingers and fries, the staff would sing to a funny song to you on your birthday, and there was a talking moose and pine tree at the entrance of the restaurant. Best of all however was the dessert selection. True to American chain restaurant form, they were enormous in size, chocolate-y and rich, and usually topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My favorite was the “Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie,” which consisted of a humongous, soft baked chocolate chip cookie in, you guessed it, a small skillet, topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce.
My 8 year old self wouldn’t have been very happy in Italy, dessert-wise. Italy, you see, is not a place for over-the-top, extravagant desserts. Buttercream does not exist here, and neither do triple layer cakes, or, as in this case, cookies the size of your face. This took me a while to get used to. When I first moved to Bologna in 2009, I admit that I did miss fudge brownies, or the occasional slice of gooey, ridiculously sweet pecan pie with freshly whipped cream. But I did find myself slowly adapting to and beginning to appreciate Italian desserts, which tended to be simpler than American desserts. They are understated, straightforward, and quietly confident in their deliciousness, a sort of closed parentheses on the meal rather than another course all together. Living in Italy, I began to appreciate ending the meal with fragoline, or fresh baby strawberries, a few ciambelline, round sweet cookies meant for dipping in wine, or a slice of crostata di marmellata, which brings us to today’s post.
Crostata di marmellata, best translated as a jam tart, would be a great example of a simple yet delicious Italian dessert. This is one sweet that you find in nearly every bar (cafés) in Italy, a small slice making a great accompaniment to a morning cappuccino. I’ve also found that most everyone’s nonna has their own recipe for crostata alla marmellata, and everyone retains that there recipe is the best. This recipe actually comes from Laura, the wife of my colleague David. David bought a slice of this tart to work one day, and I was swept off my feet by its buttery and barely sweet crust, which was complemented yet not overwhelmed by a simple layer of strawberry jam. There was no glaze, no crumble, no ganache, no frosting, no chocolate chips, and yet the dessert was fantastic nonethless. I immediately asked David for the recipe and knew that I had to share it on here with you all. This makes a great breakfast, a delicious teatime snack, or a wonderful dessert with a cup of coffee. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
STRAWBERRY JAM CROSTATA
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
A generous pinch of salt
9 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup sugar
Good quality jam of your choosing, room temperature (mine came from a 400 gram jar and I used it all -- I used strawberry jam here because it's what I like, but feel free to use whatever kind you like!)
1 egg for the egg wash
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into this mixture using your hands, until the butter is well incorporated and distributed throughout the flour mixture, and has the consistency of sand. Whisk the sugar into the flour butter mixture. Next, make a well in the middle of the flour butter mixture, and pour in the eggs. Using your hands, mix the eggs into the flour mixture until a soft dough begins to form. Mix it around a bit more and then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough just a few times until it all comes together, then form it into a ball. Wrap the dough in parchment paper and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Cut off a third of it and set it aside. Take the rest of the dough and form it into a disk. On a well-floured work surface, and with a rolling pin lightly dusted with flour, roll the disk out until it is about 3/4mm thick and 30 cm or so in diameter. Transport the dough to a large, lightly greased baking sheet (I usually do this with the help of my rolling pin: roll the dough up around the rolling pin, and then unroll it onto the baking sheet). Spread the jam over the dough, leaving a small border.
Next, on a well-floured work surface, roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough until it is about 3/4mm thick. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into long strips that are about 2cm wide. You will need 8-10 strips. Place the strips over the dough to form the lattice top – you will need half of the strips put slightly diagonally over the crostata, and then the other half laid over them diagonally, to form a sort of diamond pattern. Trim the strips of dough so that they just fit onto the section covered with jam. Next, fold the border of dough over the jam to form an edge. Using your fingers, brush the egg wash over the edge of the dough and the lattice. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dough is golden. Let cool completely before eating. Serves 8-10.