Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's Baking: Pasticiotti

This month's What's Baking? challenge was to bake your happy place.  Bake something that reminded you of a happy time.  That didn't take too much thinking on my part!  Sitting down with my whole family to a big pasta dinner is awesome in and of itself, but when it's followed up by a tray of Italian pastries, then it's REALLY my happy place!  So, I decided to make one of my absolute favorite Italian pastries--pasticiotti.  Pasticiotti are little tarts that have a sweet, almost sugar cookie-like crust and are filled with either vanilla pudding, chocolate pudding, or ricotta filling.  The ricotta is my favorite, so that's what I made here.  My dad likes the vanilla pudding.  It's all up to your taste!  I customized the recipe a bit to suit my tastes (of course), but I haven't strayed too far from the original, and I've kept pretty traditional Italian flavors.  These were not difficult to make, and they really weren't very time-consuming, either!  The pudding fillings would take a bit longer to make, so be sure to factor that into your plans!  I was really happy with the way these turned out.  The one thing I would say is to make sure that you seal them well--I had the tops start to lift off on a few of them!  But, so long as the South has a tragic lack of Italian pastry shops, these will help keep my cravings at bay in between trips to the North to get my fix!

Pasticiotti (adapted from Diana's Desserts)

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar 
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg, well beaten 
  • 2 lbs ricotta (low fat works fine)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift or whisk together the first 4 ingredients (flour through salt).   Cut the butter into the flour using two knives, a pastry cutter, a food processor, or your hands until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.  Mix together the milk, almond extract, and egg until well combined.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and stir to combine.  Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Stir together the ricotta, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract.  Told you it was easy!

Separate the dough in half.  Roll half of it out to about 1/4" thick.  Use a biscuit cutter to cut rounds out.  Fit them into the bottom and up the sides of your tart pans (muffin tins would work in a pinch, too!).  Fill the tart shells most of the way with filling.  Roll out the remaining dough, and cut rounds for the tops of the tart shells.  Make sure you seal them well!  An egg wash might help here.  The original recipe also recommends an egg wash on the tops, which I did not do, and I should have--they were not nicely browned.

Bake pastries at 425* F for 12-15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.  This makes about 1 dozen 3-inch pasticiotti.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Leave the gun, take the (baked) cannoli!

So, I had been eyeing Joe Pastry's recipe for cannoli shells for quite some time.  They're one of my favorite pastries, but I'm incredibly picky about them and so the opportunity to make my own grants maximum opportunity for customization.  There was only one problem--it was way too hot to fry.

This lead me to a fantastic innovation--cannoli cups!  I rolled out Joe's dough recipe using my pasta machine, sliced it into squares, and baked them in a mini muffin pan until they were golden.  I was surprised how crunchy and realistic the texture ended up being.  The bottoms of the cups did puff up a bit during baking, so it's not a bad idea to throw some rice or beans inside to keep them flatter.

Here's Joe's recipe, with my edits in parentheses:
6.25 ounces (1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (I omitted)
1 tablespoon superfine sugar (I used powdered)
2 tablespoon vegetable shortening
6 to 7 tablespoons Marsala wine (I subbed brandy + wine)
1 to 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten (You don't need those if you're baking)

It's made very similarly to an enriched pie crust--cut/rub the shortening into the flour (with the salt if using).  Beat in the wine until the mixture becomes cohesive.  If you're using a pasta roller, this will do some of the kneading for you, but you should let it rest (just like a pasta dough) before using the machine to make it thinner.  My pasta roller goes to 7, I do ravioli on 6, and on that scale, these should definitely go to 7. 

Cut squares (about 2 inches each works for mini tins) and press into muffin pans.  Bake at 375 degrees until the tips begin to brown (12-18 minutes).  Sorry for the cell-phone photos and lack of food styling--this is my office kitchen.

Pipe with your preferred ricotta cream recipe just before serving (make sure you press/drain the ricotta for at least 3 hours, and use powdered sugar, not granulated).  If you want to add mini chocolate chips or citron, I recommend doing that after you pipe the cream (they clog the tip).  Here I just garnished them with a few chips on top.  If you plan on going the traditional route, I highly recommend checking out Joe's page--he has a hilarious rendition of "Paulie the Sicilian" that makes for great reading.  But if you want a one-bite no-fry cannolo, give this method a try!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Watermelon Un-Margaritas

So, I'm breaking slightly from desserts, the usual focus of this blog, to tell you about one of my other favorite parts of the meal--the drinks!  Given the fact that I have 5 recipes tagged "wine" (and don't even get me started on the Baileys, bourbon, brandy, champagne, Chardonnay, rum, tequila, and Triple Sec tags), you've probably figured out that I like my drinks.  This particular one is a great fruity drink for a hot afternoon or sitting out on the porch watching the sun set.  It's refreshing, potent, and relatively healthy, for an alcoholic drink, anyway (there's no added sugar)!

Now, I've called these drinks un-margaritas because I made mine with rum, since I'm not the biggest fan of tequila.  The boyfriend made his with tequila.  The recipe is written so that you can pick your poison.  If you're using rum, you may want to rim your margarita glass in sugar.  With tequila, salt will, of course, work.  I like my drinks pretty strong, so feel free to decrease the amount of liquor to suit your tastes.  Without further ado, here's the recipe!

Watermelon Un-Margaritas (adapted from We Are Not Martha)

  • 1/2 medium seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. lime juice
  • 2 c. Triple Sec
  • Tequila or rum
  • Lime wedges
  • Salt or sugar

Puree the watermelon in a blender (you may have to do this in batches).   You'll want about 8 c. watermelon puree.  Combine the watermelon puree, lemon juice, lime juice, and Triple Sec in a pitcher.  Refrigerate until cold.

Run a lime wedge around the rim of the margarita glass.  Pour salt (for tequila) or sugar (for rum) onto a small plate.  Invert the glass onto the salt or sugar and twist a bit to coat the rim.  Add a few ice cubes to the glass, then up to 1/4 c. tequila or rum and 1 c. of the watermelon mix.  Stir to combine, and drink up!