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Easter Ricotta Pastries - "Soffioni di Ricotta"

(Makes 9 pastries)
Easter Ricotta Pastries - Soffioni di Ricotta

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Butter for greasing muffin tin
Confectioners' sugar for dusting


To make the dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs and oil.
Use a fork to gently break up the egg yolks and slowly incorporate the flour into the liquids.  Then use your hands to knead the mixture in the bowl until a dough forms.  If the mixture is too dry to come together into a dough, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at  time, until you can form a ball of dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough until smooth, 2-3 minutes.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.  In the meantime, make the filling.

To make the filling:
In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest until smooth.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Grease 9 muffin cups with butter.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 14-inch square.
Using a fluted pastry wheel, cut off 1-inch of the dough on each side of the square, leaving you with a 12 x 12-inch square.  Then use the pastry wheel to cut out 9 (4-inch) squares from the dough. Fit the squares into the prepared muffin cups, pressing the centers into the cups and letting the corners of the pastry overlap the edges of the cup.  Divide the filling evenly among the dough-lined cups, then fold the dough corners over the filling (the filling will not be completely covered.)

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pastries are puffed and lightly golden.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Gently twist the pastries to release them from the cups.  Serve warm or at room temperature, dusting with confectioners' sugar before serving.  The pastries will keep well in an airtight container for 2-3 days but they are best served the day they are baked.
These simple ricotta pastries are from the Abruzzo region of Italy. They are typically prepared during the Easter season but are also consumed throughout the year.

The pastries, also sometimes called "shower heads" or "sweet fiadoni", contain a sweet and creamy filling made with ricotta, eggs, and lemon zest enclosed by a delicious crust made with olive oil.    The reason behind their name "soffione" is simple: when baked in the oven, the filling swells up to escape a bit 'on top, where the pasta is not sealed, almost as if it had blown it.  When the pastries are prepared for the Easter holidays, they are sometimes sealed by strips of pasta arranged in a cross, as a reference to the Christian cross.
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