You know summer is really here when the farmers’ markets are bursting with ripe, juicy berries -- red and yellow raspberries, small fragile strawberries, lush purple-juiced blackberries -- and the bakers rush to put them on the bakery and restaurant menus at the peak of their short, intense season. Crostatas, or rustic pies, are an excellent way to use peak-of-summer berries or other fruit. These small free-form crostatas make a lot of sense in the home kitchen. You can serve each of your guests an individual pie without having to buy tartlet pans or other special equipment.
When you bring out these golden flaky-crusted little pies, bursting with purple fruit and topped with a scoop of ice cream, a chorus of oohs and aahs will ring out around the table. Crostatas are best served warm. You can bake them several hours ahead of serving and reheat in a preheated 375°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes. We like the herbal note of thyme with the blackberries, especially the citrusy fragrance of lemon thyme if you can find it at a farmers’ market or if you grow it in your garden, but you can omit the thyme if you prefer. If you have made vanilla bean sugar, you can use it here in place of the regular sugar and omit the vanilla bean.
Special Equipment: Metal Bench knife (optional)
Flaky but Tender Pastry Dough, formed into a flattened rough rectangle, about 4 x 6 inches, and chilled for at least 2 hours
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces/150 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 vanilla bean
1 1/2 pounds (about 2 pints/680 grams) blackberries
To shape and finish the crostadas:
1/2 cup starch water
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces/43 grams) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces 43 grams) sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Using a metal bench knife or a chef’s knife, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (cut it in half the long way and into quarters the short way) and shape each piece into a flattened disk. Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll each disk into a 6 1/2-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Place the pastry rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets (4 rounds to a pan), cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while you assemble the filling.
3. To make the filling, combine the sugar, cornstarch, flour, thyme, and zest in a small bowl. Slice open the vanilla bean pod lengthwise and, using a paring knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the bowl. Stir the sugar mixture until well combined. Put the blackberries in a large bowl, add the sugar-cornstarch mixture, and toss to combine.
4. Remove 1 baking sheet with 4 pastry rounds from the refrigerator. (Leave the other 4 rounds in the refrigerator to stay chilled until you need them.) To shape a crostata, place about one-eighth of the berry mixture (about a generous 1/2 cup) in the center of a pastry round, leaving a 1-inch border of pastry all the way around. (If some of the sugar and cornstarch mixture or a slurry of berry juices plus sugar-starch has settled to the bottom of the bowl, be sure to divide this evenly among the mounds of berries.)
5. Using a pastry brush, brush the pastry border with starch water. Fold the pastry border up and over the berries (the mound of berries will be only partially covered with dough), crimping the dough up with your fingers and allowing the dough to fold into pleats around the filling. When you have finished pleating, use your hands to press down gently but firmly on the folds of the crostata to seal it well so that it doesn’t unfold and open while baking.
6. Repeat filling and shaping the remaining crostatas. When you are done, brush the pleated pastry rims of all the crostatas with some of the cream and sprinkle with the sugar. (If the pastry seems warm, chill the crostatas for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.)
7. Bake the crostatas until the pastry is evenly golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through the baking time and switching them between the racks. Remove the pans from the oven and cool on wire racks.
8. Serve the crostatas while still warm from the oven or allow them to cool to room temperature and reheat them when you are ready to serve.
From The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas, William Morrow Cookbooks, 2012.
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