Around this time of the year, there is a lot of asking ourselves about what we are grateful for in our life.
I think it is a question worth asking ourselves more often. Possibly everyday.
I know I have a lot to be thankful for.
If you follow me on social media, you will probably know that I recently handed in my very first cookbook. It was the most exciting, difficult and wonderful thing I have ever done, and it’s not over yet. I feel like I’m in a love story where you have the feeling cannot ever possibly end.
This book was a great way to challenge the status quo of my recipes. Going out the lines meant getting many of them wrong, sometimes failing brutally, sometimes getting them even better after a try or two. I probably spent more time on the few recipes I tried to change than on the many recipes that I just got from my family.
And the thing about family recipes is: they’re safe. And a recipe that has been handed down from mother to daughter for over a century, cannot be anything other than foolproof. I am the first in the line of successors to mess with the recipe and try and bring it out of its status quo.
But, if you want to be the innovator, if you want to get something out of its comfort zone, you always must account the time you will need for failure. This is one thing I always had clear and eventually got pretty good at failing smartly (so to speak).
And what is art without failure, which leads to growth, which leads to change?
And big changes are approaching: as I am writing, noises of drills and hammers are coming from my soon-to-be new apartment, where I will move to in about a month. We are rebuilding the floors, my own kitchen, painted the walls…there is big change coming. That place is not only going to be my home, but my office as well. And that means I will be able to bring my work to a higher level.
But now that all the house is full of people, dust and dirt, and I only have this tiny nook where I can take photos, I had to play it safe at least for photography this once.
But, while I played it safe with photographs, I still decided to tweak one of our traditional recipes to make it vegan.
And ‘crostata’ is pretty much as traditional as it gets.
‘Crostata’ is the Italian version of a French tart. The difference lies in the texture of the dough: while pate sucrée is not supposed to grow in the oven, the larger amount of baking powder in crostata makes it rise to a sort of pillowy, slightly crumbly cookie that holds a treasure of fruit, jam, and more often than not a pretty lattice topping. The most common fillings are jams of all sorts, but more elaborate / sunday versions include stewed fruit or Nutella (which is a terrible idea: the b***ch hardens like crazy in the oven and creates a horrible texture, imho).
It is probably the first recipe you will learn if you have an Italian nonna, and one of those things you will always see at parties.
Now that they are in season, I was able to find some incredible, emerald-green fresh bergamots from Puglia and I had to pick one up. The flavors go so well here: the perfumed, almost flowery scent of bergamots tone down the rich sweetness of the cinnamon and pears a bit and absolutely feel like a rifle of fresh air. ‘Crostatine’, ‘small crostatas’, were childhood staple for our merenda, and I loved the idea of baking several one-portion ones.
I was able to skip the eggs and butter that traditionally go in the dough and I am proud to present a delicious version made with…cacao butter! I am madly in love with it. I know it can be a bit of an investment, but a little goes a long way (only 10 grams here) and keeps well. I was so happy to try it and taste how good this was! I have so many more recipes up my sleeve now that I developed this recipe. Christmas is about to get a lot more interesting.
NOTE -IF YOU CANNOT FIND BERGAMOT: make a chocolate version (described in recipe below) or use yuzu. Yes would go so well with this!
- ⅓ cup / 2.1 oz / 60 g almonds
- 2.1 oz / 60 g whole dark brown sugar
- 3.5 oz / 100 g whole wheat flour
- 1.7 oz / 50 g white organic flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 0.3 / 10 g cacao butter
- 1 oz / 30 g neutral vegetable oil, preferably rice oil or sunflower oil
- 2- 4 tablespoons cold water, depending on the flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 medium-large Williams pears, not too ripe
- 3 tablespoons whole brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Grated zest of half a bergamot
- 2 tablespoons bergamot juice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon Rum or Maraschino (sub more citrus juice if you do not want to use alcohol)
- 3.5 to 1.7 oz (30 to 50 g) extra dark chocolate, plus some unprocessed cocoa powder
- First, prepare the pears: cut in half, core them, then slice one of them into very fine slices, about ⅛ thick. Cut the other one in small cubes.
- Add to a bowl and very gently toss with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, zest and liquid, and let it soak for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than one hour. Fish out the slices and set aside in a plate. Add the cubes along with the liquid left in the bowl to a pan, and cook on low heat until the pears are soft, about 15 minutes. Add a splash of water if they caramelize too quickly. When they are cooked, there should be no liquid left in the pan and should give in very easily to pressure. Mash them with a fork.
- To make the crust, combine the almonds and sugar in a blender, and grind them as finely as possible. Ideally, you should end up with a fine flour.
- In a bowl, mix the flours, sugar and almonds, and baking powder.
- In another bowl, melt the cacao butter and vegetable oil over a bain-marie, and add the vanilla extract.
- Add the melted fat into the flour mix, and mix it with a fork until you get oat-sized clumps of flours. Add the flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. If you end up adding a little too much water, dust the dough with flour. Form into a ball (the dough should not be sticky) and wrap in clingfilm if not using straight away.
- Grease 8 mini tart molds and divide the dough evenly among them. Don't be like me - don't use molds that are not nonstick: silicone or regular nonstick tins will work fine.
- Press the dough into the molds into an even layer, making sure to cover the sides as well. Divide the mashed pear among the crostatine in a ¼ inch layer.
- to make the rose shape on top, arrange the slices so that they sightly overlap, starting from the outside of the pan. Or, check out this link for an equally effective method: http://www.fmitk.com/2014/07/mini-apple-rose-pies/
- Pop the crostatine in the fridge for about 30 more minutes for best results.
- Preheat the oven to 340 F˚ / 170 C˚. Take the crostatine out of the fridge, dust with a little powdered sugar and extra cinnamon, and stick them in the oven until golden and slightly browned on top, about 35 to 40 minutes. They will be quite soft when you take them out of the oven, so let them cool completely before unmolding them.
- Enjoy alone or with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of yogurt.
- Skip the bergamot and, before adding the pears, grate a generous amount of dark chocolate into the pastry shells and dust with cocoa powder, then add the pear compote and sliced pears as per recipe.
PS: I am preparing a couple edible Christmas gifts post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with all of the US from afar with lots of broccoli and shallots. I will be forever grateful. To all the people involved in making this dream come true, to my testers, my mom, my Enrico, and all the chances I’ve been given.
And if you fail, just try again.