There is no question about it – after weeks upon weeks of giving up indulgent sweets (except for St. Joseph’s Day) one of the most important parts of the Easter feast in Italy is dessert. From the light and fluffy Torta di Pasqua in Abruzzo, to the rich and creamy cassata of Sicily, each region has its own favorite Dolce di Pasqua.
Colomba Pasquale dates back hundreds of years and is one of the most popular Easter treats in Italy. Formagelle, also known as Paradulas, look like a pastry chef’s version of the rising sun on Easter. They contain very little sugar and are perfect for those who do not like a very sweet dessert. Nidi di Pasqua Torta or Easter Bird’s Nest Cake, is a chocolate cake that resembles a bird’s nest. The top is often filled with small candies and treats for children. In Sicily, cassata, cannoli filled treats are the Easter dessert of choice. No matter what region your family is from or what kind of sweets you prefer, Italy has something for everyone when it comes to the Dolce di Pasqua.
Here are two recipes you may enjoy making.
For the pastry dough
3 tbsp sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
7 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon juice
6 tbsp egg whites
For the filling
9 oz Ricotta cheese
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
3 ½ tbsp flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch of saffron
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
1 egg yolk
To make the pastry dough – Combine the sugar and flour in a bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture. Add the juice and egg whites. Mix until you have a smooth dough.
To make the filling – Press the ricotta through a strainer into a large bowl. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the ricotta. Add the flour, baking powder, saffron, zests and yolk. Mix until smooth.
To shape the Formagelle – On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry dough about 1/8” thick. Use a 3” cookie cutter to cut out circles.
Using a teaspoon, place a walnut-size scoop of filling in the center of each dough circle. Moisten the edge of the dough with water. Gather up the dough around the filling, leaving the filling exposed. Pinch the dough at 6-8 equidistant points so the pastry looks like a sun. Pinch the points firmly so they don’t separate during baking. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
Baking: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the Formagelle for about 18 minutes. The center will be not quite firm but the crust will be lightly browned. Cool slightly and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Easter Bird’s Nest Cake
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tbsp cold water
7 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
20 to 30 small candy Easter eggs
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.
Spread into a greased 9” spring form pan. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen. Remove sides and bottom of pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.
From a large sheet of waxed paper, cut a 29” x 5” strip. Fold strip lengthwise in half. Place strip on a large sheet of waxed paper on a work surface. Spread melted chocolate evenly along one long edge of waxed paper strip; spread upward, making a wavy line to within ½” of other long edge. Let stand for 10-30 minutes until chocolate begins to set but is still pliable.
Carefully lift waxed paper strip and wrap chocolate strip around cake with straight edge on the bottom. Do not remove waxed paper. Refrigerate until chilled. Meanwhile, cover three baking sheets with waxed paper. Drizzle remaining melted chocolate from a spatula over waxed paper in both directions. Chill for 10 minutes. Peel off waxed paper; break chocolate into 2” to 3” “twigs” and set aside.
For filling: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in milk until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Stir a small amount of hot filling into egg yolks; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.
In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water; let stand for 1 minute. Stir into custard until gelatin is dissolved. Add chopped chocolate; stir until smooth. Cover surface with plastic wrap; cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form; fold into chocolate mixture. Carefully spoon over top of cake. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until set. Remove waxed paper strip from side of cake. Position chocolate “twigs” around top of cake to create a nest. Arrange candy eggs in center.