Caramel Apple Cheesecake Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Pasta frolla is like the Italian version of pâte sucrée, a sweet pastry dough, and crostata are basically just pies or tarts. Although I was tempted to make a traditional variant full of marmalade, pastry cream, or ricotta cheese, the siren song of Thanksgiving was too strong. I decided to use my pasta frolla to make a rich apple tart for Thanksgiving, and just for the sake of comparison, I also made a ginger-streuseled pumpkin pie using my sourdough pâte brisée recipe.

I had a million things to do the day before Thanksgiving, so I cheated a little and used my food processor to make the dough. The recipe calls for superfine sugar, so I just tossed some organic sugar in the processor first and gave it a buzz before adding the rest of the ingredients. I also threw in some crystallized ginger, just for fun. The pasta frolla dough was definitely more crumbly than the sourdough pâte brisée, but after a rest in the refrigerator, I was able to roll it out and transfer it to the tart pan without much grief.

Because I can never leave well enough alone, I decided that I should make a caramel apple cheesecake tart with homemade dulce de leche. Now, I’ve made dulce de leche from cooking sweetened condensed milk over a water bath in the oven, but this time I wanted to try making it with plain old whole milk, simmered very slowly with sugar and baking soda until… becomes a thick brown caramel. I may have let mine go too long, as it stiffened up so much in the refrigerator that I had to reheat it just to scoop some out. I think it cooked for probably a total of 4 hours over very low heat, since every time I turned up the burner a little, it threatened to boil over. Afterwards I found an Alton Brown recipe that was a bit more detailed, and indicated that I should not have stirred the foamy stuff in, which may have been part of the problem. So I didn’t get it quite perfect, but the flavor was rich and caramelized, and sweet enough that I didn’t add any additional sugar to the apple filling, just a bit of lemon juice, cornstarch, and cinnamon.

To finish the tart, I spread a mixture of cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla over the chilled crust, piled on the apples, and topped it all off with a little lattice crust brushed with egg wash.

We didn’t get to taste the pies until the next day, after a marathon of Thanksgiving food preparation and bellies nearly bursting with turkey and all the fixings. But I am happy to say that both desserts went over very well. The pasta frolla was crisp and sweet, like a cross between pie crust and a sugar cookie. My husband inhaled his pumpkin pie, and consequently found the apple pie too rich to finish; his brother and I took more a balanced approach to our pie-eating endeavors, and Nolan roamed eagerly from one plate to the next for his customary tithe. After that, it was all we could do to sit sluggishly on the couch and play LittleBIGPlanet for the rest of the evening.

Thanks so much to Simona for selecting this month’s challenge. I tend to use the same few pastry crust recipes over and over, so it was good to try a new one, especially over Thanksgiving, when we always have pies on the table. Be sure to check out all the fantastic crostata at the Daring Bakers blogroll, and happy holidays, everyone!

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Tart

1 batch Pasta Frolla, recipe below

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 C sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

3 large apples, such as Jonagold (about 3-4 C), peeled, cored and sliced
1 T lemon juice
1 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 C dulce de leche, recipe below

Roll out pasta frolla into about a 12″ round. Transfer to tart pan and crimp edges if desired. Store in refrigerator until ready to use; also gather up extra dough into a disk, re-wrap, and store in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400F. In a small bowl, whisk together cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla. In another bowl, toss apples with lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir in dulce de leche, warming slightly first if it is particularly thick.

Spread cream cheese mixture over the chilled tart crust and top evenly with apples. Roll out remaining pasta frolla and cut into 6 11×1″ strips. Form a lattice on top of the tart, pressing edges to seal; brush with egg wash (1 egg white beaten with a tablespoon of water).

Bake at 400F for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375F and bake for an additional 15-25 minutes, until only the very center jiggles slightly when shaken. You may need to use foil to keep the tart from overbrowning near the end. Cool completely on a wire rack and serve, preferably when you have some extra room in your tummy to do it justice!

Source: Adapted from No Empty Chairs.

Pasta Frolla

1/2 C minus 1 T superfine sugar
1 3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Grated zest of half a lemon (or 1 T minced crystallized ginger, vanilla sugar, etc.)
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl (reserve white for egg wash)

Place sugar, flour, salt, and flavoring agent in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add butter and pulse a few times more, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Pour in the beaten egg and pulse just until a dough starts to form. It will be crumbly. Dump out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and press to form into a flat disk; wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to overnight.

Dulce de Leche

4 C whole milk
2 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a large, 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 2-3 hours, until the mixture is a rich brown color and has reduced and thickened like caramel. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer if desired, and store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.

Source: Michelle Bernstein and Alton Brown, at Food Network.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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