Some traditionally Maltese recipes are no longer easily available commercially. I have adapted the ricotta and almond tart with less sugar and fat but some of the other recipes here need the bulk that processed sugar provides. These are old-time Maltese favourites which I have tried and tested at home and adapted for the home cook.

Photos: James BianchiPhotos: James Bianchi

Hazelnut and honey tart

For the pastry
160g flour
50g sugar
50g softened butter
3 drops vanilla extract
35g water
Zest of a quarter of a fresh lemon
Pinch of cinnamon

For the hazelnut filling
400g hazelnuts
250g sugar
250g butter
125g honey
Cherries for decoration (optional)

One rarely comes across this tart. It was first made by Ġużi Briffa who made it as a speciality for the family confectionery shop in Old Mint Street, Valletta, in 1955.

Heat oven to 160˚C or gas mark 5.

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter, cut up into small pieces and rub in until you have a fine consistency. Add the vanilla extract, lemon zest and cinnamon. Dissolve the sugar and cold water and mix into the dry ingredients. Knead and leave to rest wrapped in cling film in a cool place for at least 15 minutes. Grease a 10-inch tart dish and roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured surface. Line the dish and trim neatly. Dock the pastry with a fork.

For the filling, roast the nuts in the oven until they are a light gold colour. Cool and place them in a plastic bag, then crush lightly with a rolling pin but do not overdo it – the nuts need to be large and chipped.

Melt the butter on very gentle heat. Add the sugar and honey and stir, still on low heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. When cool, add the hazelnuts and put the filling into the pastry case and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Take out of the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool completely in the tart dish. When you take it out of the oven the consistency should be runny but as it cools down, the filling sets. Then gently take it out of the tart dish. You may need to use the point of a sharp knife to help ease it out. Decorate with cherries.

This tart will last for a few weeks if stored in an airtight container and the flavour will improve. No need to refrigerate.

Sweet ricotta tarts

For the dough
500g flour
200g chilled butter, cut up in cubes
1 egg
pinch of salt
4 tbsps sugar
about half cup water

For the filling
500g ricotta
2 eggs
half cup mix of grated dark chocolate and mixed candied peel
2 tbsps sugar

For the topping
200ml double cream
2 tbsps sugar

A savoury version of these individual sweet ricotta tarts (qassatat) are very popular on the island but the sweet ones are rarely seen.

For the dough, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the salt and sugar.

Add the egg and work in, and then add the water gradually. You may not need to use all the water. Knead the dough. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

For the fillling, mash up the ricotta. Add all the other ingredients and stir until even.

To make the pies, roll out the dough and use a four-inch circular cutter to cut out rounds on a well-floured surface. Put a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture in the middle of the circle.

Pinch the edge of the dough into pleats as try to get an open funnel surface. Either pipe some more of the ricotta mix into the pie to fill the neck of the funnel. You can also use a teaspoon but do not fill it right to the top as the filling will expand and rise.

Brush the pastry with egg wash. Bake at 200˚C for about half an hour until the pies are a golden colour.

For the topping, whisk together all the ingredients until thick.Mix together one drop each of green and red food colouring to every spoon of sugar.

I used a piping bag to top the pies with the cream but you can spoon it in. Top each pie with a cherry and sprinkle some green and red-coloured sugar for a festive look.

Photo: Gino GaleaPhoto: Gino Galea

Ricotta and almond tart

For the crust
250g plain flour
50g ricotta
25ml olive oil
1 egg
a few drops good vanilla extract
grated rind of half a lemon

For the filling
300g ricotta
50ml yoghurt
100g ground almonds
60g stevia
50g candid peel
60g glacé cherries
50g chopped almonds
2 eggs
grated zest of half a lemon
grated zest of half an orange
flaked almonds and some cherries to
decorate the surface of the tart after

I adapted Anton Dougall’s recipe with no added butter and no sugar.

I use a loose-bottomed tart dish of 23cm. For a larger dish, double the ingredients.

Make the pastry by rubbing in the ricotta and olive oil into the flour, as you would with butter. Add the vanilla and grated lemon zest. Add the egg and, if necessary, add a few drops of water until you form a dough. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for an hour.

Roll out on a floured surface. Wrap the pastry around the rolling pin and gently drop it as you unfold it on to the greased tart dish. With the tips of your fingers, gently tap on the pastry to ease it into the mould. Pierce the pastry all over with a fork. Bake blind and allow to cool.

For the filling, preheat the oven to 160˚C.

Place the ricotta and yoghurt in a large bowl. Mix until they bind together and you have a creamy consistency. Add the stevia, ground almonds and citrus zest, the candid peel and chopped glacé cherries. Finally add the eggs.

Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust. Top with cherries and flaked almonds. Allow to cook slowly if possible. Allow to cool before serving.

Marmurat tart

For the sweet pastry
160g flour
50g sugar
50g butter
5g baking powder
3 drops vanilla extract
35g water
Zest of a quarter of a fresh lemon

For the filling
125g pure ground almonds
100g sugar
50g wet crumbs from leftover cakes or digestive biscuits
1 egg
2 tbsps orange marmalade
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Pinch of mixed spice
4 drops vanilla extract
20g candied peel, preferably orange
To finish: 150g dark chocolate and 80g roasted flaked almonds

This is a simplified version of Renato Briffa’s recipe which I have adapted for a busy home cook.

For the pastry, sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the softened butter cut up into small pieces and rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Mix the sugar with water until it has dissolved and mix into the dry ingredients until they bind evenly. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in a cool place for at least 15 minutes.

For the filling, mix the ground almonds, sugar and sweet crumbs in a large bowl. Add the sieved cocoa powder, mixed spice, vanilla and candied peel and mix well. Finally add the well-beaten egg and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is even. Test for a dropping consistency and, if necessary, add another egg.

Grease a 10-inch tart dish. Open the rested pastry with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Line the dish. Trim the pastry neatly and dock it with a fork. Spread the marmalade on the bottom of the pastry and then fill with the almond mix. Take a spoon and dip in hot water and run over the surface of the filling to achieve a tidy finish. Bake in a hot oven at 160˚C for 25 to 30 minutes. When baked, cool on a wire rack.

To finish off, melt 150g of dark chocolate and spread it on the tart. You can either use a palate knife but I like to brush it on with a large pastry brush in several layers. Decorate as desired with roasted almonds. Store in an airtight tin.

This tart will keep for a few weeks and the flavour will improve.

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