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Head to any bar in the centre of Florence (or any major Italian city for that matter) in the morning and you'll find a counter full of standing customers, rows of pastries behind glass, and a well-worked espresso machine. The line-up of pastries can be downright dazzling, whether you've walked into one of the grand historic cafés complete with high ceilings, trompe l'oeil walls and chandeliers, or the dimly lit, un-renovated, 1960s pastry shop on the lesser-known side of town.
There's sugar-dusted cornetto and sticky-bottomed sfoglia (puff pastry). You'll find pastries of all sorts filled with jam (cherry, apricot or blackberry are favorites), honey, custard, ricotta, rice pudding, apples, chocolate, whipped cream, or combination of a couple of the aforementioned.
These turnovers—called fazzoletti dolci, or "sweet handkerchiefs" because of their folded shape—are the easy answer when you want to make Italian pastries at home. And since they don't take long to prepare if you use pre-packaged puff pastry, you can easily whip these up for breakfast (but if you want a bit of a baking project, why not try a quick puff pastry?).
The filling, like the usual line-up at an Italian pastry shop or bar, can be fine-tuned to your tastes. My preference is ricotta studded with candied orange and spiked with rum. It's inspired partly by my local pastry shop that does one with ricotta and orange marmalade and partly by a "pizza dolce" I had in Puglia, a shortcrust pastry filled with ricotta perfumed with citrus zest and homemade limoncello. However, instead of the orange, you can use chopped dark chocolate or rum-soaked raisins. Or leave out the orange and rum and swirl a teaspoon of your favorite jam through each dollop of ricotta instead.
You could, if you like, follow Ada Boni's tip for caramelizing the tops of the pastries. In her 1920s recipe bible known as Il Talismano della Felicita (the Talisman of Happiness), she has a recipe for pastry rounds of sfogliata di ricotta, which combines a candied orange and raisin ricotta filling with freshly made custard. Here's her trick: Dust the top of each round with powdered sugar while they still have 5 more minutes to go in the oven, which gives them a sort of candied top.
Now all you need is a short, crema-topped espresso or a creamy cappuccino and you'll be on your way to starting your day the Italian way.
- 1 sheet ready-made puff pastry (about 230 grams or 8 ounces of pastry)
- 7 ounces (200 grams) ricotta
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
- 1 egg, separated (save the white for brushing the tops)
- Grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
- 1 splash rum (optional)
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) candied orange, finely chopped (see note for substitutions)
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
What would you fill these pastries with? Let us know in the comments.