Peach Cookies with Ricotta Cream
(photo by Charlotte Bland from La Vita è Dolce)
Inspired by the Pesche I have seen in Pasticcerie all over Italy, these are unbearably cute to look at and fun to make (a little fiddly, yes, but not as bad as you might think).
There are various different versions of peach-shaped sweets which I have encountered in my Pasticceria-based travels around Italy; some giant and consisting of two brioche buns sandwiched with pastry cream, some based around 2 doughnut-like fried balls of dough (again sandwiched with crema - heart attack pending).
These, however, are smaller and daintier and less of a bun, more of a biscuit. Most unlike me to opt for biscuit over bun but hey, their impossible dinky-ness won me over.
This recipe in from La Vita è Dolce, but I wanted to paste it here for posterity, too.
The traditional method of blushing the peaches pink is to paint them with Alchermes, a vivid scarlet Italian Liqueur made from a mixture of spices including nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla, which originally derived its colour from insects known as Kermes. Modern production leaves out the insects, though it’s a drink which still divides opinion, and though many traditional Southern Italian dolci include it I have offered some alternatives. As I add ground almonds to the cookie dough I like to accentuate this by painting the cookies with Amaretto, which has a less divisive flavour, combined with a splash of Alchermes for colour and the slightest spicy background note.
I fill my peaches with ricotta cream, because it’s the easiest to make and one of the nicest to eat, though there are many other variations. Sometimes they are filled with apricot (or peach) jam, sometimes with crema pasticcera. If you want to go the extra mile you can use a nice apricot jam as well as the ricotta. Often - as the cherry on the tromp l’oeil cake – the cookies are then stuffed with a whole almond to replicate the peach stone.
For the biscuits:
170g 00 flour
100g ground almonds
80g butter, melted
A pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 large lemon, finely grated
For the filling:
½ tsp vanilla extract
12 whole almonds (optional)
Mint leaves or fresh lemon verbena leaves
Red food colouring/a splash of Alchermes
4 tbsp sugar
Make the cookie dough. Melt the butter and then set aside to cool slightly. Mix the egg with the sugar and whisk them briefly to dissolve the sugar. Whisk in the melted butter and the milk, then add the salt, the lemon zest and finally the flour, baking powder and ground almonds. The batter will seem relatively loose, half way between cookie and cake, but that’s fine. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes or so.
Pinch off 24-26 full teaspoon-sized pieces of dough with your fingers and roll them into smooth balls in the palms of your hand.
Line a flat baking tray with baking parchment and place the balls a few inches apart. Press them very slightly to flatten.
Preheat the oven to 180.
Bake the cookies for around 12 minutes, until just cooked (they will still look pale but underneath will be a little golden).
Allow them to cool while you make the filling.
Whip the ricotta with the sugar and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy (the sugar will dissolve as you whip, don’t worry!).
Now using a sharp knife, chisel away a hole in the base of each cookie. Fill a piping bag with the ricotta cream. (this is not entirely necessary, if you prefer not to pipe you can easily spoon in the filling).
Pipe (or spoon) the ricotta mixture into the holes you have created in the cookies. If using the almonds, press them into the filling before sandwiching the cookies together. Smooth away any excess ricotta which has squirted out sideways.
Pour the Amaretto into a bowl and add the Alchermes or food colouring to create a red tint. Pour the sugar onto a plate.
Dunk the cookies briefly in the alcohol, turning them to make sure they are covered all over. (if you prefer you can apply the alcohol with a pastry brush, this will make the cookies stay crisper for longer). Dip and roll them in the sugar (this is to replicate the downy skin of a peach) and then place a mint/lemon verbena leaf in each.
Serve, with pride.
Note: these will keep for a day or two in the fridge, and will soften slightly due to the alcohol, but are none the worse for it.