I am sorry to have to break the news to all of you that you will not be enjoying the perfect tree this year, because it is currently sitting in my living room. It’s vibrant-green, Turkish, and neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. I like to call it not-a-pain-in-the-ass-to-decorate-chic. I am one of those crazies who wraps each branch with lights. It smells not just of that perfect Christmas pine, but of your favorite baked good, a crackling fire, hot chocolate, and the cool outside. It’s umami in tree form.

Tree is up, shopping is started, house is decorated, and baking has been going on for a week! This is way ahead of schedule for me. Although I work well under time restraints, I decided to try to get at least some things done ahead of time this year. Granted my cards aren’t sent out, and the tree is up but not decorated. I did however buy a mini-stocking for my cat. Priorities people, priorities. Tonight we will decorate the tree, listen to some John Waters and Dean Martin Christmas cd’s, drink and be merry. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend before the holiday, and bake something for cake’s sake! It’s what baby Jesus would want.

These sweet ricotta pastries would be great with almond extract, or even lemon. Add chocolate chips or candied fruit. They are very adaptable. Make them your own.

Sweet Ricotta Pastries

In many Italian-American bakeries, these cross-topped pies are tucked among cannoli, biscotti, and pignoli cookies. In this homemade version, pasta frolla (a tender, short crust) is filled with a creamy orange-scented ricotta custard. Served with hot espresso, these little pastries are a wonderful way to end a big family meal.

Make filling:
Bring milk and zest to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then remove from heat. Whisk together yolk, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk in milk, then transfer mixture to saucepan.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute. Stir in vanilla, then transfer to a clean bowl and chill custard, its surface covered with parchment paper (to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least 1 hour. Discard zest.

Pulse ricotta in a food processor until smooth. Whisk into custard. Stir in orange-flower water and citron. Chill until ready to use.

Prepare pastry while custard chills:
Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in cleaned food processor until combined. Add butter and zest and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Add yolks and water and pulse until just incorporated and dough begins to form large clumps.

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, using a pastry or bench scraper if you have one, and form into a ball.

Generously butter muffin cups and top of pan. Press 2 tablespoon dough over bottom and up side of each muffin cup in an even layer with well-floured fingers. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out remaining dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 9-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and transfer to a baking sheet, discarding top sheet of paper. Cut 12 (1/2-inch-wide) strips, then cut in half crosswise to make 24 strips total. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble and Bake pastries:
Spoon a scant 2 tablespoons filling into each muffin cup and smooth, then crisscross 2 strips on top of filling, trimming to fit. Brush pastry cross with egg wash. Bake until filling is puffed and starting to crack and edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Invert a rack on top of pan, then flip pan and remove. Turn pastries right side up and cool completely.

Cooks’ notes: •Dough, in muffin cups and in strips on baking sheet, can be chilled, covered with plastic wrap, up to 1 day.
•Pastries can be made 4 days ahead and chilled in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before serving.



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