For the first “basics” post of 2016, I’m introducing you to pasta frolla, an Italian sweet pastry dough. It is also known as shortcrust pastry. Pasta frolla is the base for many Italian desserts, especially crostata, a tart filled with fruit preserves or pastry cream (sometimes both), or even Nutella. Pasta frolla is also the dough of choice for pastiera napoletana, a traditional Italian Easter dessert, as well as delicate cookies that Italians call frollini.
Once baked, pasta frolla is both tender and flaky, almost like shortbread, but less dense. The milk solids from the butter contribute not only to the texture of pasta frolla, but also to its rich, delicious flavor. Traditionally, pasta frolla is scented with freshly grated lemon zest, but orange zest can also be used. The flour used to make pasta frolla is important. Because it is a delicate dessert dough, a low-protein flour will ensure the finished dough stays tender. If you can find it, Italian 00 (zero-zero) flour is a great choice, but white pastry flour and all-purpose flour also work well. I have used all three with success. Eggs are the only liquid used to bind the dough together. Some bakers use only egg yolks and others will use a combination of yolks and whole eggs. Eggs are high in fat and have a relatively low water content, although they provide just enough moisture to bind the dough together. To sweeten the dough, granulated or powdered sugar both work well. While the baker can vary the types of ingredients, the ratios of each ingredient remain firm: two parts flour, one part butter and one part sugar.
Like most doughs, pasta frolla benefits from a rest in the refrigerator, a few hours at a minimum, but ideally overnight, so some advance planning is necessary if you’re making a dessert with this dough. Because of its delicate texture and high butter content, pasta frolla can be fiddly to roll out. Rolling the dough out between two large sheets of parchment paper and lightly flouring the dough will help prevent it from sticking to the parchment paper. If you own a marble pastry board, it will keep the dough cool as you roll it out. Working quickly and handling the dough as little as possible with your hands will also keep it from warming too much. Once the dough has been fitted into the tart pan, it is necessary to chill it in the refrigerator before filling it and baking the crostata. If you are using pasta frolla to make cookies, chill the rolled out disk of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and then again after you have cut your cookie shapes. Don’t be discouraged if the dough splits or cracks when rolling or cutting the dough–pasta frolla is a silky, tender, and forgiving dough and is easily patched.
Like all butter pie dough and cream cheese pastry dough, I like to make pasta frolla in the food processor because it comes together quickly, with just a few simple steps. But making it by hand is also easy and doesn’t take much more time. Many nonne (grandmothers) in Italy still make pasta frolla on a large wooden board, in much the same way as they make fresh pasta–by mounding the flour, sugar, and salt on the board, making a well in the center, and adding the butter and rubbing it into the dry ingredients before adding the eggs and gently kneading everything together until a soft dough forms. Whichever method you use to make pasta frolla, it is important that you do not over-work the dough so it remains silky and tender. It may take a little practice to master pasta frolla, but it’s well worth the effort for all the versatile Italian desserts you can create with it.
Adapted from Fine Cooking (June/July 2020) by Domenica Marchetti
- 2 cups (255 grams) all purpose flour
- ⅔ cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (optional) *see Notes
- Grated zest of 1 small lemon (about 1 Tablespoon)
- 11 Tablespoons (154 grams) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes
- 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
- Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder (if using), and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse a few times to combine.
- Scatter the cubed butter on top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture is crumbly.
- Add the egg and egg yolk and pulse until the dough clumps together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board.
- Working quickly, bring the dough together into a ball.
- Cut the ball of dough in half, with one piece slightly larger than the other. Form each piece into a disk and wrap each disk of dough tightly in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate the dough for at least 1-2 hours, or overnight.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator 30 minutes before rolling it out.
- Use the dough within 1 day of making it in any recipe that calls for pasta frolla.
- Baking powder makes pasta frolla dough tender, which is the perfect texture for a breakfast jam crostata. Omit the baking powder for a more shortbread-like, crisp crust which is the perfect texture for a dessert crostata.