Pasticciotti, next to cannoli, are one of my favorite Italian pastries. They are sort of like a small custard pie – a tender crust on the outside and a rich pastry cream on the inside. They are a staple in Italian bakeries along the east coast but difficult to find elsewhere. This particular version is filled with pastry cream but there are many other filling variations.
Pasticciotti are a popular dessert in Sicily and throughout southern Italy. They are made with pasta frolla, a typical Italian shortcrust pastry dough. In Sicily, they are traditionally filled with ricotta, almond, or custard cream but are sometimes made with a marmalade or a savory filling. The most popular version of pasticciotti is called Minnie di Virgini (Virgins’ Breasts) shaped to resemble a woman’s breast. They are made in honor of the Saint Agatha, a Christian martyr whose breasts were cut off.
A pasticciotto (singular) can also be made as one large pie or tart. This recipe is for the smaller pastries. I like to use small brioche molds but you can also use a muffin tin to make these pastries.
Difficulty Rating: Difficult
Makes 12 to 14 pastries.
For the Dough:
1/2 cup cold sweet Marsala wine
4 tablespoons cold milk
4 large egg yolks
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated orange or lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) cold butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces (or a combination of half butter and half shortening or lard)
For the Filling:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons semolina flour
3 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean pod
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons minced candied orange peel (optional)
1 large egg, beaten
12 (3 1/2-inch) brioche molds
3 1/2-inch round cookie cutter
4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter
1. MAKE THE DOUGH: Stir together egg yolks, wine, and milk in a small bowl and set aside. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, zest, and salt in a large bowl. Using your finger tips or pastry blender, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal and the pieces of butter remaining about the size a small finger nail. Using a fork, stir in the wine/egg mixture. Turn out onto a board or flat surface and knead lightly, just until the dough comes together. If the dough seems dry add 1 to 2 additional tablespoons of cold milk. Shape into 2 balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour or overnight.
2. MAKE THE FILLING: Beat egg-yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and semolina in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Stir in orange zest. Place over medium heat. Using a whisk, stir until mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually stir egg yolks back into the milk mixture. Reduce heat to low and place pan back on burner, stirring vigorously, cook until mixture is a thick pudding-like consistency, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in vanilla extract and candied orange peel if using. Transfer to a medium bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream to prevent a film from forming. Refrigerate until cool.
3. MAKE THE PASTICCIOTTI: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease the brioche molds with shortening or cooking spray. If the dough has been refrigerated for several hours, let it warm up at room temperature for 20 minutes. Working with half of the dough at a time, place on a lightly floured board and knead 3 times.
Roll out the first half of dough to a thickness of 3/16-inch, slightly less than 1/4-inch. Using a 4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter or a small plate as a guide, cut out 12 rounds. Using a 3 1/2-inch round cookie cutter or a glass, cut 12 rounds from remaining dough. Re-roll remaining scraps. Gently press the larger rounds into each of the brioche molds. Use scraps of dough to patch any tears.
Using a rolling pin, roll along the top edges of the mold to remove excess dough. Place a small amount of beaten egg along the top edges of the dough with your finger or a small paint brush.
Place approximately 3 tablespoons of filling into the mold, about three-quarters full.
Brush beaten egg around the edges of each of the smaller rounds. Turn upside down and place on top of each mold.
Roll along the top of edges of each mold with rolling pin to remove excess dough. Press down firmly along the edges to seal. Place on a cookie sheet and refrigerate 25 minutes.
4. BAKE THE PASTICCIOTTI: Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, poke several holes along the top of each pastry. Brush the tops with beaten egg. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Use a kitchen towel to hold the pastry in one hand and run the tip of a sharp knife along the edges to loosen. Tip onto a cooling rack. Serve at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar of desired.