TASTEFOOD: When imperfect desserts are perfect

Blood Orange Crostate With Salted Caramel Sauce (Photo by Lynda Balslev for TasteFood)

When it comes to baking, I like my desserts messy, which is to say that I like desserts that are free-form, imprecise and often referred to as “rustic.” Thank goodness for the generations of country kitchens that devised homey, family-style desserts. Often involving fruit and usually containing folksy and forgiving words such as “crumble,” “slump,” “crisp” and “fool,” these desserts revel in imprecision, delightfully embracing dribbles, lopsidedness and even mistakes (tarte Tatin, we are looking at you). Sure, some technique is involved, but the overriding rule is a relaxed unfussiness with a big helping of simplicity. Bring on the mess.

Which brings me to these slightly disheveled crostatas (actually, I believe that’s “crostate” in the plural). Citrus is abundant right now, and with that comes the ruby blood orange. Sweet and tart, murky and winey, the blood orange is more nuanced than its navel counterpart, and its brilliant hue is a sight to behold when presented in desserts. I bought a bag of these oranges recently and made this recipe. It takes inspiration from a recipe I found years ago on The Kitchn, to which I’ve added my own tweaks — including a sour cream crust and a luscious salted caramel sauce for drizzling.

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Blood Orange Crostate With Salted Caramel Sauce

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time

Yield: makes 8 (4-inch) crostate and 1 cup caramel sauce

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut in cubes

1/2 cup sour cream

For the filling:

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 navel oranges, skin and pith cut away, sliced crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick

3 blood oranges, skin and pith cut away, seeded and sliced crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick, each slice cut into 3 to 4 sections

1 egg beaten

8 teaspoons demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Make the crust: Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse to achieve a crumbly consistency. Add the sour cream and pulse a few times until the dough just begins to stick together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make the filling: Whisk the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in a small bowl to lighten and combine.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion in a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Place a tablespoon of mascarpone mixture in the center of the dough, spreading it slightly, while keeping about 1 inch clear around the border of the dough. Place a navel orange slice in the center. Top with 3 to 4 blood orange sections. Fold the exposed edges of the dough in around the oranges, shaping and pinching to create a rim of crust (the centers will still be exposed).

Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment and repeat this process with the remaining dough.

Brush the pastry dough with the egg and sprinkle each crostata with about 1 teaspoon demerara sugar.

Bake the crostate until the crusts are firm to the touch and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe below).

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons European-style unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 4 pieces

1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature

1 teaspoon fleur de sel sea salt flakes, such Maldon

Pour the sugar into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar melts, whisking occasionally and swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. The sugar may clump, but that’s OK — keep stirring until it melts. When the sugar is the color of dark amber, carefully whisk in the butter (it will foam).

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the cream (it will foam again) and whisk until smooth. Add the sea salt flakes. Cool for about 10 minutes and then pour into a glass jar and cool to room temperature. The sauce may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

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