Living in a part of the country where berries grow so prolifically can make it hard to get one's hands on a peach dessert. For us, peach pies and tarts seem to be the least available of all the summer fruit treats. You come home with a flat of berries and find yourself making tarts, buckles and cobblers until your waistband can't give anymore. Peaches, on the other hand, seem to disappear before you preheat your oven. Bring home a bag with the intent of making something special and find yourself peachless once the word spreads around the house that they are particularly juicy.
We're advocating for a peach-picking trip while the picking is still perfect. It's a little decadent. How often do you eat more than one peach in a day? When you're picking peaches of course. With juice running down your arm and dripping off your chin, you feel the internal struggle of knowing you should stop before it's too late. Once you bring home your abundance of peaches that can't be devoured in one sitting, the clock starts ticking until the peaches pass their prime.
Do you ever look at a dessert and think that it's too perfect to eat? Worse yet, a cake that looks beautiful but falls short on taste the moment you take a bite? The antidote to both dilemmas is the crostata. The rustic free-form tart is the epitome of simplicity. It starts with a crust and can be as simple as adding fruit, a bit of sugar, a splash of vanilla and a pat of butter. It's beautiful in its imperfection and especially stands out in flavor.
While you don't need a tart or pie pan to bake a crostata, you do need to bake it on a sheet pan. We recommend using parchment paper as a sheet pan liner. In fact, we've even rolled the crust out onto some flour-dusted parchment paper and lifted the whole thing up onto the sheet pan.
As if a good peach needed anything to make it sweeter. The reason to add sugar is to make a delicious syrup with the juices from the peach once the crostata goes into the oven. A little vanilla extract adds depth to that flavor.
Your secret weapon against a soggy crust is a little barrier of flour and sugar. It helps thicken up the juices before they soak through the bottom of the crust.
Pile your peaches a little higher than you think. As they cook down and shrink, you still want a full and succulent treat. The perimeter around the fruit gets folded up to envelop the filling.
Fold the dough over the fruit and crimp the seams before it goes in the oven. Fingers lightly moistened with water help to seal the seams so none of the juices run out.
A few shavings of butter add just the right touch of silkiness to the juices about to materialize.
Inevitably a little juice will find a crack and make it's way out. Wait till it cools before peeling away the amber glaze for a nibble of peach candy. When you are ready to share, a light dusting of powdered sugar elevates the crostata from rustic treat to star dessert.
Peaches are in a way like a slice of summer. Even if you could get them at other times of the year, there is something about the warmth of the summer heat and the glow of the summer sun that makes them taste even better.
It’s just as easy to make two crusts as it is to make one. This crust recipe is for two 10-inch crusts. Keep one unbaked crust in the fridge for a day or two later when you are ready for more. (For any longer than three days, we recommend the freezer instead.) The crust is free-form and so are the serving sizes. There’s nothing stopping you from making several individual tarts instead.
CRUST (makes two 10-inch crusts)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
2 Tbsp ice water
FILLING (for one 10-inch crust)
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
3 ripe peaches, medium size, sliced 1/2 - 1 inch thick
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
A food processor works for this, but we find that using your hands is actually easier. Beginning with the crust, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and stir gently with a whisk to mix the ingredients evenly.
Add the butter. Using your hands, toss the butter with the dry ingredients so it is well coated. Roll the butter between your fingers so that it begins to look like a coarse meal, as you continue to combine it with the dry ingredients. Do this part quickly before the butter gets too warm. If it starts to get warm, put the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes to chill the butter before proceeding.
Using a rubber spatula, add the sour cream and vinegar and begin to fold them into the butter mixture, blending all the ingredients together. Add the ice water and use your hands to squeeze the dough together several times to gather it into a rough ball. Divide the ball in half.
Flatten the dough into two 1-inch thick disks and wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake your crostata, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Let the disk of dough sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. Place a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface and dust it lightly with flour. Place the dough on the parchment and sprinkle it lightly with flour too. Roll the dough evenly with a rolling pin in each direction to form a large circle to your desired size. The thickness of your circle should be 1/4-1/8-inch thick.
Lift the dough and parchment onto a sheet pan and refrigerate it while you prepare the filling.
For the filling, combine the flour and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
Combine the peaches and the sugar in a medium bowl to coat the peaches. Sprinkle with vanilla and stir gently.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the flour-sugar mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1 to 2 inch border of dough uncovered to fold over as a rim.
Arrange the fruit evenly over the flour-sugar mixture. Fold the border over the fruit and pleat it as you go along. Crimp the seams with lightly moistened fingers. Shave the butter on top of the fruit, containing it within the crust.
Bake the crostata. After 20-30 minutes, check it to make sure the crust is not getting too dark. If it is, cover just the crust with strips of aluminum foil to prevent burning. Continue baking the crostata until the juices begin to bubble and thicken; approximately 45 minutes total. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Dust with powdered sugar. Not many people will turn down a side of whipped cream or ice cream if you offer that too.
This crostata works with berries, apricots and plums just as well as peaches without making any changes to the basic recipe. In fact, if you opt to make small individual crostatas, why not let everyone make their own and fill it with the fruit of their choice?