Peach and Plum Crostata

I never get tired of making crostatas (also sometimes called galettes). They're basically pies... except they're free-form, less dense, and require no blind baking or much fuss.

Due to the warm and dry winter, stone fruit season arrived early in Southern California. I want to take full advantage of everything peach, plum, pluot, apricot and cherry while the season is still here. Of course, the fruit is perfect to eat just as it is... but somehow when I use stone fruit for baking I feel like I'm really doing the season justice.

This recipe makes really flaky not too sweet pastry. The fruit is great, but honestly the crust is my favorite part of the dessert (but I am a pastry and baked-good fiend). I don't like my filling too sweet, but if you prefer a sweeter fruit you can add 1/4 cup of sugar instead of 2-3 tablespoons. Also, taste your fruit. Some stone fruit is sweeter, some is pretty tart. Mine were on the sour side, and I don't mind that too much, but next time I want a slightly sweeter fruit to start with. The natural flavor of the fruit can't be masked when it is baked: a sweet fruit will be sweeter, and a sour fruit will stay pretty tart. Also, if you find that you have those dry mealy flavorless peaches and plums they won't really get much better when they are baked. This is a simple dish so each ingredient should be the best it can be.

This is the perfect sweet thing to serve on a day when summer is coming, but it's still not too hot to bake. Or... suffer the heat, just make sure to serve yourself a slice with a big scoop of cold vanilla ice cream.

Peach and Plum Crostata
makes 2 crostatas
recipe can be halved - each crostata serves 6-8 (depending on slice size preference)

for the crust-
2½ cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks), very cold diced into cubes
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, very cold

4-6 tablespoons ice water
1 egg yolk
1 splash of water

for the fruit filling-

1½ lbs. (about 9-10 small) plums or pluots, pitted and cut into equal sized slices
1 lb. peaches (about 4 medium) peaches, pitted and cut into equal sized sliced
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar plus more for garnish, depending on preference and how sweet the fruit is
1 tablespoon honey, plus more for garnish
zest of 1 organic lemon (if you're using the zest, organic is important)
juice of ½ a lemon

2 tablespoons butter, divided

for the crust-

In a food processor or using a whisk and a bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar together. To the dry ingredients add the cubed butter, pulse until pea-sized pieces of dough are formed. Or, use a pastry cutter and combine the butter and flour mixture until the same pea-sized pieces of dough are formed.

To the dough, add the apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Pulse in the food processor, or mix with your hands, until the dough comes together but is not too wet. It should look kind of crumbly but will easily stick together between your fingers when squeezed. Transfer the dough onto a lightly flour dusted clean flat surface. Divide the dough in half. Form the dough into two equal-sized disks (flatter disks are easier to roll out than balls of dough). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour (two to three hours is ideal). 

for the filling-

Slice the stone fruit so that they are all roughly the same thickness. Transfer the fruit to a large bowl and add the flour, sugar, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Lightly toss the mixture; be careful not to break the fruit.

assemble and bake-

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the racks on the top and bottom third parts of the oven.

Place parchment paper on a flat surface and lightly dust it with flour (the parchment paper will help you transfer the dough onto a baking sheet - I usually do this and forgot this time and it was fine just trickier). Roll out one of your disks into a large circle about 13-14 inches in diameter, and about 1/2 an inch thick. The edges do not have to be perfectly round. It can actually be prettier if the edges are slightly broken and uneven.

Fill the center of the rolled out dough with half of the fruit filling mixture. Dot the top of the fruit mixture with little bits of butter (about 1 tablespoon per crostata). Leave a 2-3 inch border of dough around the fruit.

Fold the border of dough over the fruit (see below). Again, this doesn't have to be perfect... you just want the dough to fold over and cover part of the fruit. Transfer the finished crostata onto a baking sheet (line with parchment paper if you didn't roll the dough out onto to begin with). Repeat the process with the second disc of dough, and the rest of the fruit filling. Transfer the crostata onto a second baking sheet.

Make an egg wash by beating together 1 large egg yolk with a splash of water. Brush the egg yolk onto the dough. Sprinkle more turbinado sugar (or any coarse sugar) onto the the brushed dough.

Place both sheet pans into the oven. After 20 minutes, rotate and switch the sheet pans so the top crostata moves to the bottom and the bottom crostata bakes at the top. Bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the crostatas are golden brown and the fruit is tender. If the crust starts to brown too much before the fruit is cooked, cover the the exposed crust with foil. 

Once baked, drizzle a little honey over the fruit-exposed part of the hot crostata. Slice and serve warm or at room temp.

Simple Salted Butter Cookies

Remember those Danish sugar cookies that come in the blue tins? I haven't had them in forever, but they were THE staple cookie of my childhood. My parents and my grandparents often had them on hand for a sweet treat and their tins were always repurposed into excellent storage containers. I liked the crinkly paper that contained the different shapes of cookies that all tasted exactly the same. I never thought much of them because they were so unassuming and plain, but before I'd know it I'd eat ten of them. They were addictively satisfying in their simplicity.

That's the inspiration for these cookies. I just wanted to make a cookie that had almost no frills and tasted mostly of butter. Good butter.

If you've made pie crust from scratch then this recipe will feel familiar. If you have never made pie dough, this recipe is still on the easy end of the baking spectrum. A food processor helps the cause, but a pastry cutter or hands will work too.

The key for simple dishes is that all of the ingredients should be great. For these cookies you'll want to invest in very good butter above all else. A nice fleur de sel, sel gris, or flake salt would be helpful, too. And that's it... anyway, there are only about 5 ingredients in this cookie. It's the perfect recipe for when you're in a baking mood but not in a going-to-the-store-to-get-what-you-need mood.

These buttery crumbly crisp things are especially perfect dunked into a hot beverage. Good strong black tea or coffee with a drop of cream.

Salted Butter Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Salted Butter Breakups recipe
Makes 22-24 cookies, depending on size (or one sheet-pan's worth)

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup vanilla sugar or regular granulated sugar (I throw discarded vanilla bean pods into a jar and fill it with sugar. Voila! Vanilla sugar is born and used all the time)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar (I like the texture of this - it's usually coarser - and I like it in baking. You can use 100% vanilla sugar, 100% cane sugar, 100% regular sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, or sel gris (gray salt), or flake salt, or 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold good quality unsalted butter, small cubed
  • 3-5 tablespoons ice cold water
  • 1 cold egg yolk + a few drops of cold water beaten together
  • Turbinado sugar to sprinkle on in the end (optional)

In a food processor (or using a whisk), pulse the flour, sugars, and salt together.

Cube the butter into small chunks and drop them into the processor. Pulse a few times until the pea-sized clusters form. You want this pretty coarse so that you don't overwork the butter. Small chunks of butter will be visible in the finished dough. If you don't have a food processor, you can combine the butter and flour mixture using a pastry cutter, or you can even use your hands.

Add the cold water to the food processor one tablespoon at a time and pulse again. Pulse until the mixture sticks together when you press it with your hands (or using your hands to combine if you're skipping the FP). Only pulse to combine everything. Again, don't overmix or your dough will be tough and gross instead of crumbly and wonderful.

Transfer your mixture to a flat surface. Form it into a large disc or ball (flatter round disks are easier to roll out later). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Here's where patience is a virtue: refrigerate for at least 1 hour. You could keep it in the fridge for hours before you're ready to use it, but definitely you need at least one solid hour of chilling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly dust a flat surface with flour. Roll the dough out until it is 1/4-1/3-inch in thickness. Using a fork, run the tines of the fork into long stripes in the dough. I go in one direction and then I do the second direction after. I like a crisscross shape (see cookie above). This step is so optional... it's mostly for aesthetics but it is also nice texturally. You can go pretty deep, the dough will rise and the lines fade as it bakes.

Cut out the cookies and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. I used a square cookie cutter, but you can use any size/shape/style cookie cutter you'd like. Alternatively, you could cut it into squares using a knife.

Beat together one cold egg yolk with a few cold drops of water. Using a pastry brush, lightly (!) brush the tops of the dough with the egg wash. Sprinkle the cookies with Turbinado sugar (or coarse sugar) if you like that kind of thing. You can skip this step and it will be fine. You can also sprinkle with a tiny bit more salt if you're into saltier cookies.

Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch carefully, ovens vary and you don't want them to get too dark/browned. Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack and let them fully cool. The texture will be better once they're room temp.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days (or longer if you can make them last that long).

Brown Butter, Salted, Chocolate Chip Cookies - Part 2

I'm not sure that I'll ever have enough chocolate chip cookie recipes. For me, the chocolate chip cookie platonic ideal has remained unchanged: crisped on the outside, soft on the inside, with lots of caramel flavor and a touch of salt.

Each time I make a batch of cookies I learn something new. The other day I was helping my friend cater a small event and we were serving chocolate chip cookies as part of the desert. I am always picking up great tips from her, and she often figures out how to make recipes as simple as possible. She said she uses 3 sticks of 100% browned butter, and she mixes everything up without a mixer. I took a cue from her, and revisited my cookie recipe.  I used more butter (but also more flour), cut out any electric mixers, and I added some molasses (just a touch) to the batter to add another layer of caramel flavor. 

Here's a few things I've learned about making soft/crispy cookies:
  1. The darkness of the sheet pan matters. I prefer a lighter pan because it will keep the cookies from getting too hard/crisp. Darker pans make darker cookies (seriously).
  2. Don't over bake. Take these guys out as soon as they start to color but still look a little underdone.
  3. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for a few minutes, but not for too long... 5 minutes max.
  4. Using more brown sugar than white sugar helps with the gooey texture/caramel flavor. Molasses helps, too.
  5. Use really good chocolate... I like 60-70% dark or bittersweet chocolate Guittard or Guirardelli for chips... You could use a good quality dark chocolate if you want to do chunks instead.
I'm sure this won't be my last round of chocolate chip cookie testing... but for the time being this recipe will definitely do the trick.

Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies

cups unsalted butter (3 sticks)
1 cup light brown sugar
 ½ cup granulated sugar

2¾ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
 ½ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons molasses
2 eggs
1 10-12 oz. bag chocolate chips (238-340 grams) different brands come in different weights
flake salt to sprinkle at the end

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the racks in the top 1/3 and lower 1/3 of the oven. Line your baking sheet(s) with parchment paper. This recipe will make about 4 sheets worth of cookies.

In a saucepan that is light in color (like stainless steel or ceramic... you want to make sure you can see the color of the butter) make the brown butter. Start by melting the butter over low heat. Once the butter is melted you can raise the heat to medium. The butter will start to get foamy, swirl it around or stir; this will help make sure all the moisture and bubbles get released. Watch the butter closely, once it turns brown with little sand-like flecks you have brown butter. It will smell very nutty and aromatic. Remove it from the heat, transfer it into a heat proof mixing bowl and add the sugar to the brown butter. Stir and let the mixture cool a bit while you prepare the other ingredients. 

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Once the butter sugar mixture has cooled slightly, add the vanilla and molasses. Stir until incorporated. Add two eggs. Stir until the eggs are fully incorporated. Slowly add in the the flour mixture. Stir until the batter just comes together, be careful not to over mix. Add the chocolate chips and stir until they are evenly distributed. Let the dough rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or even overnight. You can also scoop out the dough, freeze it on the tray, transfer it to the bag, and save for when you're ready to bake cookies.

Using a 1½ tablespoon ice cream scoop, or using a heaping tablespoon, scoop out the dough onto the parchment-lined sheet pan. Make sure each scoop is at about 2 inches apart from each other. The cookies will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the dough with flake salt.

Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until the cookies just start to turn golden but still appear soft. Let the cookies sit on the sheet pan for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack to cool.

Eat warm or at room temp and enjoy!