There are lots of fresh glorious fruit still in the markets, roadside vegetable stands, and farmer’s market even though it is January. The winter fruit boasts lots of flavor from sweet and sharp to smooth and tangy. Beautiful ripe citrus, honey-sweet fall apples and pears, the last of the persimmons, quince, pumpkin, nuts, and tart cranberries give us a sense of the seasons as well as inspiration. When fruit is beautiful, and you are blessed with enough of it, your job in the kitchen can be a real joy.
One of the best, and easiest, ways to prepare fruit in season is to make a pie. Not just any pie, but a really simple pie–one any one can make even if you are making a pie for the first time–the crostata or galette. The galette is a French term for a free-form, open faced pie; crostata the Italian equivalent. I made my first crostata from a recipe called Old Fashioned Bottom Crust Apple Pie in Martha Stewart’s second book, the Quick Cook, in the 1980s. I loved the casual style; it was really fast and easy, yet impressive and tasty even though I was a good traditional pie maker. Since then, the flat open crostata has become a familiar sight in the baker’s kitchen.
To make a galette/crostata, a rich pie crust dough is rolled out into an uneven circle and transferred onto a baking sheet. You pile the fruit tossed with just a dash of sugar and lemon juice into the center; nothing fancy, just plain old-fashioned here. Then you form the galette by folding up the short sides gently over the edges of the filling. The fruit is exposed, as long as you don’t tear the dough you are fine, and any shape is acceptable, even attractive. This style of making a pie will be a total revelation if you are not already familiar with it. It is more rustic than a pretty little crimped-edge 9-inch round and flakier. It makes one big round flat galette, since no matter how high you pile the fruit, it collapses as it cooks.
Breaking with tradition (the Italians usually use an egg yolk in their sweet pastry dough), I use a cream cheese pastry dough that is so easy to work with that any beginner is certain to produce a beautiful tart. Keep this recipe around; it is good for all sweet and savory pie makings. Use the food processor for mixing; it makes an often laborious job a snap. If the dough is too soft, place it in the refrigerator for just 15 to 20 minutes to slightly firm up; not too long or it will stiffen and crack while rolling. Don’t worry about uneven edges, that’s part of the charm. I like a whole wheat version as much as one made with all white flour; I have included both here.
Although la crostata are traditionally baked in a shallow tart pan, I use a 12-inch Pyrex pizza pan with gently sloping sides, although a baking sheet or thin tin pizza pan will also suffice.
Makes one 9 1/2-inch freeform pie.
- 4 to 5 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- One recipe Cream Cheese Pastry Dough (recipe follows)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 375º. Combine apples, sugar, and spices in a medium bowl. Toss to evenly coat apples.
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin into an 14-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet or 12-inch pizza pan. Pile the apples into the center of the crust leaving a 4-inch border on the outside; dot with butter.
- Raise the dough border and lay it on the apples around the sides of the tart, draping gently over the fruit; the outer edges will be encased in dough –you will fold up and pleat the sides ever few inches over the filling to create a flatish free form tart that ends up about 9 1/2-inches in diameter with the center filling exposed. Bake on the center rack of the oven, 40 to 45 minutes, until golden and apples are tender.
Cream Cheese Pastry Dough
- 2 sticks cool (slightly malleable) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature and cut into pieces
- 2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place the cream cheese and butter in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the mixing bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer. Cream until smooth. Add the flour and salt. Mix on low just until a soft ball is formed. Knead a few times by hand and pat into a flattened circle. Do not overmix or pastry will be tough.
- 2. To roll out, place on a floured work surface (I like marble or a pastry cloth). Using a rolling pin, roll from the center out to the top edge. Give the pastry a 1/4 turn and roll again. Shape into a circle as you roll the dough out to the desired thickness. Sprinkle lightly with flour as you roll and turn to keep the dough from sticking to the pin or work surface. If the dough cracks or tears, moisten the area with water and patch with a piece of dough torn from the edge. Work quickly while rolling out; the dough will be about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to the pie plate by gently folding the dough into quarters and quickly laying it on the plate with the inside point at the center of the plate. Unfold and fill.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.