Have you tried crostata before? Crostata is a sweet characterised by its bottom layer of “pasta frolla”, a kind of Italian shortcrust pastry, topped with a filling, then finished with strands of more pasta frolla which are crossed over the top.
This version is typical from the south of Italy where they sweeten ricotta and perfume it with orange zest and cinnamon. We like adding chopped dark chocolate and raisins which we soak in some liquor for a more festive, grown-up flare. If you want to omit the alcohol, the raisins can instead be soaked in fresh orange juice. Serve this Crostata di Ricotta with nothing else but a strong espresso!
First, prepare the raisins so they have some time to become plump and juicy by rinsing them under water to remove impurities then place in a bowl and mix with the brandy (or fresh orange juice). Allow them to soak for a minimum 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the pasta frolla by combining the butter, sugar, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla paste in a stand mixer until thoroughly mixed and softened. Now add the egg yolk and mix for a moment. Then add the whole egg and mix for a moment. Finally mix in the flour and baking powder until a buttery dough is formed. Don’t overmix. Form the pasta frolla into a flat disc, cover completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to firm up.
While the dough is chilling, prepare the ricotta filling by pressing the ricotta through a sieve to make a fine, creamy texture. Put the ricotta into a mixing bowl and add the caster sugar, orange zest, and cinnamon, and mix for 1 minute on medium speed. Finally fold in the chopped dark chocolate and raisins along with all the soaking liquid. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.
Preheat your oven to 180°C fan forced and prepare a 20cm square or round cake tin with a piece of baking paper on the bottom to ensure an easy non stick removal later. Take the chilled pasta frolla from the fridge and unwrap from the plastic. Dust the dough with some flour and use a rolling pin to thin the dough out to ¾ cm thickness rolling back and forth, dusting with more flour as you go, and turning and flipping the dough as needed until the desired thickness is achieved.
Dust the dough once more and roll it over the rolling to be able to move it to your tin without breaking. Unroll the dough from the rolling pin over your tin and gently press from side to side, corner to corner, making sure it's evenly placed all over. Trim the edge of the dough so that the sides of your crostata does not exceed more than 3.5cm in height. Mix up the excess dough trimmings, cover and place back into the fridge to firm back up which we will use later to finish the crostata.
Now fill the crostata with the prepared ricotta filling and smooth to the edges making sure it’s completely full up the sides of the pasta frolla. Take the excess pasta frolla back out of the fridge and roll to ¾ cm thick. Use a knife to cut strips measuring no more than 1.5cm wide. Carefully place the strips one way across the top of the crostata, leaving a gap between each other, then place a row of strips the other way, leaving a gap between each other, creating the classic crostata effect on top. Finish by trimming any overhanging excess pasta frolla then bake for 30-35 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool and serve with a cup of strong espresso!