A creamy ricotta filling with a hint of lemon and almond is baked inside of a sweet Italian pie pastry. Typically served on Easter, but not exclusively, this Ricotta Pie is sure to be the star of the show at any meal.
Sweet Italian Ricotta Pie
Nothing screams Easter in my family quite like a Sweet Ricotta Pie. With its lemon-scented Italian pie pastry (also known as Pasta Frolla) and its creamy ricotta cheese filling, it's a simple pie, but one everyone will absolutely love.
My grandfather tells stories of watching his grandmother make it (she immigrated here from Italy and made everything from scratch), but for as long as I can remember, he always bought one at the bakery for our Easter table. This year, I thought it was time to come up with my own family recipe since I don't have access to the one my own great-great-grandmother used to make.
My Papa walked me through his memory of the pie he used to watch her make, and I too added in my own twists to make it something special.
What results is a creamy pie, with understated flavors of lemon and almond, that is so lovely. While the pie is traditional for Easter, it will most certainly be welcomed any time of year.
Let's Talk About That Ricotta Filling
Before we get into some details and tips for making it, I really wanted to address the texture of a ricotta pie.
First, let's talk about what ricotta is. Modern-made ricotta is a cheese that is produced simply by adding acid into milk, heating it, and "breaking it" so that the milk separates into curds and whey. The whey is strained out from the curds, and what you are left with is fresh ricotta. The longer you strain ricotta, the drier the ricotta is. This information is important for a few reasons.
If you are using a lower quality (read: cheap) ricotta, you likely have ricotta that hasn't been strained very well. If you don't take the additional step to strain it at home overnight, you may be left with a watered-down filling that is a bit too soft.
Additionally, the texture of your pie may be a bit off. In general, ricotta has a grainy texture to it; after all, it's made of curds, which are coagulated milk solids. But lower-quality ricotta that isn't well strained will have more defined grains which may be less than ideal for this pie.
In the recipe, I'm offering a few tips for how to combat this. In addition, if you wanted a very smooth filling, without the defined grainy texture, I'm sharing how to whip it in the notes of this recipe to get it to be a bit more creamy.
I am including this in the notes as opposed to a mandatory instruction because I find that ricotta with a small grain has a lovely texture and is quite appealing in this pie. However, speaking from experience, I do know that when some people try this pie, they are surprised by the grain of the ricotta. That's why I made mention of it here.
Making Pasta Frolla
Pasta Frolla is an Italian shortcrust pastry. It's easy to make, tastes amazing and because of the lower water content, it can be made and rolled out right away! The dough will be soft, but it's quite easy to work with right after it's been made.
However, I do recommend freezing the pie dough briefly before it is blind-baked, to ensure it doesn't slide into the pie plate. And yes, you do need to blind bake this pie. If you don't, the bottom pastry won't bake through, and nobody wants a soggy bottom.
Pasta frolla is made in the food processor, and it takes all of about 5 minutes to throw together.
Making the Ricotta Filling
This filling contains just a few ingredients, but it is pretty magnificent. Ricotta is the star of the show of course. In case you missed it, up above I talk about the need to strain ricotta if you are using an inexpensive brand. Also, check out the notes in the recipe for tips on how to do this.
If you don't need to strain the filling, it's very easy to mix it together all in one bowl. The filling can be made in between the making and baking of the pie.
Options for the Top Pie Crust
There are two options for the decorative top crust. It may be a little obvious that I have a clear preference for which one is best. But first, let me explain that when this pie is baked, the ricotta filling puffs up and expands in the crust.
One option is to make a lattice top on the pie. It presents as a pretty pie (keep scrolling below the recipe and I've included a photo of a lattice top for this pie). If you do make a lattice, you might end up with a few broken lattice strands due to the expansion of the ricotta filling. You can dust the pie with a layer of powdered sugar to distract for some of the cracks, while still showcasing the lattice top.
Or, the better alternative is to make this a double-crust pie with a decorative fork-lattice design on it. Only, the scoring on the pastry isn't just decorative, it serves a purpose. The scoring of the pastry directs the pastry where exactly to crack during the expansion of the ricotta. Then, once the pie cools down and sinks back, you can hardly tell there was any cracking at all.
I definitely recommend using the double crust. Take your time scoring the pastry with the fork as this makes a difference and guiding the pastry to break in those weak points as the ricotta expands.
How to Tell When It's Fully Baked
Like other custard pies, this Ricotta Pie can be tricky to tell when it is fully baked. A custard pie will still be a bit jiggly in the center when it is fully cooked, but it will fully set up after it is cool. This filling will also puff up quite a bit as it cooks.
It is fully baked when the pie has puffed up nearly throughout, about 2-½ inches inward from the edge of the pie. It's hard to tell how the filling is underneath the double crust, but look for the crust to begin showing signs of cracking around the edges, hopefully along the lines of the fork marks, and to have puffed up nearly throughout the whole pie. The crust should also be fully baked and light golden brown throughout.
I have found that I can minimize the cracks if I pull the pie out of the oven when the filling has nearly puffed up throughout, with just a small portion in the center that hasn't yet risen.
When the pie cools, it will shrink back down and the cracks should be unnoticeable. However during the extensive testing process I had one rogue pies that had larger cracks. If all else fails, you can always cover it with dusting of powdered sugar!
Steps to Make in Advance
As with all pies, you can make some components ahead of time.
The pie crust can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. If you chill it before you roll it out, make sure to let it warm up enough before you attempt to roll it out. The recipe instructs you to roll it out directly after it is made because it is quite hard when it is chilled, so you will have to adjust for that if you are making it ahead of time.
The filling cannot be prepared ahead of time.
The entire pie can be assembled and baked up to three days in advance. Store the pie in the refrigerator and let it come close to room temperature before serving. It can be served directly from the refrigerator if you desire, but traditionally it is served closer to room temperature.
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