Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sicilian Orange Cheese Tart

I admit it. I am not much of a baker. That shows up in few dessert recipes in my blog. But there are a few things I like to bake, and that includes tarts and torts.

Here's a recipe for a dessert that goes back to my childhood growing up in a heavily Sicilian community. Actually, the crust goes back to my mother-in-law, her easy version of a French 'pâte sablée'.

This luscious dessert has the Sicilian specialties of ricotta cheese, almonds, and oranges. It should be made in advance and allowed to cool thoroughly. The recipe makes a large pie.

Sicilian Orange and Ricotta Cheese Tart Tim

Crust
1-1/2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt (only if butter is unsalted)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, unsalted preferred
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar and cut in the butter with a pastry knife or with two table knives, or by pulsing in the food processor. When moderately well blended but still with small dots of butter, mix in the vinegar by hand. Using your fingers, press the dough into a large (10- to 12-inch) tart pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly across the bottom and work it up the edges to the top of the pan. Use a little of the egg white (from the filling recipe, below) to rub gently on the bottom of the crust.

Filling
2 eggs
1 quart (4 cups; 32 ounces) ricotta cheese, part skim
1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 extra tablespoons for the topping
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest from the orange (below)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 navel oranges, peeled after collecting the zest for the filling, and flesh cut across into 1/4-inch slices (remove seeds if any)
1-2 teaspoons canola oil for the top of the pie

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl (the bowl used for making the crust is OK) with a fork. Mix in the ricotta, flour, sugar, seasonings, and lemon juice. When well combined, spread the cheese mixture into the prepared crust. With your fingers, press the upper edges of the crust down to the level of the filling for a neat appearance. Arrange the orange slices on top of the cheese. Brush with a little oil and sprinkle with the two tablespoons of sugar.

Bake at 370 degrees (or 350 in convection oven) on a lower shelf for 40-50 minutes, until the filling has risen in the center and the surface is golden. Test about 2 inches from the center by inserting a sharp knife to the side of an orange slice. If it comes out clean, remove the tart from the oven. Otherwise, bake a little more until it tests done. Let cool thoroughly on a rack. If using a pan with a removable bottom, carefully run a thin sharp knife around the crust to separate it from the edge of the pan. Lift the bottom of the pan up through the rim of the pan, and set on a plate or platter to serve.

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