Another product of a convent, and one of the most beautiful dolci found in Sardinia, these little almond pastries are traditional for celebratory occasions such as baptisms and weddings. They are found all over the island, and referred to by various different names. In the South they are known as Pastissus, and near Oristano as Capigliette.
Made in special small, fluted, tin moulds they consist of a paper thin, crisp lard pastry case filled with a light, lemon-scented almond sponge mixture, and topped with a simple icing glaze. They are then intricately decorated with sugar icing (royal icing known as ghiaccia reale), which is piped with exquisite delicacy to create lace-like patterns. Occasionally this icing may then be crusted with gold leaf or embellished with silver balls or tiny iced flowers.
The ingredients are few and simple, like most Sardinian sweets, and the method is surprisingly straightforward for something seemingly so intricate, but the decoration requires a little patience and practise. Having said that, I have made these with children before, and they love the sticky mess which is inevitable, so don’t be too hard on yourself (or others) if the decoration is a little less fine than you had hoped: they will still taste delicious.
Their flavour is as dainty and delightful as their appearance, and the textural contrast between the crisp pastry, the soft and moist filling, and the crust of sugared icing is irresistible.
This quantity makes enough for a festa, or special event, which is realistically the most likely occasion you will want to make these, as they do take time and are relatively involved and fiddly – the sort of things that women in a Sardinian family or village will come together and spend the entire day making. However, the sight of a whole tray of their intricately decorated and delicate white beauty is truly memorable, and well worth the effort involved.
Makes around 20 small (two-bite sized) tarts
For the Pastry
165g flour 00
25g lard (or butter)
A pinch of salt
For the Filling
165g ground almonds
3 eggs, separated
1 large lemon, finely zested
1 tbsp orange blossom water
For the Ghiacchia reale, or royal icing
220g icing sugar
40g egg white (1 egg white)
Make the pastry. Mix the flour with the salt and lard and rub in the fat with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water and bring together with your hands to form a smooth dough. (if using a mixer, you can put all the ingredients together and mix until you have a smooth dough).
Remove the dough from the bowl and transfer to a clean work surface. Knead the dough well for at least five minutes, until it is smooth and silky. (you can do all of this process in a free standing mixer with a dough-hook attached, if you wish).
Wrap the dough in cling film and leave it to rest for at least half an hour.
Using a pasta machine, or a rolling pin if you don’t have one, roll out the dough until it is very thin, aiming for the same thinness as if you were making ravioli. You may need to use a sprinkling of flour to stop the dough from sticking.
Note: the more you roll and fold this pastry, the better and crisper it will be, as the lard gets folded and rolled over itself, creating layers almost like puff pastry.
Lightly grease your tins with melted butter or flavourless oil and place the rolled pastry inside, trimming up the edges to fit.
For the filling:
Preheat the oven to 170.
Whisk the yolks with half of the sugar until you have a fluffy, mousse-like consistency (this will take at least a few minutes). The mixture should at least double in size. Add the lemon zest, the orange blossom water and the ground almonds and fold gently to incorporate.
Now, in a separate bowl, whisk the whites with the remaining sugar until you have soft and glossy peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk and almond mixture, stirring gently to incorporate everything without losing too much air.
Use a teaspoon to transfer the mix into the prepared pastry cases. The filling will rise significantly on baking so only fill the cases about two thirds full. Smooth the sponge mixture to create a flat top.
Place the cakes on a baking tray and then put them in the oven.
Cook the tartlets for around 15 minutes, until the top of the sponge is golden brown and the pastry only just beginning to take colour.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
For the Icing:
Gently mix the egg white and icing sugar until they come together to form a smooth glaze.
Delicately paint the top of the tarts with this glaze, or dip them upside down into the glaze and wipe away any excess. Make sure you get a good even covering over the surface, right to the edges, any excess will drip away.
Allow the glaze to dry completely.
Meanwhile whisk the remaining icing using an electric whisk or beater attachment on a standing mixer. Whisk well for a few minutes until the icing is opaque and white, like meringue. It should be shiny and white and much thicker than previously. Make a tiny piping bag with a piece of greaseproof paper (or use a disposable piping bag, just cutting the tiniest tip off to create a very small hole) and decant some of the icing into it. Cut the tip off to create a tiny nozzle and then gently pipe patterns onto the top of the tartlets. Allow the icing to set.
It is good to practise your patterns a little on some greaseproof paper first, before piping them directly onto the tarts. This way there is room for trial and error.
As is always the case, the lard in the pastry means that the finished texture is wonderfully crisp, but if you prefer to use butter then you can substitute an equal amount.
If you cannot find the special moulds you can use small, shallow muffin tins, like those you would use for jam tarts, and use a fluted cutter to cut the pastry bases. I have made them this way before and they work well.