Chocolate pusties | Pasticciotti cioccolati

Eggs, two
Lard, one-half pound
Light brown sugar, two cups
All-purpose flour, four cups
Baking powder, one teaspoon
Baking soda, one teaspoon
Cold water, one tablespoon

chocolate filling
Flour, one-half cup
Sugar, one cup
Milk, one cup
Water, one cup
Cocoa, one-quarter cup
Vanilla extract, one teaspoon
Almond extract, one-half teaspoon

1. Mix filling ingredients and cook over a double broiler until thick like pudding. (You can use a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water as well.)
2. Add vanilla and almond to filling and cool.
3. Mix crust ingredients like pie crust. (That means:
- Mix dry ingredients well.
- Cut lard (or butter, if substituting) into dry ingredients.
- Beat eggs and water together.
- Work eggs and water into dry ingredients and butter, mixing as little as possible until it forms a ball.)
4. Roll out crust dough to about one-quarter inch.
5. Shape dough into pusty tart pans. (I suspect these are fairly difficult to find outside of upstate New York and a few areas in Italy - any fluted tartlet pan will work, although the scalloping will be narrower.)
6. Pour filling into crusts.
7. Shape top layer of crust over filling. (If you had individual tartlet pans - rather than a tartlet tray - you can use these to cut out the top.)
8. Bake at 400˚F for 15 to 18 minutes.

the story
One of the joys of transcribing my grandmother's cookbooks into digital form is the sheer minimalism of many of the recipes, as above in my great-aunt's direction to simply "mix crust ingredients like pie crust." (Because, who, making pusties, doesn't know how to make pie crust?) In addition to filling the pages of a composition book, many of the recipes were scribbled on the backs of old envelopes and receipts, or in the margins of newsprint. Many were not much more than grocery lists, missing quantities or directions - or both. For the most part, I've tried to keep the original language and just add additional clarifications.

Aunt Bea, c. 1940s: Before she died in 2011,
our family included five living generations;
she was my great-aunt but a great-great-great-aunt
to three of my youngest cousins.
Pasticciotti, abbreviated pusties (singular pusty), are a classic pastry of my hometown. In addition to my favorite, chocolate, they also classically come filled with vanilla pudding (recognizable by a dot of dough on the top), as well as a variety of more contemporary fillings (lemon, apple, pumpkin...so feel free to be creative). My mom thinks this recipe probably came to my great-aunt Bea through my great-grandmother Maria, who came to Utica from Caserta, near Naples, Italy, as a teenager. The addition of almond to the chocolate filling is supposed to indicate its authenticity. We generally eat them at all times of year and for all occasions, not just Christmas. My early attempts to trace the origins of pasticciotti led me to Salento, Salerno (about 100 miles from Caserta) and the Puglia regions of Italy, and to recipes for "Neapolitan ricotta pie" (a pusty-like creation with a sweet ricotta filling).

You can read more about pusties (and other treats) here at the Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York blog.

FYI: Pusties can be frozen and thawed in the oven or microwave, but I learned the hard way that the microwave can heat the filling so it expands more rapidly than the crust, leading to...pusty explosion.

My great-grandmother Maria Carcione Pietrantuono (back, center) with her five surviving children (one son and four daughters),
a son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren (eventually she would have nine), on their front porch in Utica, New York, c. 1944.
As of this post, Maria, who died in 1956, has 21 great-grandchildren, 17 great-great-grandchildren,
and three great-great-great-grandchildren (yes, that adds up to 50 cousins - plus spouses).
Fifth generation: My son, then 17 months old, with his nine year old (third) cousin, Emmi,
both great-great-grandchildren of my mother's grandparents Maria and Battista, on my parents' deck. July 2013.

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