When it comes to baking, I like my desserts messy. This is not to say that I like dirty dishes or wayward, disfunctional stand-mixers. It means that I like desserts that are free-form, imprecise and often referred to as “rustic.” Thank goodness for the generations of country kitchens which devised homey, family-style and fabulous tasting desserts. Often involving fruit and usually containing folksy and forgiving words such as crumble, slump, crisp and fool, these desserts revel in imprecision, delightfully embracing dribbles, lopsidedness and even mistakes. Sure, some technique is involved, but the overriding rule is a relaxed unfussiness with a big helping of simplicity. Bring on the mess.
Which brings me to these slightly dissheveled crostatas (actually, I believe that’s crostate in the plural). Citrus is rampant in the markets right now, and with that comes the ruby blood orange. Sweet and tart, yet more complicated than the run-of-the-mill navel, this fruit has a unique flavor which borders on murkiness. If an orange can brood, then it’s the blood orange. I must have been in the mood for brooding when I stuffed a brown bag full of them, with the plan to make a dessert for a dinner this weekend. Scanning the web for inspiration, I found this recipe on the Kitchn, and, right away, I knew these crostatas were the dessert for me: brilliantly hued, cute as can be, and appropriately messy in a rustic free-form kind of way. I tweaked the recipe a bit to my taste and included a salted caramel sauce as an accompaniment.
Blood Orange Crostate with Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes 8 – 4 inch crostatas
For the crust:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut in cubes
1/2 cup sour cream
For the filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 blood oranges, skin and pith cut away, sliced crosswise, seeds removed
2 navel oranges, skin and pith cut away, sliced crosswise
1 egg beaten
Make the crust:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse to achieve a crumbly consistency. Add sour cream and pulse a few times until the dough just begins to stick together. Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Whisk mascarpone, 3 tablespoons sugar and vanilla in a small bowl to lighten and combine.
Remove dough from refrigerator. Divide into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion in a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Place a tablespoon of mascarpone in the center of the dough, spreading it slightly, while keeping one inch clear around the edge of the dough. Place a navel orange slice in the center. Dot with blood orange sections. Sprinkle the oranges with a little sugar. Fold the exposed edges of the dough in around the oranges, shaping and pinching to create a rim of crust. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat this process with remaining dough. Brush pastry dough with the egg and sprinkle the dough with a little more sugar.
Bake crostatas until crusts are firm to the touch and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with a spoonful of the remaining mascarpone cream. Drizzle with Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe below).
While you are making the caramel be very careful, as the mixture will be extremely hot. Make sure that all of your ingredients are in place before you begin, since the sauce will come together very quickly. Use a high-sided heavy bottomed pot, since the caramel will foam up as it cooks. Be sure to use the best quality unsalted butter that you can find.
Add the sugar to a heavy-bottomed pot (3-4 quart) over medium-high heat. Cook until the sugar melts, whisking occasionally and swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. When the sugar is the color of dark amber, remove the pan from heat. Add the butter, taking care as it will foam. Stir until it’s melted into the sugar. Pour in the cream (it will foam again) and whisk until smooth. Add the salt. Cool the sauce completely. Makes about 1 cup. Store in a mason jar for up to two weeks.