I'm a sucker for a pretty package, so when I saw the photo of the crumbly, flaky, lattice-topped fig crostata in November's Gourmet magazine, I instantly wanted to make it. I thought finding a new option for the dessert table on Thanksgiving could be a good idea. Then I remembered I come from a family of non-adventurous eaters, and die-hard traditionalists. It's apple or pumpkin or nothing. I figured that should not hold me back. I could bake this a week early, and find out for myself if it was as delicious tasting as it was attractive. Maybe it would be worth trying to convince my dining companions this Thanksgiving to give something new a try.
A crostata is an Italian form of pie made of a shortcake cookie-type of dough. It has as many variations and the internet is filled with recipes where a crostata dough is used as a free-form crust where the sides are folded around the filing, similar to a French galette.
This recipe is made in a springform pan, where the crumbly dough is rolled out and simply pressed into the pan and up the sides. That's easy enough. The lattice-top is a bit more involved. I'll admit anytime I've tried to make a lattice-topped pie crust it ends with a lot of cursing and frustration as my strips soften and fall apart as I try to place them on top. Inevitably I often throw my hands up in defeat and roll the whole mess into one big ball and try for a normal pie crust. But, I finally have figured out that the freezer is my friend and I can fix this problem by popping the strips into the freezer to flash chill if they get difficult to work with. This trick saved the day and made the intricate, impressive looking top easy enough for even novice bakers.
The filling smelled incredible while cooking and filled the kitchen with those warm spice aromas that we associate with the holidays. I'm sad to say that when it was all pureed and baked it tasted like an orange flavored fig newton. It was tasty, but the similarity to a fig cookie made it not that desirable as a holiday dessert. On the other hand, it also made it seem healthier than a pie and I ate it for breakfast today.
My official taste-test verdict? If you're a fig enthusiast, this pie is worth a try. But be prepared for the harsh reality that like me, you find that you are more like your family than you care to admit, and realize that it ain't turkey day without a pumpkin pie.
Recipe from Gourmet Magazine, November 2009
For Pastry Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cold water
For Fig Filling
12 oz soft dried figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
To make the dough:
Blend together flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps (alternatively do this in a bowl with your fingers). Add yolks, vanilla and water and pulse until incorporated and dough begins to form large clumps. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together then divide dough in half and form each half into a 5-6 inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic warp, until firm at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.
To make filling:
Simmer figs, water, orange juice, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan, covered, stirring occasionally, until figs are soft and mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped (mixture should not be smooth). Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly. Stir in butter, eggs, vanilla, zest and walnuts.
To make tart shell:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Roll out 1 portion of dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 12-inch round (dough will be soft; chill or freeze briefly if it becomes difficult to work with). Peel off top sheet of parchment and carefully invert dough into pan. (Dough will tear easily but can be patched together with your fingers). Press dough onto bottom and 1 inch up side of pan, then trim excess. Chill tart shell until ready to assemble.
Roll out remaining dough between parchment into 12-inch round. Peel off top sheet of parchment, then cut dough into 10 (1-inch wide) strips and slide (still on parchment) onto a tray. Chill until firm, about 10 minutes.
Spread fig filling in shell. Arrange 5 strips of dough 1 inch apart on filling. Arrange remaining 5 strips 1 inch apart across first strips to form a lattice. Trim edges of strips flush with edge of shell. Sprinkle top with sugar.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake until filling is slightly puffed and pastry is pale golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely, then remove side of pan. Gourmet suggests you serve crostata with mascarpone.