“She swears lazy Sundays were made for her. Doing whatever it is she wants to do, even if it is, nothing at all.” For me lazy Sundays are all about sweet treats, keeping alive the typical Italian tradition of having pastries or cake to celebrate the end of the week.
One of my favourite Sunday afternoon treats is crostata, a baked tart filled with jam and covered in pastry strips.
It is believed that crostata is the most ancient Italian dessert, and the history surrounding this lovely tart is utterly fascinating.
The mermaid Partenope used to live in the gulf of Naples, and every spring she would sing for the population with her incredible voice. People decided to do something to thank the mermaid for her beautiful singing, and gave her a tart made with the most precious ingredients they had. Partenope, flattered but humbled by this act of generosity, offered this tart to the Gods,that decided to give it back to her. The mermaid gave this gift back to the humans, as a sign of appreciation of their generosity.
A less romantic version of the story about how crostata was created, is that it was invented by a nun of the convent of San Gregorio Armeno. The stripes that cross the tart would resembles the grates from which the nuns would watch religious services.
Crostata had always been a food for common people, the “peasants”: one day an aristocrat, the Marquis De Rubis, while travelling across Naples had an issue with the wheel of his carriage, and a family of peasant gave him hospitality for the night. They offered him a slice of crostata and he loved it, so he asked for the recipe and when he came back to the court of the Bourbons, he shared it with the rest of the nobility and crostata became more and more popular across royal families. It became so popular that one day it ended up in the menu served to Maria Theresa of Austria and her husband Ferdinand II of the two Sicilies, and the legend says that when she had the first bite of the crostata, she smiled. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t that Maria Theresa was otherwise known as “the queen the never smiles”.
Personal opinion: if she was the one that had to make the pastry for the crostata, I am fairly sure she wouldn’t have smiled at all – comment wrote after hours of swearing against my pastry
So here is the recipe for the crostata, there are several variations of it and every family has a secret ingredient or trick for it. On the top of the crostata there should be stripes of pastry that cross each other, but I wanted to give it a more stylish twist so I topped it with stars. Feel free to shape the top pastry as you like!
Ingredients for a 21cm diameter tray – please bear in mind that the pastry has to rest in the fridge overnight
-eggs, 2 + 1 egg yolk
-cold butter, 160g
-grated zest of 1 lemon
-strawberry jam, 250g (you can use any jam you like)
-baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon
-pinch of salt
1.Mix together the butter, sugar, lemon zest
2.Add the eggs,yolk and the honey
3.Using a sieve, add the flour gradually
4.Add the baking powder and the salt
5.When you have a smooth consistency, stop touching the dough, wrap it in cling film and leave it in the fridge overnight
6. On the next morning,line a tray
7. Put some flour on the table, take the dough out from the fridge and flatten it on the table using a rolling pin until it is 4/5 mm – try to touch it as little as possible
8. Put the dough on the tray and cut the edges that are coming out the tray
9.Wrap the edges you just cut in cling film, and flatten the dough while it is inside the cling film
10. Put the flattened dough in the freezer
11.In the meantime, pierce the dough already in the tray with a fork
12.Preheat the over to 150° fan assisted.Start spreading the jam from the centre of the crostata to the edges, but leave 1cm around the edges empty: the jam will melt a little bit and the edges will raise because of the baking powder, so if we leave that area empty we should avoid a jam tsunami in your oven
13. Take the remaining pastry from the freezer, and cut the top pastry as you like – you have to be super quick, the pastry will become soft after minutes outside the freezer
14.Top your crostata with the pastry you just cut, and let it cook for 35 minutes or until golden – don’t worry if it is soft straight out of the oven, it will become harder and flaky once it cools down