FROM SOUTERN ITALY
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Pasta CiottiMakes 12 (3-inch) tarts
Pasta Ciotti are small Italian custard-filled dessert tarts. The word 'pasta' is Italian for dough and in this case it refers to a sweet dough. Pasta Ciotti are a nice addition to a cookie tray or as a small after-dinner pastry with a cup of espresso or cappuccino. Traditionally the pastry dough is made with all solid shortening but we found that making it with half butter adds more flavor while retaining the flakiness that the shortening provides. You will need 12 (3-inch) tarts pans for this recipe. Alternately you can substitute a 12-cup muffin pan (as we have done) but it does take a little more effort of seal the dough so the filling does not ooze out during baking. Our filling is made with almond extract but we are providing you with some flavor options after the main recipe. Pasta Coitti can also be made in mini (1-inch) tart pans but you will need to reduce the baking time to about 8-10 minutes. If you make Pasta Ciotti ahead of time, you can reheat them by wrapping them in foil and heating in a 350 degree F. oven for about 15 minutes.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups half and half or whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
To make the dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in the milk, vanilla, and egg. Use your hands to combine the ingredients into a smooth ball of dough. Cover the dough and set it aside.
To make the filling:
In a medium saucepan, combine the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk in the half and half and the egg yolks. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter and almond extract. Transfer the custard to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. The plastic wrap will prevent a skin from forming on the custard.
To assemble the Pasta Ciotti:
Assemble 12 (3 x 1-1/4 inch tart pans) or a lightly greased 12-cup muffin pan.
Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Set one of the pieces aside. Combine the 2 remaining pieces and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-1/2 to 4-inch biscuit cutter, cut out 12 circles of dough. Press each one into the bottom and up the sides of 3-inch tart pans. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet. If you are using a muffin pan, press the dough about 2/3 up the sides of the pan.
Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling into each tart shell. Combine your dough scraps with the remaining piece of dough. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. With a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out 12 circles of dough. Place a circle of dough over each tart and pinch the edges together to seal. Refrigerate the tarts for 30 minutes.
To bake the Pasta Ciotti:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. With a pastry brush, brush the top of each tart with the egg wash. Bake the tarts 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Remove the tarts to racks to cool in the pans about 15 minutes.
If you baked the tarts in a muffin pans, gently run a sharp knife around the edge of each tart to loosen it. After 15 minutes, remove the tarts from the pans and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Sprinkle the tops with confectioners' sugar before serving.
Pasta Ciotti are best eaten within a few hours but they may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Alternate Filling Options
Stir 2-3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips into the half and half mixture and bring it to a boil. Use almond or vanilla extract.
Stir 1 tablespoon Limoncello into the filling in place of the almond extract.
Stir 1 tablespoon orange liqueur and a teaspoon of grated orange zest into the filling in place of the almond extract.
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