Italian Almond Pasta Frolla or Italian Shortbread Crust

  • Serves: Makes one 9- or 10-inch tart, one 9- or 10-inch springform, or four 4-inch free-form or four 4-inch mini-tarts
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One, four 4-inch tart shell made with a cookie cutter

Pasta frolla is what you need for the crust of Italian crostate (fruit pies). This crust recipe can be used for any crostata you make. My interest in this type of pastry all started with my daughter going to Italy for study abroad for her school semester. She sent me photos of delicious pastries, such as a Italian Apricot Jam Tart (Crostatina marm, Albicocca. I started looking up related pastries, and became interested in this recipe, too - both are "simple", traditionally to highlight and celebrate the harvest of fresh fruit! This tart is so easy-to-make and beautiful in color, too. I thought you would enjoy it as a wonderful tart to make for Valentine's Day or for any occasion. For variations, you can make this tart in any shape - heart-shaped, square, rectangular or in minis. Instead of a pastry border, you can roll out all of the dough flat, and use a border or whole or halved strawberries, and fill the interior with another type of fresh fruit, such as we did in the Italian Strawberry Tart (Crostata di Fragole) Tutorial!

PASTRY RECIPE HELP

Sarah's
Secrets

You can roll the dough on parchment paper and cut out its shape with a cookie cutter. Then take away the scraps and slide the shaped dough, still attached to the paper, onto the cookie sheet. That way the cut-out won't get misshapen.
 

INGREDIENTS
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
1/2 cups almond flour or finely ground blanched almond flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt


5 tablespoons COLD unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces

1 large egg; can be cold from the refrigerator
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (peel) or 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (peel), optional

NOTE: I could not locate almond flour locally, so I made my own, from whole almonds.
1. Bring water to a boil in a large wide pan.

2. Put 3/4 cups whole almonds in the boiling water and let boil for approximately 30 seconds, then drain.


3. Run cold water over the almonds to cool them. When they are cool, you should be able to slip the skins right off with your fingers.

4. When all of the almonds are skinned, put them in a baking pan, in one layer, and place in a warm oven, to dry out. Do not toast the almonds, you just want to dry them.

If you have a pilot light in your oven, you can leave the pan in the oven overnight. The pilot light should be hot enough to dry the almonds overnight.

 Process the almonds into flour:
1. When the almonds are dry, place them in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse them until the almonds are finely ground. Be careful that you don't take them too far, or you will start to make almond butter.

2. Sift the almonds through a sieve, to remove the larger bits of almonds. The almonds must be finely ground.

KELLY CA SAYS: The larger almond pieces that are left in the sieve can be toasted in a dry pan and used as toppings for ice cream, or in a streusel, or even sprinkled on a salad, to add a little crunch. Just set them aside, for later use.

INSTRUCTIONS
STEP I: MAKE THE ALMOND PASTA FROLLA DOUGH
Keep everything cold!
1. In a medium size mixing bowl, mix the flour, almond flour, sugar and salt.

2. Toss the cold butter pieces into the flour mixture.

3. With both hands, using your thumbs and fingertips, quickly press and rub the butter into the flour ingredients.
Make sure you reach down into the bottom of the bowl and press and squeeze all of the butter into the flour ingredients.
Continue until the butter pieces are the size of small pebbles and a few pieces are the size of small peas.
SARAH SAYS: Work quickly; you do not want the dough to become pasty from overworking the butter and causing it to soften and melt.
Make sure the flour mixture stays dry, powdery and cool.

2. Beat the egg with the optional lemon or orange zest.
SARAH SAYS: The citrus zest adds so much flavor to the crust!

3. With a fork, stir the egg mixture into the flour / butter mixture JUST UNTIL IT HOLDS TOGETHER.
SARAH SAYS: Make sure you do NOT overmix, otherwise you will toughen the crust and reduce its light texture!

4. Gently knead the dough a few times just until smooth. Do NOT overknead or overwork the dough.

5. Gently press the dough into a disk shape, cover with plastic wrap and place in a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least an hour,
preferably overnight.

STEP II: FORM THE TART CRUSTS
There are various ways to form the pastry crust: you can roll it out and shape it with a cookie cutter or fit the dough into a tart pan.
Makes one 9- or 10-inch inch tart
OR four 4-inch free-form mini-tarts
OR four 4-inch mini-tarts in pans
OR two 4-inch free form tarts AND two 4-inch mini-tarts in pans

A. MAKE FREE FORM CRUSTS: SHAPE THE CRUSTS WITH A FOUR INCH COOKIE CUTTER

Cut-out the dough:
1. Select a 4-inch size cookie cutter; make sure it is NOT of an intricate design.
NOTE: You can make at most 4 mini-free form tarts if using one Pasta Frolla dough recipe.

2. Divide the main dough into four equal portions. Wrap three portions separately and return to the refrigerator until needed.

3. Starting with one dough portion at a time, roll it out to 3/16-inch thickness, about 5 1/2-inches square in shape.
To avoid using flour on the rolling surface, use a silpat, nonstick baking mat or roll the dough in between two pieces of waxed paper.

4. Cut the shape out with the cookie cutter you have selected. Set the scraps aside.

5. Carefully slide the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet.
Pierce the dough all over with a fork (called docking) at 1/2-inch intervals so it will not puff in the oven during baking.

Form the rim of the tart:
1. With the left-over dough scraps from Step A, above, roll out a thin rope, about 15-inches long or so, depending on the base shape you have selected.

2. With water, lightly moisten the edge of the dough disk, with a clean paint brush. The water will help adhere the rope to the base during baking.

3. Starting at the top of the heart shape, carefully arrange the rope of dough on the lightly moistened dough base edge.
Gently press it into place to form a border.

4. When you reach the top of the heart shape, moisten the ends of the dough ropes with a small amount of water, and press together.

5. To create a design in the border, mark a series of diagonal lines in the dough with a table (not sharp) knife or mark designs all the way around the border.

6. Place the crust, covered in the refrigerator, while you prepare the remaining three tart crusts.

Finish the remaining dough pieces
1. Repeat Steps, above with the three remaining dough pieces, using the cookie cutter.

B. SHAPE THE CRUSTS WITH A FOUR INCH TART PAN
1. Select a 4-inch tart pan with a REMOVABLE bottom. Spray its inside with nonstick spray.
NOTE: You will need at least 4 mini-tart pans if using one Pasta frolla dough recipe.

2. Divide the main dough into four equal portions. Wrap three portions separately and return to the refrigerator until needed.

3. Starting with one dough portion at a time, roll it out to 3/16-inch thickness, about 5 1/2-inches square in shape.
To avoid using flour on the rolling surface, use a silpat, nonstick baking mat or roll the dough in between two pieces of waxed paper.

4. Gently lift and fit the rolled dough into the tart pan.

5. Press the dough against the walls of the tart pan and then press down, all the way around the edge of the pan, to remove the excess dough.

6. Pierce the dough all over with a fork (called docking) at 1/2-inch intervals so it will not puff in the oven during baking.

7. Place the crust, covered in the refrigerator while you prepare the remaining three tarts.

Finish the remaining dough pieces
1. Repeat Steps, above with the three remaining dough pieces, using mini-tart pans.

STEP III: PRE-BAKE THE TART CRUSTS AND COOL
Four 4-inch free-form mini-tarts
OR four 4-inch mini-tarts in pans
OR two 4-inch free form tarts AND two 4-inch mini-tarts in pans

1. When ready to bake, position an oven shelf in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place a silpat mat or parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Do NOT grease.

2. Bake the tart dough or those formed in pans, directly on the prepared cookie sheets, for about 15 - 20 minutes, until the crust is light golden brown and feels firm when pressed with a fingertip.
SARAH SAYS: If the crust starts to darken it's burning; this can happen very suddenly, so keep an eye on your oven. An overbaked crust
will be dry and hard when cooled.

3. Cool the crusts directly on a wire cake rack, if free-formed.
Cool the crusts in their tart pans, if using, on a wire cake rack.

VARIATIONS:
For a 9- or 10-inch Free Form Tart: 
1. When ready to bake, position an oven shelf in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Draw a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper to serve as a rolling guide. Turn over so the pencil markings are on the other side.
3. Roll out 3/4s of the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 9-inch round size. Trim and save the scraps.
4. Slide the dough, on the parchment paper, onto a cookie sheet. Pierce the dough all over with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals.
5. With the remaining 1/4 dough and dough scraps, roll out a thin rope shape, about 30-inches long.
6. With water, lightly moisten 1/2-inch of the edge of the dough disk. Arrange the cylinder of dough on the lightly moistened dough and gently press into place to form a border. Mark a series of diagonal lines in the dough with a table knife or mark designs all the way around the border.

For a 9- or 10-inch Tart Pan:
1. Select a tart pan with a REMOVABLE bottom. Spray its inside with nonstick spray.
2. Roll the dough out to 3/16-inch thickness, 13-inch round in shape.
To avoid using flour on the rolling surface, use a silpat, nonstick baking mat or roll the dough in between two pieces of waxed paper.

3. Gently lift and fit the rolled dough into the tart pan.
4. Press the dough against the walls of the tart pan and then press down, all the way around the edge of the pan, to remove the excess dough.
5. Pierce the dough all over with a fork (called docking) at 1/2-inch intervals so it will not puff in the oven during baking.

Bake - For a 9- or 10-inch Free Form Tart or a Tart Pan:
1. Bake the dough for about 20 - 25 minutes, on a parchment paper or silpat, nonstick mat, until the crust is light golden brown and feels firm when pressed with a fingertip.
SARAH SAYS: If the crust starts to darken it's burning; this can happen very suddenly, so keep an eye on your oven. An overbaked crust will be dry and hard when cooled.
2. Cool the crust in its pan on a wire cake rack.

STORAGE
Store prebaked crusts at room temperature for a few days, wrapped, or freeze for a month or more. Thaw in wrappers at room temperature.

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