Friday, January 2, 2009

Torta di Ricotta

Cheers to January 2009! January always presents us with the myth of Janus, the Roman god of gateways, of the beginnings and endings symbolized by the thresholds in our path. We often spend this time reflecting back on what has been and also looking forward to what will be and what we will make of the opportunities ahead.

It seems it’s right about this time that I begin to miss the bounty of fruit that the spring and summer provide. Despite all the fabulously beautiful desserts and pastries of fall, for me, it’s the introduction of fruit that always adds to the seduction of the pastry table. The anticipation of the quality and quantity of the coming new crops adds to the excitement of what lies in store. So it was a bit of a pleasure for me to dip into the jars of homemade preserves of seasons past held in my pantry for just such an occasion in order to bring a little spring reminder to this wonderful Italian Torta.

I love Italian pastries for their forthright simplicity and their rustic call to earthy artisan values. This tart begins with a delicious classic Pasta Frolla crust, which crumbles with the buttery loveliness of a shortbread, only lighter. It’s filled with a very simple ricotta just slightly dressed up with lemon zest and a touch of vanilla. The gorgeous color and jammy lusciousness of fruit preserves fulfill that desire for a quick look back and a longing look forward to the grand gestures of nature. This is an exquisite taste of Italy and a preview of the excitement and satisfaction that await in our kitchen as we shift into our hopeful New Year.

Bench notes:
- Look for the best quality preserves with low sugar as well as good creamy ricotta. I used blackberry but other fruit would also be great, such as plum, fig or orange marmalade. Or maybe a little combination.
- When rolling dough that has been chilled, let it sit for a few minutes to warm up a bit. As you begin to roll it out, if it’s cracking, it’s still too cold. Wait a couple more minutes and try again. It should still be cool but roll out smoothly without resistance.

Torta di Ricotta
Serves 10 to 12

Pasta Frolla

2 3/4 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 C sugar
1 T lemon zest
6 oz chilled butter, chopped
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 C fresh ricotta
1/3 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon or orange
3 eggs

1 C of quality fruit preserves

For the Pasta Frolla, place the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine ingredients. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse just until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and pulse just until the dough starts to clump near the center. Remove from the bowl and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Knead the dough gently just enough to pull it to together. Divide the dough into two pieces in 2/3 and 1/3 proportions. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Remove the larger piece of dough and let it sit for a few minutes to warm up a bit. On a lightly floured piece of parchment or a work surface, roll out the dough to about an 1/8” thickness. Line a 9” tart pan, pressing gently into the base of the pan. Trim the excess around the edge. Chill the lined tart pan.

Roll out the remaining dough to about an 1/8” thickness, using flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Cut the dough into 1” strips and chill.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rack in the lowest third of the oven.

If necessary, heat the preserves very briefly just to loosen up to a spreadable consistency. Cool.

For the Ricotta Filing, place the ricotta in the bowl of a food processor and process until it becomes smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, citrus zest and eggs and process just until combined. Pour the filling into the chilled tart. Gently spread the preserves over the ricotta filling.

Take the chilled strips of dough out of the refrigerator and lift carefully, using a small spatula to loosen if necessary. Place the strips on top of the filling in a lattice pattern. Press and firmly seal the edges. Trim any excess.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes or until the tart is golden. Cool and serve.


Eileen said...

What a work of art. It's beautiful!

Aran said...

This tart must be so tender... looks beautiful. happy new year gayle!

Hayley said...

I just made a Ricotta & Pineapple Pie for Christmas, and this one looks oh so good. I love the lattice top.

Bunny said...

I love the fruits of summer, there's nothing in the world like eating and baking with them. This is beautiful, I have some preserves I would like to try this with, thank You!

Peabody said...

What a gorgeous tart.

Joy the Baker said...

Happy New Year! What a gorgeous tart. This is the perfect time of year to dive into those preserves! Lovely!

Cakespy said...

2009 is certainly looking delicious so far in your kitchen! :-)

Anonymous too said...

Mmmm ... delectable.

ali said...

Looks incredibly good!
Thank you for sharing your recipe and posting these beautiful photos.
Could you please post the weight of the flour used for the dough and the ricotta for the filling?
I'd like to try it out, and am trying to leave as little as possible to chance (but of course, there's always a way...)
Thanks again!

pastry studio said...

Hello, ali. Here is my conversion using my standard pastry school formula:

Pasta Frolla

2 3/4 C flour (385 grams)
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 C sugar (100 grams)
1 T lemon zest
6 oz chilled butter, chopped (151 grams)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 C fresh ricotta (16 oz or about 450 grams)
1/3 C sugar (75 grams)
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon or orange
3 eggs

1 C of quality fruit preserves

Note: A lot of commercial ricotta comes in 15 oz containers. You can go with that as well.

Hope this helps!

ali said...

Thank you for taking the time to reply! I really appreciate it.
I went about making the dough, only used 170 grams of butter. It turned out very crumbly, though. It didn't really come together, even wrapped in plastic. I let it sit in the refrigerator, but it looks pretty dry, so I'm not sure I'll be able to roll it out. I'd still like to make this tart, perhaps with a new batch, and would like to ask if you've ever had this problem with the dough, and whether more liquid should be added (another yolk?).
So while the tart's on hold, there's still an expiration date to beat :) Are there any good quick ricotta cakes out there???
Thanks again for your helpful advice!

pastry studio said...

ali - so sorry to hear you're having trouble with the dough. I haven't had that problem. I'm wondering if you processed the butter far enough so that when you added the liquids you had a fairly homogeneous dough. It does take some kneading, but it should come together fairly easily.

If you can see large chunks of butter in the dough, you can bring it to room temperature and use a technique called "fraisage," which means you smear sections of the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then gather it together. That can help to distribute the butter without mixing it too much. If it's exceedingly dry, you can sprinkle a little bit of water while you do this.

I'm afraid if you add another egg at this point, you may be overworking the dough and the texture may be tough.

I haven't tested a ricotta cake, so am not really really comfortable suggesting something to you that I know for sure will be delicious. But you can perhaps Google a recipe from reliable Italian chefs like Nick Malgieri or Lydia Bastianich or perhaps Epicurious to see if you can find something suitable.

I hope you're able to enjoy your ricotta!

ali said...

Thank you so much for your kind response!
My main problem is adding enough water to bind it together, but not too much to create a tough dough. As with pie dough, I reduce the butter to "small pea" size, then add the water.
For a "flaky dough", I would press down and fold the resulting crumbs until a cohesive mass is formed. But this dough is kind of a "short dough", isn't it?
Thank you for all your helpful suggestions.
The ricotta was put to good use in the form of not-too-sweet, if slightly over-baked (my finishing touch), Lemon Ricotta Muffins. But they were muffins, not jam-filled, lattice-topped or resting on a shortbread crust... :)
So, obviously, I'll try again. Maybe scale it down to fit in a 6-inch tart pan, if I ever get to that stage.
Thanks again for your willingness to help!

pastry studio said...

Hi ali -

Yes, this dough is a short dough. I'm wondering if you can't take the dough and just press it into a thin layer in tart pan. You'll have extra of course since you won't be rolling out lattice work but maybe you can still salvage the dough you have.

In any case, lemon ricotta muffins sound wonderful!

ali said...

Thank you for your thoughtful reply, and I do apologize for derailing this post...
The original dough is long gone.
It looked like I had over-worked it beyond salvation, so I had to let it go. :)
But I'll try pressing it in the pan next time, if all else fails.
I really appreciate your insight.
Very kind!

Would you like the muffin recipe?

pastry studio said...

It's funny, one of the first few things we made in pastry school were all the basic pastry doughs: pate sable, pate sucre, pate brisee and pasta frolla. Fun memories!

If you loved the recipe, I'd definitely like to see it! Just send it to my email:

ali said...

Ah, getting nostalgic... :)
It does sound like fun!

Touted as "best ever", here's the muffin recipe, found thanks to Paula of "The Cookbook Junkie", who kindly posted it on her blog.

Lemon-Ricotta Muffins
Good Housekeeping Baking Copyright 1999

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease twelve 2 ½” by 1 ¼” muffin-pan cups or line with paper baking liners. In large bowl, stir together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt.
2. In medium bowl, with wire whisk or fork, mix together ricotta, milk, melted butter, eggs and lemon peel. Make well in center of flour mixture and pour in ricotta mixture; stir until just moistened.
3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin-pan cups. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over muffins. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, until muffins are golden brown, tops spring back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan; serve warm. Or cool on wire rack to serve later.

The batter was cement-thick, and I measured 4.5 oz per one cup of flour, so I think that with a 5-oz cup (or "dip-and-sweep") the muffins might turn out dry.

Well, you'll be the judge.

I just thought I'd mention another ricotta recipe I came across, another "best" according to some, Gina DePalma's "Ricotta Pound Cake" from her book "Dolce Italiano".

You can find it published here:

Thanks again for all your helpful tips and ideas!

Ben David said...

I bookmarked this a while ago - and now that I've made it, I have feedback that may be useful to others.

There is great variation in the amount of liquid in ricotta cheese.

Before you add that 3rd egg - LOOK at your mixture. Is it too thin? Will it support the layer of preserves? Two eggs is more than enough to bind this amount of ricotta.

I used cherry conserves, and the cherries promptly sunk below the filling - which then overflowed the tart shell! I should have used just 2 eggs...

Another trick used with ricotta is to add a teaspoon or 2 of corn starch to absorb moisture. Not more than that or it will affect the texture.

Joanne Carpenter said...

Hi Lida I watch you on create during the week. I was wondering if you have a recipe for these Little Italian Pie's we use to get at Rocko's Pastry Shop on Ferry Street in New Haven Conn. I live in Iowa and can't get them. They are the size of a small pot pie and filled with a custard, either chocolate or lemon. The dough seems to be between a pie and cake dought. I would Really Love the recipe.

pastry studio said...

Hello, Joanne. So sorry, I don't think I've figured out the pies to which you are referring but I totally understand how frustrating it can be to lose sight of your favorite pastry!