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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Breasts of Saint Agatha

These baked “breasts” are one of many different versions of pastries made in honor of St. Agatha, the patron saint for breast cancer. St. Agatha was tortured and martyred in 251 A.D. In addition to many other tortures, her were breasts cut off. In Catania, Sicily, and other places around the world, her feast day is celebrated with masses in her honor, large processions and symbolic foods, such as le minni di Sant’Agata  (breasts of St. Agatha) or le minni di virgini  (breasts of the virgin).

Traditionally, the breasts of Saint Agatha pastries consist of a delicate outer layer of pasta frolla (shortbread dough) in the shape of a breast, stuffed with custard, zuccata, chopped almond or pistachio, covered with pink icing and topped with a half candied cherry; another version is filled with ricotta and covered with white icing and topped with a chocolate chip.

Personally, I prefer an unfrosted version (shown above) as it looks more realistic. My daughter and I actually made these, and they were delicious! We couldn't decide which filling was better, so I've included both recipes. One is for a yummy orange flavored ricotta cream filling that stood up quite well to the molding process. The other is for a pastry cream that was also really yummy, but a little more difficult to work with when molding the breasts because it was so soft.

Ricotta Cream Filling - Make in advance and chill.

  • 1lb Ricotta (drained overnight)
  • 2 tbsp Mascarpone 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
Cream together the ricotta, mascarpone and suger. When it is smooth and fluffy add in the orange zest and Grand Marnier. Mix well and chill until ready to use.

Pastry Cream Filling - Make in advance and chill
  • 1 1/4 cups milk (whole or 2%)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 tablespoon liqueur (Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch) 
  • Dried Cherry, dried apricots, chocolate chips, or almonds (your choice) are used for the "nipple" of the breast shaped pastry.
In a medium-sized heatproof bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together. (Do let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming.) Sift the flour and cornstarch (corn flour) together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan bring the milk and vanilla bean just to boiling (just until milk starts to foam up.) Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. (If you get a few pieces of egg (curdling) in the mixture, pour through a strainer.) Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds, and add the seeds to the egg mixture. (The vanilla bean can be washed and dried and placed in your sugar bowl to give the sugar a vanilla flavor.) Then pour the egg mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. 

When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 - 60 seconds until it becomes thick. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the liqueur (if using). (Stir in vanilla extract if using instead of a vanilla bean.) Pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool to room temperature. If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Whisk or stir before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.

You will also need: 
  • Egg wash - We beat up an egg and added a small amount of water to it. You could also use the egg whites left over from the pasta frolla.
  • And to decide what you want to use for the "nipple" of these breast shaped pastries. We used semisweet chocolate pieces in some and raisins in others, but dried cherries, dried apricots, or almonds would work equally well.
Pasta Frolla for the Shells
  •  4 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1 tbsp Agave Nectar 
  • 5 medium egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac
Mound flour on a flat surface and form a well or place into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Use your hands and mix it until it will shape into coarse crumbs of diverse sizes. Knead and bring the mixture together to form a ball. Fold and press with the palm of your hands; if dough is sticky, add some more flour, if it is too dry add a few tablespoons of water, to moisten it.

Do not over mix. Do not handle dough more than necessary. Form dough into a single mass and cover with a clean kitchen rag or with plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough from 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Divide dough into 2 pieces and knead each piece briefly to compact; on a floured working surface, roll out one piece to 3/8 of an inch thick. Using a round cutter (or the rim of a glass) 3 inches across, cut 10 to 12 circles and place them 1 to 2 inches apart.on your greased baking sheet. 

Knead the other piece of dough, adding in the scraps from the first. Compact it and roll it out 3/8 of an inch thick. Using a round cutter cut 10 to 12 circles slightly larger than the first set, and set aside. 

Brush the first set of disks with the egg wash; place approximately 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each one. Mound it up, but leave room around the edges. Put a chocolate chip or whatever you've decided to use for the "nipple" in the center on the top of the mound of filling. 

Gently cover each with your second pastry circle. Carefully  press it around the edges to seal it, as you do this, try to create a 'breast-like: shape, pinching up on the pastry in the center to form a "nipple."  When it is pressed and sealed, use your round cutter to re-cut the edges. This will give your breast a nice round shape and help seal the edges even more. Remove the excess pastry dough. 

Brush the formed pastries with egg wash. Bake the pastries for 15 or 20 minutes, or until they are a golden color. Place the pastries on a rack and allow them to cool before eating.

Credits: Recipes for the Ricotta filling and the Pasta Frolla are by Sky Buletti. The pastry cream recipe was adapted from the Joy of Baking. Other fillings can be found at Sicilian Cooking Plus, and a nice tutorial on shaping the breasts can be found at Hi Cookery.

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