Sicilian mince pie in a tart, frolicking with pasta frolla

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Wednesday was a sweltering day. Not just sunny, not just hot, the air felt like hot porridge when I step out of the air conditioned office. Aussie summer arrived with a vengeance, just in time for our annual Christmas + New Year + January + Summer + because I want to sit and read on the beach all day holiday period.

What does a gal do on a day like that? Fired up the oven of course. I made a Sicilian-esque mince pie tart, in a pasta frolla crust.

Yep, a mince pie in a tart. Other, more worthy souls, have the patience to make cute little mince pie crusts and cut out tweensy stars for the top, but I had reached the ‘let’s do something low fuss’ stage of Christmas preparations.

Sicilian mince pie?

Remember I said I didn’t like Manu’s Buccellato filling as much as the Cuccidati filling from SBS? A little voice in the back of my head kept nagging: “What if you just didn’t make it right? Do you really want to reject Manu’s family heirloom recipe after one flimsy trial?”

That inner voice is usually pretty good on work matters. Seems it can also give advice on food. 

I made Manu’s recipe again, paying more attention to small things, like how finely I chopped the fruit and nuts, how fresh each spice is and whether I should add a little more or a little less.

Turns out, I really like the Buccellato filling, especially with an extra splash of brandy. The first batch was a bit overwhelmed by cloves (because I had an ultra-fresh, ultra-pungent bag). For the second batch, I used less cloves and bumped up the cinnamon. The result was richly spiced but balanced.

The Buccellato filling had me thinking, this could be a Sicilian take on mince pies?

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Pasta frolla

Pasta frolla is a shortcrust pastry that seems to be a staple in almost infinite forms of Italian baking, sweet, savoury, tarts, and of course crostata. When I thought of a Sicilian mince pie-tart, I immediately thought of pasta frolla crust.

The most commonly cited recipe seems to be the one written by Pellegrino Artusi in his seminal work, The Science of Eating and Art of Fine Dining. Artusi gave us the basic ingredients, in precise proportions. While I didn’t use his exact recipe, it’s worth listing here:

250 grams flour
125 grams cold butter
110 grams sugar (icing sugar is the best, or fine castor sugar should be ok)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
zest of 1 lemon

The website La Cucina Italiana also gives variations on the basic recipe. For example, add egg whites if you want a crispier pastry; add more fat and sugar for a crumblier pastry. I also saw a recipe that uses baking powder, for a puffier pastry, but not sure if that would have Signor Artusi’s stamp of approval.

My current go-to recipe for pasta frolla is a bit of a rebel, from Mary Simetti’s book, Sicilian Food: recipes from Italy’s abundant isle. It uses egg white and lard, as well as butter; it’s extra egg-y; there is less butter/fat, but a little extra splash of white wine helps to bring the dough together.

I love this recipe. The pastry can be rolled out or pressed into a pan, holds its shape, doesn’t seem to need blind baking when using dry-ish filling, and retains a flaky texture even after my manhandling. By adjusting the amount of sugar slightly, I have used it for sweet (like here) and savoury (like generous hand pies with zucchini, caramelised onion and goat cheese filling). A low fuss but showy pastry.

Probably because of the addition of lard, it doesn’t brown as easily as other shortcrust pastries. but brushing the pastry with egg wash or syrup will give you a beautifully browned top.

This time, I topped the tart with random pastry rounds and clumsily hand-cut pastry stars. About 30 minutes later we had a mince pie tart. A tart, from my oven-light-less oven!!

If only the rest of Christmas cooking was as easy.

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Sicilian mince pie, in tart form

(Recipe – if you can call it that – by moi. The filling came from Manu’s Menu, and the pasta frolla from Mary Simetti’s Sicilian Food: recipes from Italy’s abundant isle)

Ingredients

Pasta frolla (makes twice as much pastry as I needed)

425 grams or 15 oz flour (I used 390 grams plain flour and 35 grams cornflour)
2 tbsp castor or icing sugar (adjust and use more or less depending on the filling)
pinch of salt
125 grams / 4 f butter
75 grams / 3 oz lard
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for glazing the pastry)
125 mL / 4 fl oz whit wine

Optional: a generous pinch of cinnamon, inspired by the description of an amazing macaroni pie in The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa….)

Filling (makes much more than needed, but who’s complaining?)

500 grams / 17 oz dried figs, chopped
250 grams / 8.5 oz apricot or fig jam
100 grams / 3.5 oz almonds, chopped
100 grams / 3.5 oz hazelnuts, chopped
50 grams walnuts / 1.75 oz, chopped
50 grams pistachios / 1.75 oz, chopped
200 grams candied cherries, chopped
100 grams / 3.5 oz raisins
100 grams / 3.5 oz candied orange zests, chopped
100 grams / 3.5 oz dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp clove powder
1 espresso shot
100 ml / 3.5 oz Marsala or Muscat wine (I found that twice the wine produced a looser, more liquid filling, which was best for the tart as opposed to the Buccellato)
125 grams / 4.4 oz honey

Optional: a splash of brandy (1-2 tablespoons)

Method

1. For the filling: start the day before or up to a few days ahead. Toast and chop all the nuts. Chop the dried figs and candied fruits. For this tart, I found I preferred more finely chopped nuts and dried fruit, as it gave a smoother filling and allowed the flavours to meld together better.

2. Put all the ingredients, except for the chocolate chips and brandy, in a pot, cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Stir well and make sure the wine has moistened all chopped fruit. Let it cool down completely, then add the chocolate and optional splash of brandy. Stir well to mix and keep it aside.

3. For the pasta frolla: start at least an hour before baking, or up to a few days ahead. Sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Use a cool knife, ‘cut’ the butter and lard into the flour, until you get a texture of a coarse meal.

4. Stir in egg and egg yolk. Add just enough wine to bring the dough together. I usually find I use most of the wine. Gather the dough together and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes, and up to a few days ahead (the longest I’ve left the dough in the fridge is 3 days). You can knead the dough for a minute before placing in the fridge, but I find not kneading the dough at this stage reduces the likelihood of over-working the dough when I come to roll it out.

5. To assemble the tart: Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Butter a rectangular loose based tart pan. Either roll out the pasta frolla and press into the tart pan, or take chunks of the pasta frolla and press into the pan. Chill for about 30 minutes for the pastry to firm up. I pressed the dough directly into the pan as it saved rolling and was a little easier on a weeknight. It was less perfect but still looked fine.

6. Spoon the Buccellato filling into the tart pan, smooth the top of the filling as well as you can, using a fork or the back of a spoon.

7. With the remaining pastry, cut out rounds of pastry, or make random shapes of pastry. Add to the top of the filling, press down slightly. Whisk the leftover egg white slightly and glaze the pastry.

8. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, but start checking after 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

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24 thoughts on “Sicilian mince pie in a tart, frolicking with pasta frolla

  1. garethhevans 22 December 2013 at 5:25 am Reply

    “A low fuss but showy pastry.” My sort of pastry. Season’s Greetings, don’t get heat stroke! 🙂

    • saucygander 22 December 2013 at 8:19 pm Reply

      It got up to 40C in some parts of Sydney, crazy!! We’ve escaped to the beach, so life is looking up!
      The pastry is now mother-in-law approved! 🙂
      Have a great Christmas!

      • garethhevans 22 December 2013 at 10:04 pm

        What an achievement with the pastry! Family are the toughest critics. Thanks for the Christmas wishes, you have great one too.

  2. yummychunklet 22 December 2013 at 8:32 am Reply

    Delicious.

  3. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 22 December 2013 at 12:10 pm Reply

    I’m switching on the oven tomorrow! Today just seems a bit too hot so far. This definitely looks worth making! 😀

    • saucygander 22 December 2013 at 8:21 pm Reply

      Isn’t it crazy hot? No baking for me today, we’ve escaped to the beach for that classic Aussie summer experience! 😀

  4. Johnny Hepburn 22 December 2013 at 1:53 pm Reply

    Isn’t it odd. Here we use French culinary terms. So I’ve never heard of pasta frolla. Yet it’s pate sucre, more or less. Which I’ll sort of be using for my mince pies – if I ever bother to do them. Tomorrow is earmarked. Mince pies over here don’t seem to have nuts in them at all. And most recipes have virtually no spices. Huh, I want spices. And crumbly pastry. And I certainly don’t want mine tasting of HP brown sauce!! Seriously, I bought mince pies for the first time in years last weekend and that’s how they tasted. At least the pastry was nice >)

    Oh, and I’m hoping to make a chocolate tartlet just for you! You’ll see – if it turns out okay.

    • saucygander 22 December 2013 at 8:25 pm Reply

      HP brown sauce?? Gee…. If you like spices in your mince pies, give this a go, it’s different from traditional mince pie filling but is pretty tasty!

      A chocolate tartlet for me? Yay, can’t wait to see itit – am sure it’ll be great! Thanks so much!!

  5. Liz 22 December 2013 at 5:01 pm Reply

    woohoo–this is lovely!!!

  6. lemongrovecakediaries 23 December 2013 at 8:57 am Reply

    Yum – Looks delicious and with the amount of baking I have to get through in the next couple of days a mince tart sounds like an exceptional idea to me! Best wishes for Christmas to you and your family..

    • saucygander 23 December 2013 at 5:48 pm Reply

      Alas we’ve scoffed the first tart, need another one! 😛

  7. Jessica 23 December 2013 at 10:38 pm Reply

    The word pasta frolla is new to me but I like it!

  8. laurasmess 24 December 2013 at 6:46 pm Reply

    Oh wow. This looks so, so delicious. I adore mince pies and I think I’d like this tart even more, purely because I could cut myself a whopping great piece! Hope that you have a fantastic, delicious and peaceful Christmas x

    • saucygander 26 December 2013 at 8:53 am Reply

      We are still recovering from a gargantuan Christmas feast! With a great slab of Sri Lankan Christmas cake to nibble through, in slivers rather than large pieces… 😀
      Hope your crushes was fabulous too!

  9. Gather and Graze 24 December 2013 at 11:16 pm Reply

    Love that you see all the gorgeous little chunks of figs and nuts tucked into this tart! I’m sure it was absolutely delicious! A very Merry Christmas to you and may the weather be perfect for your beach/reading holiday!

  10. cora 25 December 2013 at 12:25 am Reply

    Mmmmmmh, can you send a piece over here to me please? 🙂 Merry Christmas!

  11. janina 25 December 2013 at 6:10 pm Reply

    I guess you must have air conditioning in your kitchen, if you felt the need to turn the oven on during a heatwave…..LOL.

    I must say the mince recipe sounds fabulous with how you’ve changed it. However, I too am of a mind to have this resting on puff pastry, in pizza format especially. I think it would be extremely delicious and so light, whereas your pix make your pastry look just a little ‘heavy’, if you understand what I mean. But, then, I’ve never been a fan of mince pies, just for that particular reason! In hot weather, I always want something light. Try your next batch with puff.

    Merry Christmas, saucy! 😛

  12. Two Red Bowls 27 December 2013 at 1:00 pm Reply

    I’m so in love with the whimsical crust on top! I’ve never had a mince pie, but all the recipes cropping up these days make me want to try one, not least yours. Love this.

  13. Ayesha (Miss Spicy Hat n' Sugar Socks) 29 December 2013 at 1:30 am Reply

    This tart looks so amazing and delicious! way to go 😀

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 10:43 am Reply

      Thanks! It was all eaten before Christmas! 😀

  14. The Wimpy Vegetarian 30 December 2013 at 1:18 pm Reply

    I make a fig crostada, one I started making after returning from a 1-month trip to Italy, and this reminds me a bit of it. But I love the flavors you have in this so much more. Unfortunately I’m allergic to nuts, but can do pine nuts. So I’m thinking I’ll do that. I know it won’t be the same, but I’ve gotta try 🙂

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 3:52 pm Reply

      Pine nuts would be really tasty! And there will be all the flavors from the slices and fruit and chocolate too.

      I once made a nut-free baklava for a friend with nut allergy, and used all kinds of seeds and other things. We had a great time eating the “reinvented” baklava 😀

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