For most Americans, pizza describes a round disc of dough topped with tomato sauce and cheese and then baked in a hot oven.
But in Italian, “pizza” translates to “pie,” and it refers to Italian cheesecakes with ricotta and egg custard fillings nestled in a sweet pasta frolla pastry dough.
Pizza rustica is the savory version filled with ricotta mixed with mozzarella, sweet dried sausage, prosciutto and cheeses like Pecorino Romano and mozzarella.
Pizza dolce di ricotta is the sweet version, flavored with citrus and cinnamon. This is my favorite version, one that brings back sweet memories of growing up in New York during the holiday season.
I attended a baking demonstration in 2005 with my baking mentor Nick Malgieri. This class featured pizza dolce and pizza rustica, plus an easy food processor method for making the sweet pastry dough. Malgieri is my go-to author when researching Italian baking recipes. His version of this ricotta pie is made in a deep 9-inch cake pan. He includes Anisette liquor and finely diced citron in the filling and tops his pie with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a lattice layer of pastry dough. It is heavenly.
My mom’s recipe, on a tattered hand-printed recipe card, also has a quite simple pasta frolla pastry dough and a filling of ricotta flavored with orange and lemon peel. Her “ricotta pie” as we called it was enjoyed by our Italian family during the holiday season and was a big hit with the children at the dessert table.
Rather than the traditional lattice pastry on top, Mom would decorate the top of the pie with pastry cutouts of snowmen, stars and wreaths and sprinkled colored sugars to celebrate the season. That smooth, sweet custardlike filling has given me reason to resurrect this delicious ricotta pie with my own version.
I use the food processor and an updated pasta frolla recipe to make the dough and then refrigerate it so it can firm up and rest. This dough is easiest to handle when it is cold.
My filling is mixed using the whip attachment of my stand mixer, so it is smooth and light when baked. I add fresh citrus zests, vanilla and just a pinch of cinnamon to keep it authentic. My lattice topping is inspired by watching Malgieri make it look so easy: a simple lattice spoke with seasonal cutouts scattered on top. Then, a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar to make this a pie Mom would also be proud of.
Mom Fina’s Creamy Ricotta Pie With Orange and Lemon
(a.k.a. Pizza dolce di ricotta)
For the pastry dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 drops Fiori di Sicilia, optional
For the filling:
1 ½ pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon each grated lemon and orange zest
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Store-bought cinnamon sugar blend, like from McCormick, for topping
Make the dough: To the bowl of a large food processor, add the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Pulse a few times to mix. Evenly distribute the butter over the mixture and pulse until the mixture looks sandy. Add the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and Fiori di Sicilia, if using, and pulse just until a dough forms that wraps around the blade. Carefully remove the dough from the work bowl and knead it into a disc on a lightly floured surface. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour to firm up and rest.
Make the ricotta filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the ricotta and sugar until smooth on medium speed, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. On low speed, add the flour, vanilla, lemon and orange zests, cinnamon and salt. Beat just until smooth, about 1 minute. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Assemble the dessert: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch nonstick springform pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and spray again. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface. Dust lightly with flour. Roll out the dough into a 14-inch circle, about ¼ inch thick. Trim the edges, gather the scraps, knead into a ball and refrigerate; you’ll use it for decoration. Refrigerate the rolled dough on the parchment for 15 minutes.
Set the dough on the parchment on a flat surface. Place the springform pan top-side down in the center of the dough, then flip the dough and pan over so the dough sits over the top of the pan. Gently peel off the parchment paper and ease the dough into the pan, pushing into the edges with your fingers. Don’t worry if the dough breaks. Just patch any tears. Remove excess dough from around the edges of the pan and reserve for more cutouts.
Spoon the ricotta filling into the dough and smooth the top. Fold the edges of the dough onto the filling, making a dough border around the top of the pie.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough scraps to ½ inch thick. Cut out three lattice strips, 10 inches long by 1 inch wide. Arrange the lattice strips in an overlapping design on top of the filling, trimming the edges that touch the pan. Cut the remaining dough into seasonal shapes and arrange around the edge and on top of the lattice. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar blend.
Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the filling is set, slightly puffed and the pastry is light golden brown. Cool in the pan then remove the bottom of the springform pan. Place pie on a serving plate. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight to firm up. Serve chilled or at room temperature with whipped cream or seasonal berries. Store tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.
Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski
Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and updated for readers who love to bake and cook. Check out what she’s cooking and creating right now on her Facebook Page, LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI. Contact her at email@example.com.