A Splendid Crostata

pictureThere was always some kind of cake on Sunday morning, when I was growing up.  My mother didn’t bake much – little time, high stress level (with school, daily food shopping, unhelpful husband and children, plus), but she would make a little sweet treat on Saturday night.  Not a culinary masterpiece, mind you, but something that was even better: a simple, comforting, homey cake, rich with fresh eggs and sweet butter.  Oh, there were many of those delectable torte through the years.  A light as air Pan degli Angeli, a delicate, vanilla-flavored cake made with potato starch; Marmor dolce, a solid black and white pound cake, the dark segments rich and deeply chocolate, the light ones fragrant with lemon; Torta di mele (my favorite), really a deep tart of tender, butterypasta frolla filled with a creamy, lemon-scented custard nestling thinly sliced apples. But it was the jewel-like Crostata di marmellata that usually disappeared the fastest.  Sure, so easy to devour a thin, gloriously attractive jam tart that cuts into straight, neat, perfect wedges.  My mother would quickly (and a tad impatiently) work together the flour, butter, egg yolks and sugar for the pasta frolla(sweet pastry dough), then roll it out, or sometimes she just patted the soft mass into the cake pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom and up the sides (no time – or patience – to let it chill, for my overworked mother); then she’d empty a jar of scrumptious sour cherry or apricot preserves, usually by Cirio, one of the best Italian brands, and spread it out with a spoon.  Then, pictureshe’d arrange wide, rustic-looking strips of dough on top of the jam, a quick brushing of beaten egg to give it color, and into the oven.  So we would wait, nearly holding our breath, to behold the finished product, a magnificent, yet simple and chic, tart, shimmering red or orange like a stained glass window.  A dusting of the wonderful Italian vanilla-flavored powdered sugar was all the decoration it needed.  Stunning, perfumed with the tartness of citrus and the intense fruitiness of the jam, it was the ideal Sunday morning breakfast with a cup of caffelatte.  I make it often now – easy, always have some jam in the pantry – even if I replaced my mother’s dented aluminum cake mold with a fluted French tart pan.  Sure, perhaps it looks more professional this way, but the flavor, well, I don’t know: I think hers had  something I can’t quite duplicate.  Oh, allora, maybe just the elusive taste of my memories.  Here’s her recipe.  Try it out.

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