Bocconotti are little pies that harbor sweet fillings of seasonal fruit jam, pastry cream, ricotta, or chocolate, depending on where you are in the south of Italy. They are small enough to finish in a couple of mouthfuls, hence their name, which comes from the Italian word for “mouthful” (boccone).
Various regions, from Abruzzo to Calabria to Puglia, lay claim to the “original” bocconotti. Legends dating back to the 18th century describe the very first of these little pastries being invented either by peasants or nuns. I think it's fair to say that such simple, tasty, and delightful treats—which are easy to carry and keep well—were destined to travel to many places and become popular wherever it went.
Each particular province has a different way to bocconotti. In Abruzzo, they're often filled with unsweetened grape jam and spices, or chocolate and cinnamon. In Calabria, they can be much smaller—an actual mouthful—and filled with chocolate and almonds. Meanwhile, in Puglia, they can be little pockets of sweet ricotta studded with candied fruit (a long time specialty of Benedictine nuns in Bitonto near Bari), or filled with sour cherry jam (or, even better, sour cherry jam and pastry cream). Around the town of Martina Franca in the Itria Valley, where these pastries are called bocconotti martinesi, they're most often made with jams of seasonal fruit like pear or quince, or they're filled with pastry cream.
As these are so very simple, I highly recommend using a homemade jam with good quality fruit and less sugar than you may normally use for preserving, so that you can really taste the fruit. Quince jam makes a really special filling for its seasonality, pretty shade of pastel, and unique perfume. (It can be hard to find fresh quince, so pear makes a good substitute.) But don't let tradition stop you from using your favorite fillings for these mini pies. And remember, pastry cream is a good idea any time (try Alice Medrich's recipe).
- 2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (110 grams) sugar
- 1 stick (½ cup or 125 grams) of cold butter, diced
- 1 large (not jumbo) whole egg plus 1 yolk, beaten (save the white for brushing on top of the pastry for a shiny crust)
- zest of one lemon, finely grated
- 4 cups (560 grams or 20 ounces) quince jam (or sour cherry jam or pastry cream)
- powdered sugar for dusting (optional)