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story.lead_photo.caption CAPTION 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood

Early fall — before the onset of the holiday crazies — is a great time to relax and get cozy. Apples are at their peak, and rustic, uncomplicated desserts that naturally showcase their flavor and sweetness are par for the course. It's time for a crostata.

A crostata is essentially a free-form tart. It's easy to make, with no fuss in perfecting the shape. The filling is all about the fruit, coated in a shower of sugar and spice, then mounded in the center of the dough, which is then folded over the edges to frame and contain it. It's simple and unadorned, and that is the attraction.

The dough can be prepared in advance and frozen if needed. Simply defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator before rolling. When you get to the rolling stage, aim for a circle, but if the edges are uneven, you can smooth them — or leave them as they are. Like I said, this is an unfussy and humble dessert.

Serve the crostata warm or at room temperature. Keep it simple, or serve it with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. If you would like a wee bit of sparkle, sprinkle turbinado sugar over the crostata instead of granulated sugar. And if you're making whipped cream, there's nothing wrong with adding a splash of Calvados (apple brandy) to the cream — it will help keep you warm.

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Active time: 25 minutes

Total time: 1 hour and 10 minutes, plus chilling time

Makes: 6 servings


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, diced

3 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed

4 large apples, such as Gala or Granny Smith

3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of kosher salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon water

1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (or granulated sugar) for sprinkling

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is pea-sized. Add the 3 tablespoons water and pulse until the dough begins to clump, adding 1 more tablespoon water if the dough is too dry. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel, halve and core the apples, then slice about 1/4-inch thick. Place in a bowl and add the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the water to make an egg wash.

When ready to assemble, roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface in a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Arrange the apples in a circular pattern in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border clear. Fold the border over the edge of the apples, pleating as you go. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle the entire crostata with the turbinado sugar.

Transfer to the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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