I dreamed up this little beauty on my way home from the farmer’s market yesterday. My inner monologue went something like this:
“Ooh, Asian pears look good today… that’ll be good in a pie.
Pie dough scares me. I should try to make it. Face your fears, Holly!
I don’t have a tart pan… *googles free form pies*
Ooh, crostata. That sounds fancier than a pie, too. What kind of custard should go under the pears? Ooh, I have lemongrass at home that I still need to use…
Lemongrass custard! Yassss!!”
So… pie crust scares me. I’ve only had delicious pie crust from one place (Sweet Lady Jane’s in West Hollywood), and knowing that I generally don’t like pie crust at all… I just never wanted to try to make it. But, I decided to face my fears, woman up, and make it from scratch. After reading a million different recipes online and scouring my cookbooks, I came to two major conclusions when dealing with pie crust:
- keep everything ice cold
- don’t overwork the dough
The most important thing being DON’T OVERWORK THE DOUGH – basically meaning don’t play with it too much. Don’t try to work the butter in all the way, don’t knead it at all. The hardest part for me was letting things just “be”. Let that butter be! It doesn’t have to be fully incorporated. In fact, you WANT to see a few little chunks of butter here and there. That’s what makes the dough flaky! So, really, pie dough / pate brisee IS as easy as everyone tells you it is – as long as you keep everything cold and don’t mess around with it too much.
This is another one of those recipes that looks super complicated but really it’s just a whole bunch of simple steps. At it’s most basic, the steps are:
Steep the milk and lemongrass.
While milk and lemongrass steep, prepare the crust.
While crust chills, finish the pastry cream.
While custard is chilling, cut up the pears.
Throw it all together.
See? Easy right?
This recipe makes two 8-10″ crostatas. You could easily make 4 small ones, or 8 mini ones. I made 1 crostata and saved the other half of the dough for some other delicious thing. You can keep leftover dough in the fridge for a week or freeze up to a month (just thaw it in the fridge when you’re ready to use it.)
Let’s start with the custard since that needs some time to chill.
While the dough is chilling, prep the pears.
Asian Pear and Lemongrass Custard Crostata
makes two 8-10″ crostatas in about 3 hours (45 minutes active, ~2 hours inactive chilling/baking time)
for the pastry cream (makes 2 cups)
2 cups of whole milk
4 stalks of lemongrass, bruised
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
for the crust / pate brise (makes two 8-10″ single pie/tart crusts)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 – 1/2 cup ice water
raw sugar for sprinkling
for the pears
4 Asian pears, cored and sliced thinly
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp apricot preserves
for the pastry cream (makes 2 cups)
Bring milk to a simmer in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add in bruised lemongrass stalks and remove from heat. Cover and let steep for 1 hour.
Whisk egg yolks with sugar in a medium bowl and combine thoroughly. Add in cornstarch and combine. Set aside.
(Note: at this point, you can start on your pie crust while the milk and lemongrass is steeping.)
After steeping, remove lemongrass and put milk back on medium heat just until warmed through. Slowly add the warm milk to the egg yolk mixture. Add the milk and egg mixture back to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until it thickens and large, steamy bubble start to appear. Add in vanilla extract. Cook, stirring constantly, another 1-2 minutes. Mixture should be very thick.
Somewhat optional step: run the custard through a fine sieve to remove any lumps / cooked egg bits. This ensures an extraly smooth custard.
Place custard in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic touches the top of the custard so a skin doesn’t form. Chill for 1-2 hours.
for the crust / pate brisee (makes two 8-10″ single tarts / pie crusts)
Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. If you’re not using a food processor, just whisk together.
Add in cubed butter and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal, about 10 pulses. You should still be able to see pea-sized chunks of butter throughout the flour. If you’re not using a food processor, use a pastry cutter to incorporate butter.
With machine running, gradually add in ice water, just until dough is combined. Don’t run the machine for more than 30 seconds, as the butter will break down too much and you’ll end up with a tough dough. If you’re not using a food processor, gradually add in ice cold water with a wooden spoon, just until combined. With either method, you’ll have to adjust how much water you add based on how the dough feels. If the dough is too crumbly and doesn’t hold together when you squish it together, add more ice water, 1 tbsp at a time.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into two flat discs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
for the pears
Core pears and cut thinly. Add juice of 1/2 a lemon. Sprinkle cornstarch over the pears and use your fingers to gently combine the mixture. Set aside.
put it all together, now!
Roll out dough, one disc at a time, on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8″ thick and 12 inches in diameter.
(Note: I start rolling out my dough on a lightly floured surface. One I get it to about 1/2″ thick, in transfer the dough to the top of some parchment paper and continue rolling out. This eliminates that pesky “how am I gonna get this delicate ass dough into this baking sheet” issue.)
Spread 1 cup of the lemongrass custard over the top of the dough, leaving a 2″ edge all the way around.
Top with half of the sliced pears. I decided to be fancy and lay the pears out in a concentric circle. You can do the same, or just pile them up on top of the custard. Either way, just make sure you let the pears drain a bit so you don’t get a ton of lemon juice onto the crust.
Gently fold up the borders of the dough over top of the pears, pleating as you go. This doesn’t have to be perfect – in fact it should be imperfect and rustic looking. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle with raw sugar. Don’t skip this – it’s what makes the crust look and taste professional lol.
Repeat the above 4 steps with the second disc of dough. Refrigerate your assembled crostata while working on the second one.
Place the crostata in the freezer while the oven preheats to 375 degrees F, about 10 minutes. Remember what I said about keeping things cold? This is one of those steps.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and slide the crostata off the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. Brush the top of the pears with warmed apricot preserves.
Let it cool as long as you can stand it. I made it 22 minutes.
You can bypass the whole “make your own” pastry step and save an hour or so by buying pre-made pastry / pie dough from the grocery store. If you can find an all-butter pre-made dough, even better (but I really think you should try making the dough yourself!)
This dough freezes well. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week and in the freezer up to one month – just defrost in the fridge when you’re ready to use.
If you can’t find lemongrass / don’t like lemongrass, this recipe will also be delicious with just the pastry cream. I’d add another tsp of vanilla extract to bump up that vanilla flavor in place of the lemongrass.