Photo by Stacey Ballis

Make a double batch, freeze them, and delight future you

Stacey Ballis
September 27, 2018

I grew up in a house where the commitment to a healthy breakfast meant a ban on sugary cereals and breakfast toaster pastries of all kinds. We were a Grape Nuts, Cheerios, Rice Krispies household, and no amount of begging in the breakfast aisle could persuade my mom that Lucky Charms and Pop-Tarts were part of a healthy breakfast, even though it says so right on the package. Sleepovers were my favorite thing, late night talking and secret sharing, spooky experiments with Ouija boards and “light as a feather stiff as a board” games, and indulgent breakfasts with Captain Crunch or Apple Jacks or silver mylar packages of Pop-Tarts.

I especially loved the Pop-Tarts. Raw straight from the package or toasted, that slightly bland cookie-like crust and thick jammy filling hit me right where I lived. The Pop-Tarts thing followed me to college but then petered out. In fact, it had literally been decades since I had eaten one, until recently when a long delay in a regional airport led to the late evening shut down of all food kiosks except one sad vending machine. And there in the bottom corner, strawberry Pop-Tarts. $1.50 later, I was seated back at the gate, listening for the latest update, breaking off pieces of the cold pastry and not exactly having a fabulous trip down nostalgia lane.

The crust seemed both blander and chalkier than I remembered, the filling more artificially flavored. The frosting seemed a bridge too far, brittle and sweet on sweet, not so much balancing the crust as overwhelming it. It made me both sad for the loss of a distant childhood pleasure food memory, and a bit relieved that I wasn’t suddenly in my middle age going to be faced with an awakening of cravings for sugar bomb breakfasts.

But it did make me think about the potential comfort of a short-crusted, fruit-filled breakfast pastry. A lot of bakeries and pastry chefs today are making gourmet Pop-Tarts, but I find most of them are more like hand pies, with flaky pastry crusts. There is nothing wrong with those, they are delicious, but flaky pastry is a pain in the butt if you don’t make it often, and actual Pop-Tarts are more of a cross between a shortbread cookie and a crumbly pastry crust. So pie dough wasn’t going to cut it. A lot of the recipes for home cooks involve storebought puff pastry, which is certainly delicious, but also not quite the right substitute.

And then a dear pal went to Italy and started cooking some of the dishes she had eaten there—including crostata. Light bulb. Crostata is a traditional Italian pastry that can be eaten for breakfast, with afternoon coffee, or as dessert. A shortbread-like crust includes eggs which give it a bit of elasticity and prevent it from being too crumbly, and the filling is traditionally just whatever jam you have lying about. As someone who has recently gone a bit jam-mad with summer fruits, the idea of a recipe that uses it up in large quantities was very appealing. And the crust comes together quickly in your food processor and is pretty forgiving to work with.

I adjusted a crostata crust recipe to eliminate extra flavorings like zests or spices, and kept it super plain, with the salt amped up slightly to help balance the sweetness of the jam. Instead of a large tart with a lattice crust, I went with mini tart shells and a less fancy topper. And since the jam filling is plenty sweet, I opted out of any glaze or frosting and instead did a simple egg wash with coarse sugar.

The result is a little hand pie that hits those Pop-Tart notes in a very grown up way. They freeze beautifully, so you can make a large batch and freeze them in individual baggies for future breakfasts. And a quick run through your toaster perks them right up to serious Pop-Tart bliss. But they are also a perfect afternoon indulgence with a cup of tea or coffee, and if you plop some ice cream or whipped cream on top, you can serve them for dessert at your next dinner party.

Crostata Tartlets

Photo by Stacey Ballis

Makes 6-8 depending on the size of your tartlet pans, or one 9-10" lattice-topped tart

Ingredients

For the crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter cut into ½" dice
1 large whole egg
2 large egg yolks (save the whites for the egg wash)

Filling: 1-1 1/2 cups of whatever jam you love for mini tarts, 2 cups for larger tart

For the topping (optional):

Egg whites saved from making crust
1 tablespoon milk or cream
Coarse Demerara or turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Put all of the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor fitted with the metal blade, and pulse 3-4 times to combine. Sprinkle the butter pieces around, and pulse until you get a coarse sandy looking crumbly mixture. Add in the egg and yolks and pulse until a ball of dough forms, then stop. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a disk, then wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. This can be done up to 3 days in advance.

When you want to make the crostatas, preheat your oven to 350°F. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut into 2 equal pieces if making little ones, (or 2/3 and 1/3 if making a lattice topped tart). Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about ⅛" thick. Using your mini tart shells as a guide, cut out rounds about ½" larger than the top circumference and use them to line the shells, leaving the excess hanging over the edge. Fill the bottom of the shells about 1/3 full with jam, essentially a generous covering of the bottom, but not too high on the crust, 2-3 tablespoons per should do it.

Cut smaller rounds of the remaining dough to use as tops, and make a small x with a sharp knife in the middle, or use a pastry tip to cut a small circle out of the middle. Place the dough rounds on top of the jam, and fold the excess dough over the top to seal, pressing gently. Place all the filled tart shells on a sheet pan.

Beat the egg whites with the milk or cream and using a pastry brush, lightly coat the tops of the tartlets, then sprinkle with a bit of coarse sugar. (If making 1 large lattice-topped tart, use the 2/3 of the dough to line the bottom of your tart shell, then cut the remaining piece into strips and weave over the top of the jam).

Bake on the center rack of your oven until the crust is golden brown and cooked through, about 35-45 minutes. If you think the tops are getting too brown before the tarts are baked, just lay a sheet of tin foil lightly over the top and continue cooking.

Let cool completely on a rack in the tart shells, then pop out and serve room temperature or toasted.

Will keep 4-5 days in an airtight container at room temp, a week in the fridge, or up to 6 months frozen.

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