Mixed Berry Crostata

Call me an Ina Disciple (no, seriously, I wish you would, it's my truth), but I'm a big believer in getting a few good classic recipes down, and then putting your own twists on them. Take My Favorite Pie Crust, for example. I love the stuff. I use it pretty much for any recipe that calls for pastry, adjusting the sugar as necessary to match the filling, whether it be sweet or savory. I use this dough for pies, quiches, pot pies, tarts, crostatas, homemade pop-tarts--whatevs. It's basically foolproof, works for me, and I haven't thought to rock the boat. Until last week.

See, I've gone through a bit of overhauling in the home, as of late. Working on a shoestring budget (and really, is there another kind of budget?), I was determined to make our living space not feel like we were living in a dorm. (I suppose it really wasn't THAT bad, but you know that feeling when you wake up one day and just suddenly want to throw a grenade at your whole house? Well, THAT.) So I traipsed around the Bay Area looking for effortlessly chic home accents, all the while swearing under my breath about how maddening it is, the freaking effort it takes to make something look effortlessly chic. Anyway, it took some doing, but I spruced things up around here, after many trips to IKEA and various TJ Maxx stores and Pier Ones.

(Sidebar: Can we talk about the headiness of Eau de Pier One? All the stores smell the same, and STRONGLY so. Is it, like, some kind of Pier One hallucinogen designed to make us buy more wicker things? See more beauty in tapestries and elephant-shaped candle holders? I don't get it.)

So why am I talking about Pier One? Oh, yes. Pie crust. My perennial pie crust and how I recently decided to spruce that up, too. Not permanently, mind you, but with all the HGTV-ness up in here, I was inspired to try something different when I came into a boatload of discounted, flawless, organic summer berries and a had hankering for encasing them in pastry.

I found this recipe in the LA Times that made me go, hmm! and oh!, and before I knew it, I was making a pastry crust for a mixed berry crostata that involved cake flour. Cake! Flour! Major.

Turns out, it's a grand idea. Maybe not as all-purpose of a pastry as my favorite pie crust, but especially for fruit desserts, this crust RULES. It straddles somekind of space I never knew existed--something between a pastry and a shortbread, with a hint of cakey-ness. Lots of crunch to the top, a bit of a flaky, crumbly quality, almost cookie-like. Sweet and golden and perfection with cooked fruit. In truth, I didn't just make this mixed berry version. I made another one three days later using white peaches and blueberries, and experimented with a stand mixer instead of the food processor for the crust, and it was every bit as smack-the-table good as the first one I made.

There's a lot to love about crostatas, but for me, the best thing is that they're perfect in their imperfections. Don't worry about making the perfect dough circle, rolling it out just so, so doing lots of fancy pleats. "Rustic" may be one of the most overused food words ever, but here, rustic is the jam. The rougher looking the better, really, because it makes for addictively crunchy edges, especially when you sprinkle the whole thing with coarse sugar. Awww, yeah.

I have a feeling this will be the Summer of Fruit Crostatas, in addition the to Summer of Bargain Home Furnishings, of course. I am currently in the process of turning an old door into a headboard. No, I'm not kidding. Good times.

Mixed Berry Crostata Adapted loosely from the Los Angeles Times Serves 6 to 8

Just about any combination of summer fruits will work here--just use about 3-4 cups of fruit. If there's more than a few tablespoons of syrup in the bottom of the bowl after the fruit has had a chance to rest, I avoid adding it all into the crostata, just so the crust doesn't get too soggy. I also find that spraying the parchment lightly with nonstick spray or a light brushing of oil on the paper helps to crisp and brown the bottom of the whole thing.

I really like to jazz up pie and tart fillings in interesting ways. Peach schnapps is one of my all-time favorite liqueurs to have on hand for fruit desserts. Rather than keeping a bunch of pricey liqueurs like Framboise or Grand Marnier or Kirsch for specific recipes, I find peach schnapps is a great all-purpose ingredient that gets the job done and matches the flavors or many different fruits for a fraction of the price. Maybe I'm white trash, but that's my truth.

This crostata absolutely must be served with vanilla ice cream. No exceptions.

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup cake flour 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt) 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces 4-5 tablespoons ice water 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract Turbinado or other coarse sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling:

3-4 cups mixed berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon peach Schnapps 1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the crust, in the bowl of an electric mixer or food processor, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar and salt. Distribute the butter over the top and mix until the butter is broken down into about the size of peas.

Combine 4 tablespoons ice water and vanilla and sprinkle over the top of the dough. Mix until the dough comes together and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. (Add another tablespoon of water if needed to help the dough come together.) Remove the dough from the bowl to a plastic wrap-covered work surface. Pat it into a disk, then wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, toss together the berries, sugar, Schnapps, and cornstarch and stir gently until they are well-coated. Set aside.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the crostata dough out to a roughly 16-inch-diameter circle, about 1/4 inch thick, a little thicker than you normally would roll out pie dough. Transfer the dough to a cookie sheet. Place fruit mixture in the center, leaving a 2-inch border.

Fold the edges of the dough over the fruit, with the fruit showing in the center: Fold one edge over, then fold the second edge over, pleating the dough as necessary as you work around the circle--perfection is not necessary, here.

Lightly brush the surface of the dough with a little water, milk, or cream, and and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until the crust is brown and the fruit is soft and bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes (or a little longer, depending on the fruit you use--the main thing is getting a crisp, browned crust). Rotate the crostata halfway through baking for even coloring. Remove the crostata from the oven and cool 10 minutes before cutting and serving with vanilla ice cream.

Fruit, PieShauna Sever