Pasta Frolla…1, 2, 3

One minor failure and a turnaround to success to report from the book under review by The Cookbook Guru for July to September. Pasta frolla, sweet pastry, is listed by Carol Field in her book, The Italian Baker, as a master recipe. In fact, she lists several versions as master recipes – Pasta Frolla I, Pasta Frolla II, Pasta Frolla III – not to mention the whole wheat variety (Pasta Frolla Integrale). After scrutinizing the recipes, the difference between I, II and III is in the type and amount of flour used. I uses plain (all purpose) flour, II uses “pastry flour” or a combination of plain and cake flours, III uses less flour, but substitutes some of this with potato starch. The only explanation of these different recipes appears in the chapter introduction – one all-purpose one (I) and increasing lightness or delicacy (II to III). Here she also mentions endless variations of pasta frolla depending on individual bakers’ inclinations – more or less butter, more or less sugar, corn flour substituing some flour, half lard/half butter, only egg yolks, only vanilla or only lemon (or other) flavourings…et cetera. The end result, however, should be a sweet and buttery pastry.

Putting one of Field’s recipes to the test, working my way through Pasta Frolla I, past the three different procedures for mixing (by hand, by mixer, by food processor), I noticed just how buttery the pastry was. Even once chilled, it was soft when rolled out, difficult to work with and, as a consequence, tended to tear. I could imagine this instability would be worse if made with a lighter flour (II) or with less flour and potato starch (III). Also, when discussing shaping the tart, Field mentions 3-1/2 inch tartlets, 8 inch, 9 inch and 10 inch diameter tart pans as well as a rectangular 8 x 11 inch pan, each requiring different amounts of dough. A lot to keep in mind as you are making a tart.

pasta_frolla_feature

Then comes the rather inexact and complicated instructions on part or full baking the shells where the text is confusing to follow depending on the chosen size of your tart. I’m afraid at some point as I persisted through the recipe, I wanted to whip out the red pen and do a major edit, but it may just need a complete re-write. There are too many choices. To my mind, the text should be streamlined. Shaping, for example could be listed as a table rather than continuous text – with columns for tart size and shape, amount of dough required with or without a lattice top, baking times for pre-baking or fully baking. I would hope it would cut down on errors. I’m sure I made a few.

pasta_frolla1 A pre-baked shell, originally rolled and placed in the pan, but requiring filling in cracks and shoring up the sides with more dough. And, I may have miscalculated the amount of dough required for the pan shape I selected. I also noted that Field does not seal the pastry with an egg wash after removing the pie weights, which can lead to soggy dough once filled.

There are two issues (other than the complicated text) I have with Field’s recipe(s). One is the ratio of flour to butter. Italian sweet pastry dough is not new to me. I’ve been making pasta frolla for some time now, lately using a recipe from Tessa Kiros’ Tuscan cookbook, Twelve, which has served me well. The primary difference between Kiros’ and Field’s doughs is the amount of butter (less for Kiros, more for Field) and sugar (more for Kiros and less for Field). It occured to me that a hybrid of the two might be in order: Kiros’ lower butter amounts and Field’s smaller sugar quantities – i.e. less in the case of these two ingredients might be better all around. In fact, given Field’s comments in her chapter introduction, it is up to the baker to find a perfect balace of ingredients that suit one’s individual tastes.

cherry_crostata_FieldsPre-baked shell, loaded with pitted and sliced Morello cherries on top of a layer of apricot jam (as per Field’s instructions). When baked, the edges were rather dark (almost burnt) – quite unphotogenic – but still edible. And, yes, the tart bottom was a little soggy.

The second (related) issue I have is on the use of pasta frolla (whatever recipe you follow). I think that making tarts in tart pans from pasta frolla is a difficult procedure with a soft buttery dough. I have also noticed that high butter pastries tend to shrink more in the pre-baking process, no matter how chilled or rested the dough was. So, when making tarts, particularly if pre-baking the shells, I will continue to follow Richard Bertinet’s sweet pastry dough recipe in his (wonderful, fantastic and other superlatives) book, Pastry which has a higher flour to butter ratio, making it an easier dough to work with. Bertinet also advocates sealing the pre-baked tart shell with an egg wash – eminently sensible and prevents soggy crusts. On the other hand, pasta frolla with its more biscuit-like crust and its higher butter and sugar content is ideal for rustic free-form crostatas (sometimes called galettes) with a slightly thick crust, like one I posted on earlier: fig jam crostata, my Sophisticated Fig Newton. The dough is also good for a variety of small filled biscuits which Carol Field includes later in her chapter on Biscotti. But, more on that later.

gooseberry-blueberry_crostataRustic Blueberry-Gooseberry Crostata made with the hybrid pasta frolla. Inspired by a post of Gooseberry & Blueberry Galette by Josette @ the brookcook.

Hybrid Pasta Frolla
This is my solution producing a pliabile pastry without being too buttery – a hybrid of two basic recipes (see below). Too much butter makes the pastry unstable, particularly in rolling out and shaping. And, with less sugar, it is also not too sweet as to overwhelm the fruit or jam filling. This is sufficient dough to make 1 large free-form crostata or 2 smaller ones.

  • 100g sugar
  • 140g (5oz.) sweet, unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk (reserving the egg white)
  • finely chopped zest from 1 lemon
  • 300g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • pinch of salt

Mix the sugar and the softened butter until creamy – by hand, in a mixer or in a processor. Add the egg and the egg yolk and mix until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and then the flour and salt. Mix until the dough just forms. Place the flattened dough ball on greeseproof paper, wrap and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two. Can also be divided and/or frozen.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (about 350 degrees F).Take out the dough and roll it on a floured board into a rough circle. When it is no less than 0.5cm thick, transfer it to a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Place your jam or fruit filling (fruit mixed with a little sugar and corn flour/starch) in the center with about a 2cm boarder all around. Brush the boarder with the reserved egg white. A lattice top made with strips of dough reserved from rolling out the bases is optional, but recommended particularly for jam crostatas. Lay the lattice stips on top, weaving them in place, and pinch lightly on the border. Using the baking parchment, lift the edges of the border over the center, pinching where it naturally folds. Brush the pastry (including the optional lattice top) again with the egg white.

Place in the oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. The jam should be bubbly and the fruit should be cooked and the pastry golden. Let it cool completely before cutting.

Carol Field’s Pasta Frolla I
Note that Field uses both vanilla and lemon flavourings, and, true to form, Field offers three choices for the lemon flavouring. However, I don’t think it is necessary to use both vanilla AND lemon (whichever variety of lemon flavour you use).

  • 100g sugar
  • 200g (7 oz.) butter
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, OR 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract, OR finely chopped zest of 1 lemon
  • 300g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • pinch of salt

Tessa Kiros’ Pasta Frolla
This recipe is adapted from Kiros’ original which makes a greater quantity. I’ve reduced it here so that it can be compared to Field’s recipe.

  • 150g sugar
  • 140g (5oz.) butter
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • finely chopped zest from 1 lemon
  • 300g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • pinch of salt

* * *

Lessons Learned: Read, evaluate, compare and above all, employ common sense.

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24 comments

  1. I will keep your hybrid recipe in mind next time I make sweet pastry. I am not a big pastry maker and so haven’t tested any of Field’s recipes from this chapter. It is annoying when confronted with those obvious errors in method. The butter quantity too can be so crucial to a suitably ‘short’ pastry being successful but when the butter quantity is too high, it does become impossible to manage. I have seen pics of Italian Nonnas pressing the Pasta Frolla into the tin- pressing and patching as they went along, rather than attempting to roll it.

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    • I love pastry, but the waistline does not! However, I do make small freeform crostatas on occasion and I really like the idea of cutting down on both butter and sugar while still preserving the typical biscuit-like quality of pasta frolla. When I made Field’s recipe, I should have followed those sage nonnas’ examples and just pushed the dough into the tart pan rather than rolling out! They know a thing or two…

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  2. Wow this sounds too complicated for my poor brain :). I too found her instructions wordy and complicated, and in need of a good editor. The cookies I made turned out quite well in the end tho, and that’s the important thing.

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  3. Good on you Debi for your perseverance, your crostata looks fabulous. I really feel for the inexperienced cook who puts their faith in a recipe, only to be let down by the result. I learned the value of the KIS (keep it simple). principle of recipe writing many years ago, Field’s recipes are a lesson to us all…..

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    • My husband is an advocate of the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) which I also try to follow, but sometimes fail at miserably (being natural babbler). Field has some great descriptions and many of her (mostly bread) recipes are really great, but she does tend to make things complicated with excess words. Better stop there or I’ll be using too many words….

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  4. Ha, hearing you on the pastry and the waistline…and of course a coeliac in the family curtails the joys of really good pastry somewhat. I see too much of that overly complicated malarkey in a recipe, I am likely to run a million miles. I admire your perseverance. As always, I enjoy reading your experimentation. I am thinking forward to summer and family gatherings where a stonefruit crostata would be a delightful addition. I have notated your recipe for then. Thanks KW.

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    • I like that word malarkey… so true for so much writing! Sandra (Mrs Recipe) is so right in saying that recipes should be written simply. We (us cooks πŸ˜‰) take things for granted, but many newbies out there might just be put off by having to navigate their way through these complex recipe shoals. Hope my instructions for “hybrid” pasta frolla is straightforward. It really isn’t complex.

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  5. Hi Debi, Pastry is so simple but also so complex. It is all about the balance. I have one recipe I use all the time. If sweet is called for, I add sugar, if savoury, no sugar πŸ™‚ now that is simple.

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    • I’m with you there, Glenda. I now have 3 (easy) recipes for different sorts of pastry. As you can tell, I am a huge fan of Bertinet’s book on Pastry. He has two basic pastries – salted and sweet – that I have adopted. However, Italian pasta frolla is much more buttery than Bertinet’s sweet pastry and, as a consequence, has a great biscuit-like quality once baked, which seems to be a hallmark of Italian pastries. I’m glad I finally hit on a good pasta frolla recipe that wasn’t too buttery or too sweet, but a perfect combination (at least for me!). Everyone needs to find their own combination that suits their needs.

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  6. Well done on persisting with your pastry attempts to get the right result that you wanted! I do love that we are finding Field’s recipes a little testing as its a good lesson in us realising just how much we know when we trust our instincts. I agree about too many options in the recipes. I think she’s trying to write for everyone when really it would be better just to stick the way that worked best for her. I’ll reblog your post tomorrow as both Francesca and yourself posted within minutes of each other yesterday πŸ™‚

    On a side note I think that Kiros will have to be one of our books again next year. I really love her food and recipes.

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    • Hi Leah, Amazing that Francesca and I posted almost at the same time! Field’s book is testing our skills. It seems to me that she feels most comfortable talking about bread. Something I learned from trying her recipe for pasta frolla is how too much butter affects pastry, and how the end result of a nice biscuity crust can still be achieved with less butter AND less sugar. If we test a Kiros book next year, I vote for Twelve. It was her first and the one I keep going back to. It will also be the only one of her’s that will make the move with me to Greece.

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  7. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    From Francesca’s cheesy bread yesterday, we move onto sweet pastry from Debi at My Kitchen Witch today. Debi has taken on the challenge of creating Pasta Frolla and along the way evolved the recipe to work for her. Given that Field has multiple versions in the book it demonstrates the differing versions that already exist in Italy and that one more version is not going to go astray if you’re looking for a pastry that works for you. Make sure that you check out this post if you’re a pastry fan or a learner.

    Happy Reading and Happy Baking,

    Leah

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    • All that pastry testing really did pay off. I now have a go-to recipe for buttery pasta frolla. I really think that Field’s introduction said it all – every baker needs to find their own perfect pastry. I also have Bertinet’s sweet and salted pastries up my sleeve for other things.

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