Plum Crostata with Walnut Streusel

In September as the peaches wane and the apples are just ripening, here in Colorado we have trees and trees full of plums. These aren’t the big old black, handful plums we see a bit later on, but rather are the small dark purple, firm-when-ripe Italian prune plums. While excellent for snacking, perhaps they’re even better for baking since they tend to hold their shape and aren’t overly sweet. You might think of plums as the fall bag-lunch fruit —and I do, too— but for the past few years I find I adore a beautiful plum tart or, in this case, crostata.

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My plums came from friend Helen Brockman, who raided her brother’s yard while he was out of town. That or the bears would get them.
A blurry Tracy making a crostata.

Every now and again, I teach a pie class and when I do we often begin with the fall fruit crostata, which some folks call a galette. I try to avoid that term because it also refers to a filled buckwheat crepe in France, though it can mean a few other things, too. Leave it to my beloved French to confuse my baking issues. Anyway. The crostata is a home-baked Italian pie often filled with only jam when made in Italy. Sometimes there is a tart pan, and/or a top lattice crust, but sometimes not. The Italians, like many other European countries, have stellar and myriad bakeries and hence home-baked goodies are intentionally very simple, but precious all the same and often eaten for breakfast. (Why bake when the baker at la panetteria on the corner gets up every morning at 3 to do it for you?) In my class I concentrate on the ease with which this pastry is made and we definitely skip the pan and the lattice top and go free form. To understand the process most clearly, we begin —if there is time— by making the pastry by hand with a pastry cutter in a bowl. Some believe that particular method produces a better product as there’s less chance of the butter being cut too finely into the flour than there is if using a food processor. (A crust with more flake than crumble is the hoped for result.) And while that’s probably the truth, I save my hands and time by nearly always making my dough in a food processor. So, in my kitchen, hopefully a student will do the second crostata using the machine for the pastry. We compare them later over coffee and they make their own choices when they bake at home.

Why a crostata rather than a traditional American pie? 1. The doughs are very similar, but a crostata has only one crust and that one doesn't have to fit (trimmed, crimped, etc.) in a pie plate. Much easier and the feel is casual and fairly rustic. Easy as pie is a lie; there's that, too.  2. The crostata serves 6 instead of 8. 3. With only one crust, there are less calories and fat.  4. The baker needs less fruit for filling. 5. Either makes a winning breakfast, but my husband Dave votes crostata with Greek yogurt. 6. Crostatas bake in about a half hour and are soon ready to cut. A fruit pie takes at least twice as long and must cool several hours before serving. 7.  Why not try something new?!

These photos take you through some of the steps in the recipe. Begin with making the dough as it needs to chill. While it takes a nap in the fridge, you have time to wash and cut the fruit for the filling as well as make the streusel or crumble topping.

Want to see photos of the dough being made and rolled out? Scroll down through my Strawberry-Blueberry Crostata post.

Looks angelic, right? That’s until you walk away leaving anything on the kitchen counter. Snarf.

I made two of these babies and ferried them over to friends’ Jill and Drew’s for a garage card-playing party. Nothing wrong with chips and dips, but kind of nice to also have pie!

Now that you have a picture in your head about how to make this plum crostata, you’ll need to try this:

Plum Crostata with Walnut Streusel

Crostatas (free-form pies) can be made with almost any fruit. If you have no plums, give this a try with peaches or apples or pears or only jam. If your crostata leaks and makes a pretty mess on the parchment paper, that’s just par for the course and nothing to worry about. 6 servings

Equipment

  • Rimmed sheet pan and parchment paper

Ingredients

  • Dough for one crostata – recipe below or use your own or use purchased dough
  • 1 pound about 20 pitted small, ripe, firm plums pitted and cut into ½-inch slices (My plums were about 1 ½ inches in diameter and I cut them into sixths. Larger plums will do; cut them into eighths.)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 teaspoon to sprinkle on dough before baking
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Walnut streusel topping – recipe below
  • 1 tablespoon milk (to brush on pastry before sprinkling with the teaspoon of sugar and baking)

Instructions

  • DOUGH: MAKE + CHILL (see recipe below): Make the dough as per instructions below (or use your own dough) and chill for an hour or freeze for 15 minutes.
  • PREHEAT THE OVEN to 425 degrees F and place oven rack at center. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
  • STIR TOGETHER PLUM MIXTURE: While the pastry chills, in a large bowl stir together the sliced plums, sugar, and lemon zest. Set aside.
  • MAKE THE WALNUT STREUSEL (see recipe below) and set aside.
  • ROLL OUT DOUGH: Sprinkle the counter or board lightly with flour. Roll out the chilled pastry dough into an 11-inch round, lifting/turning dough and dusting counter again once or twice to keep dough from sticking. Roll the dough up onto the rolling pin (or carefully fold it into fourths) and move the dough to the center of the parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  • SPOON PLUMS INTO PASTRY: Spoon/pour the plum mixture into the center of the pastry, stopping about 1 ½ inches before the edges. Top evenly with the walnut streusel. Bring up the edges of the dough around the plums, folding or pleating gently as needed to go around in a circle. You’ll have about a 9 ½-inch crostata (9" after baking). Brush the dough carefully and lightly with the milk and sprinkle only the dough with reserved teaspoon of sugar. (This will help brown the crust.)
  • BAKE/COOL/SERVE: Bake for 25-30 minutes or until crust is crispy golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Don’t worry if some of the juices have escaped onto the parchment paper. Remove pan to cooling rack. When it has sat for 30-40 minutes cooling, move the crostata off the paper so that it sits directly on the rack to cool completely as follows: Move the pan off the rack. Using both hands, lift the parchment paper off the pan (keeping the crostata level) and place it back onto the rack with the pie still on it. Carefully slide the crostata off the paper and onto the rack itself while pulling the paper from underneath it. Cool completely or until just warm. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Store well-wrapped on the counter for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for a week. If it’s very warm and humid when you are baking, you might want to wrap and leave the pie in the fridge immediately after serving. We never have much crostata leftover, but I would probably share it with neighbors or eat it for breakfast rather than freeze it. The dough, however, freezes very well if you’d like to make a double batch and freeze one. Let it sit overnight in the fridge, wrapped, to thaw before using.

Notes

WALNUT STREUSEL:
  • ¼ cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • ⅛  cup EACH: granulated sugar and brown sugar
  • ⅛  teaspoon EACH: ground cinnamon and ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade or in a medium bowl with a pastry cutter, place all ingredients except nuts and pulse or cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Stir in the nuts. Remove the blade from the food processor, if using, and with fingers, pinch together the crumbs so they hold together.
CROSTATA DOUGH (makes one crostata)
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ pound (1 stick/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons ice water.
In a food processor fitted with the knife blade or in a bowl using a pastry cutter, pulse together/mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the pieces of butter and pulse/cut in until mixture is the size of small and large peas. Slowly drizzle in ice water pulsing or stirring until dough begins to come together, adding a drop or two more if needed. Turn out onto floured board, gather dough, pat into a ball, and then pat or roll into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or freeze 15 minutes.  NOTE: This dough recipe is somewhat adapted from the book CUCINA SIMPATICA: ROBUST TRATTORIA COOKING, by Johanne Killeen and George Germon. I think this is the same dough and recipe Ina Garten uses in her apple crostata.   Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2021. All rights reserved.
Since I have a bag of plums, I’m putting out a few at a time to ripen in a bowl that I’ve set in a south window while leaving the rest in the fridge. That way I have a steadier supply of just enough ripe plums for eating.
Click on the arrow. Look closely at about 10 o’clock. The crostata keeps bubbling for a minute or so after it comes out of the oven. So that’s one reason it has to cool a while before you eat it! The other is the filling must cool to set because without that process, the pie will simply come apart in a big mess when you cut it.

TIPS:

STUFF TO READ:

Types of Plums/COOKING LIGHT

What is a Stone Fruit, Exactly/MY RECIPES

Plums are a 30-Calorie Snack that Can Keep You Regular/LIVESTRONG

Reason Behind the Rhyme: ‘Little Jack Horner’/NPR

Lidia Bastianich’s Easy Plum Tart Recipe/TODAY

Sweet and Spicy Sugar Plums/ALTON BROWN

CHANGE IT UP:

  • Any pound of plums or stone fruit works for this crostata. Some bakers do like to peel larger pieces of fruit like peaches before baking, but if they’re ripe, I don’t see the need. Lots of nutrition, color, and texture in the peels of fruits and vegetables. You’d eat a peach with skin, right? Just wash, pit, and slice.
  • Want to skip the streusel? No problem. The crostata works just fine without it, but there are two caveats: 1. add another 8 ounces of plums and 2. unless the plums are quite sweet, you may need another 2 tablespoons (or more) of granulated sugar.
  • No nuts for you? No problem. You can swap in rolled oats if you like.
  • Cardamom not your favorite? Double the cinnamon or use ground ginger instead.
  • Don’t want to make dough? You can use a purchased dough from the refrigerated section at the grocery store and it’ll work; it just won’t taste all big-buttery and luscious. Next time, try and make the homemade version. The dough in the recipe is done in a minute and is very easy to make along with quite difficult to mess up. While it must be refrigerated for an hour, it can be made a day ahead and left overnight in the fridge or — even better, made way ahead and frozen. Thaw wrapped disc of dough overnight in the fridge before using.

REDUCING FOOD/OTHER WASTE WITH THIS RECIPE:

  • While any fruit pie is a good keeper on the counter at room temperature, do refrigerate this version if keeping for more than a couple of days or if you live in the deep south and it’s high summer. I wouldn’t freeze it, but it will freeze if that’s your only option. I’d invite a friend or two for coffee instead or send a piece to a neighbor who doesn’t bake.
  • Too many plums? Wash, pit, cut in half, and toss them into a freezer bag for cooking or baking later. If you’re not used to eating a lot of raw plums, be careful not to overdo it. Nuff said.
  • Stewed Plum Recipe/SPRUCE EATS Lovely with granola and/or plain yogurt.
  • Store nuts in the freezer as they easily become rancid.
  • Butter freezes perfectly well. Buy while on sale and store in the freezer for up to a year.
  • Unbleached parchment paper (used) is not recyclable, though some people reuse it and later toss it into the compost bin.

If you liked this, you might also like my Plum and Almond Crostata from 2020.

LIFE GOES ON:

September 14, 2021.
Driving home from Denver the other day. We don’t think it’s smoky anymore at first glance, but if you’re driving in from out of town, the mountains are still very hazy. Come soon, rain and snow.

Thanks for spending time with me in my kitchen! I’m so glad you’re here.

Hope you’re cooking and feeling well,

Alyce

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