Pasta frolla is one of the first pastry recipes I learned to make as a child. Standing on a stool in my mum’s kitchen, wearing a worn-out apron that looked more like a nightgown on me, with a Disney movie on the background—these were the best moments of the week, when I was allowed to play with flour and butter.
This rich, buttery Italian shortcrust pastry is a staple in the repertoires of fine pastry chefs and family home cooks alike. In the home kitchen, the versatile dough is the starting point for many humble, reliable recipes, from simple shortbread cookies to rustic jam-filled crostatas.
The meaning of its name is interesting to note. “Pasta” refers to “pastry,” while “frolla” comes from the verb “frollare,” which, when applied to meat, means to hang it, to let it age and mature.
The same should be done with pasta frolla. Make it in advance and let it rest in the fridge for at least a few hours, or better overnight. Allowed to rest, the dough, crumbly when first made, will become more compact and elastic, making it much easier to roll out with a rolling pin.
This is just the first stage of maturing, though; the second comes after the pastry is baked. A good general rule is to wait a few hours, or even better until the next day, to eat any pastries made with pasta frolla. Your patience will be rewarded with the perfect crisp, delicately crumbly texture, and you’ll find that the flavor of the pastry will have harmoniously melded with its fillings or toppings.
There are endless recipes for pasta frolla, varying based on their regional origins (the north or south of Italy), their use (to make a cookie, a jam crostata, or a delicate pastry), or simply the preferences of the individual pastry chef. The core ingredients remain basically the same; what changes from recipe to recipe is their proportions.
Eggs are essential, adding richness to the dough. Some recipes call for only the yolks, others for only the whites, and yet others for whole eggs or a combination of whole eggs and yolks. In any case, use regular-sized eggs.
In Italy, we tend to use unsalted butter for pasta frolla, as salted butter is less common in our supermarkets and deli shops. Sometimes, though, if I find a stick of imported demi-sel French butter, I use that instead: it immediately makes my homely pasta frolla feel fancier, giving it a more complex flavor that contrasts beautifully with sweet jam.
The butter should be softened, but still cold when you mix it into your dough. We call the perfect consistency “in pomata,” meaning that it has the texture of a gel or pomade. This makes the butter much easier to rub into the flour.
You can soften a stick of butter without melting it by pounding it, still wrapped, with a rolling pin. Once it is in pomata, cube the butter to use in the pasta frolla.
… Or Lard
In older recipes, as in two of the variations of pasta frolla shared by Italian writer Pellegrino Artusi in his legendary 1891 cookbook “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,” you’ll find lard used as the starring fat, instead of butter. Lard can substitute for butter completely, or just in part.
Today, lard is still very common in pasta frolla recipes from the South of Italy—for example, in the crust of a pastiera from Naples, a traditional Easter cake filled with ricotta, boiled wheat berries, and candied citrus peel; or in the pasticciotti of Puglia, small pastries made with a delicate shell of pasta frolla and a heart of thick, aromatic pastry cream.
If you can find artisanal lard, snowy white and with a delicate flavor, try it in your pasta frolla in place of butter. You’ll get an aromatic, delicately crumbly pastry, which I especially like paired with creamy fillings such as a rich vanilla custard with sour cherries, or a ricotta filling dotted with candied citrus peel.
Achieving pasta frolla’s characteristic texture starts with the flour, which needs to be low in gluten. Use an all-purpose flour or cake flour, as long as it is not self-rising. I’ve also used whole wheat flour and farro flour with very good results.
To prevent the development of gluten in your dough, rub the flour and sugar together with the butter first, so as to coat the flour completely with a thin, protective film of fat. Then add the eggs, which will help you bring the coarse crumbs together into a cohesive ball of dough.
Experiment with different varieties of sugar: the finer the sugar, the more delicate the pasta frolla. Confectioners’ sugar results in a fine, melt-in-your-mouth texture, while caster or granulated sugar produces a crumblier pastry. Try also raw or unrefined cane sugar, especially when making cookies, for a crunchy, rustic texture.
You can flavor your pasta frolla according to the filling or other ingredients you plan to pair with the pastry.
Grated orange or lemon zest adds brightness, freshness, and a delicate citrusy note. I find it a perfect addition to cookies, especially during Christmastime. Be sure to choose organic citrus fruits for zesting.
Dried spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg give a more distinct character to pasta frolla. Let your tongue guide you, and experiment with your favorite spices.
I usually prefer not to use real vanilla seeds in pasta frolla, as they lose some of their fragrance when baked. If I want a vanilla-flavored dessert, I instead add the flavor to the filling: for example, the glossy pastry cream, speckled with vanilla seeds, that I use in my recipe for fresh fruit tartlets.
Choose Your Adventure
The following three recipes showcase how versatile pasta frolla can be. The same dough can be used to make a rustic crostata, filled with your favorite jam; a batch of simple sandwich cookies, big enough to need both hands to hold; or an array of elegant fruit tartlets, topped with pastry cream and fresh, sweet strawberries.
Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan born and bred food writer, food photographer, and author of five cookbooks, including “From the Markets of Tuscany.” Find her online at her blog, JulsKitchen.com