When I first moved to Italy, I saw this incredible dessert in a pastry shop. I admired it for a minute or two, but I didn’t have the 24 Euro on hand to buy something I didn’t know if I’d like. It was this pie-like thing with an incredible lattice. The filling was yellow, and it had a powdered sugar sprinkled beautifully across the top.
Several months after I saw the crostata, I finally had the opportunity to try one. I made a friend who was a pastry chef and we made dinner once. For dessert, she told me she had a surprise. She pulled out a treat identical to the delicious thing I saw those many months ago. If I wasn’t so full I would have.
That was the very first time I ever saw an Italian crostata. (A crostata al limone probably since it was yellow…)
The moment I tasted it I knew I had to learn how to make it. I spent weeks after that fateful sampling searching through recipe books, tasting lemon tarts in stores. (I bought those. Don’t get the idea that I stuck my finger in one and tasted it knowing that the employee was facing the other direction and would only find out that somebody stuck their finger in the tart long after I would be gone. No, that never happened. I bought mine… 🙂 ) And when I was lucky enough, I was given one of those delicious lemon tarts. Let me just say that my taste buds were as happy as a penguin in an icebox. Now that’s not to say that penguins should go in iceboxes, or that they have an affinity for freezers, but they do like the frozen fish we tend to keep there.
Strangely enough, it took me weeks to ask my friend for her recipe. Naturally, being a pastry chef, she was a little hesitant to give away her prize-winning lemon tart recipe. But with a little convincing, I managed to get it. Following her recipe, I’ve never been able to get the tart to come out like hers. But this year I’ve taken tremendous strides in baking (no doubt thanks to The Great British Baking Show and theKitchn’s 20 Day Baking School). As a side note, I highly recommend you check out those links, the Great British Baking Show is sooo fun to watch. (Not to mention that it’s a great resource! I could talk all day about that show. But since dinner’s coming off the stove and I’m sure you’d like to eat too we’ll talk about it another time). TheKitchn’s mini-baking school does wonders too. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m still planning on doing so.
After months of making this delicious treat, I’ve modified the recipe to the point that my friend might not recognize it BUT I’ve was able to get that delicious flavor back into the tart!
Now, how to make it
Crostata Al Limone: An Italian Lemon Tart
Hopefully, all the time I spent working and reworking the names of the ingredients my friend gave me will help you make an awesome lemon tart. Now, Wikipedia attributes lemon tarts to France. I’m not sure how it came about, so until we figure it out I’ll go with Italy: An Italian Lemon Tart.
There are two parts to this recipe, the crust, and the filling. I’m not sure if the order really matters so long as the filling is cool when you assemble the tart. So let us begin, we’ll need:
- 350 grams (2.5 cups) of flour
- 50 grams (¼ cup) of sugar
- 2 grams (½ teaspoon) of baking powder
- Zest of 2 medium-sized lemons
- 150 grams (10.5 tablespoons) of butter
- 2 large eggs
- 250 milliliters (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) of water
- 250 milliliters (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) of whole milk
- 2 medium-sized lemons
- 100 grams (½ cup) of sugar
- 50 grams (⅔ cup) of tapioca flour
- 1 large egg
Let’s start with the filling since it is the last set of ingredients I listed. While I’m writing this, I’m thinking that it may be better to make the filling first. The filling will take a while to cool, so you can use all that cooling time to whip up the crust.
Preparing the filling is rather simple. WAIT! Quick aside: If you’re familiar with making European treats that require thickening then you may notice something strange about my recipe. I don’t use cornstarch or corn flour. Instead, I use tapioca flour. I prefer the sweet flavor of tapioca and I think it gives things a better overall texture. Back to making the filling, we have a lemon tart that is figuratively crying out to us.
In the numerous videos, books, actual lessons, etc that I saw about making Italian lemon tarts, I noticed something that I found really intriguing. If you peel the lemons, and place the peel in a pot with the milk and water then the liquids extract the oils as they heat up. I’m not sure why, but it does do just that. If you pour the milk and water into a pot and add the peels then when you heat it you’ll have a crazy watered down milk that tastes like lemon. Maybe I find it bizarre because it is something I would never drink myself. Let’s just say that it belongs in this lemon tart.
While the “crazy watered down milk that tastes like lemon” thing is heating, put the juice of 1 lemon, the sugar, tapioca flour, and the egg into a small bowl. Whisk them together until the sugar dissolves. This will take a few minutes. You could just whip it together, but if you make the sugar dissolve here then you decrease the chance that you’ll have bits of undissolved sugar in the lemon tart at the end.
When the “crazy watered down milk that tastes like lemon” thing is hot (but not boiling), slowly stir it into the sugar-egg mixture. Careful! If the mixture is too hot you will cook the egg and have what they call in The Great British Baking Show (and every cooking show I’ve ever seen) “scrambled eggs”. Or at least I think this that is what they mean when they say that you cook the eggs in the wrong way and at the wrong time.
Once everything is in that tiny bowl, pour it back into the pot. If you’re worried about egg shells, pour it through a strainer. That way you can catch any shells, or chunks of undissolved sugar that you missed. We now have to heat the pot so that the cream can thicken, so place it over a medium-low heat and stir. Stir constantly until the filling reaches a pudding-like consistency. Once you’re there, remove the lemon filling from the heat, cover it with plastic wrap and let it cool. We can’t use it until it is at least cool to the touch (if not colder). This’ll take an hour or so in the freezer, longer if you put it in the fridge.
Ah, the Crust. The crust is quite simple. It’s a variation of your standard 3-2-1 pie crust which is to say that it is very very easy. The important thing here is to make sure that everything is fully incorporated.
I usually avoid using so much sugar in my recipes. I personally don’t like super sweet foods. (Not to say I like them bland, but I prefer the other flavors to speak for themselves. I believe that if we always drown our food in spices and sweeteners then we end up having something that is rather bland. That’s strange to say seeing how I said that we have to drown our food in flavors, but I am sure you understand my point. If you don’t, try using the same set of spices in every single meal that you eat for a week or two. Then you’ll understand what I mean about bland and overwhelming.)
In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder together. As I learned from theKitchn, the sugar in this instance interferes with the gluten development. This means that once have to start kneading we can knead for longer before the gluten structure builds.
Next, press the butter and lemon zest into the dry ingredients. You’ll know you’re done when everything looks like breadcrumbs!
Wow, this is getting long. I’ll try to speed it up for you!
Mix the eggs into the breadcrumb-like flour mixture. Knead until you have a uniform color. Cut the dough into thirds. Merge two of the chunks of dough together. We want one chunk that has two-thirds of the total quantity of dough. Form the dough into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and pop it into the cooler.
I know that most of the time that I browse blogs, I usually skip to the bottom. And this post is RIDICULOUSLY long! So, I’ll try to speed it up a bit.
This tart is for a 23 centimeter (9 inches) tart pan. So prepare one of those and heat the oven to 180℃ (~355℉).
Roll out the larger chunk of dough and place it inside the tart pan. Use the small dough disc and roll it out. We want to form a lattice structure, so we’ll need 3 strips for to go up and down, 3 strips to go left and right, and 1 strip to surround the perimeter of the tart pan.
Once you have everything rolled out, place the large piece of dough into the bottom of the tart pan. Pour the filling into the tart pan so that it fills it up two-thirds of the way. Form your lattice, and put the tart into the oven for 30 minutes. If you like you could brush the lattice with milk or an egg wash. I’ll leave that up to you.
When the tart has finished cooking, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. Serve when the tart is stone cold.
And there you have it! A simple Crostata Al Limone: the Italian Tart of your and my dreams. I’ve found that it goes well as a dessert, a snack, or just something to eat. I guess you could pair it with something, but really… does a lemon tart such as this require anything else?
Let me know what you think! Post your comments, concerns, thoughts, recipes, suggestions, best wishes, requests for Italian food below!