The Tastiest Dessert You've Never Heard Of?

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Every Tuesday on Food52, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home. 

Today: Meet Puglia’s answer to Sicily’s cannoli: lemon- and ricotta-filled crêpes.

One of Puglia’s best-loved desserts, dita degli apostoli — or “apostle’s fingers” — were traditionally made for winter’s Carnival, but they’re so good that I take any excuse I can get to eat them year-round. (The origins of this unusual and not entirely appealing name are still a mystery.)

At its most basic, this refreshing dessert — crêpes with a sweet, lemony ricotta filling — is simply dusted with cinnamon. The delicate filling is wonderfully adaptable, with a number of traditional variations that change from town to town and kitchen to kitchen.

Candied orange pieces are a classic addition, as is chocolate: chopped or in chips (which is a little reminiscent of Sicilian cannoli), it is almost always accompanied by a splash of some liqueur, such as Borsci San Marzano, a Pugliese amaro that dates back to 1840. (Limoncello is another common choice, and probably easier to find.) Almonds, toasted and then chopped finely, might replace the candied orange pieces. In Brindisi, they make a truly decadent version where the ricotta is flavored with coffee powder and plump, dark, liqueur-soaked cherries.

Whatever you add to your filling, the most important thing is to drain the ricotta overnight, which is really a must for any dessert that calls for fresh ricotta. This gives you a firmer filling to work with, as it holds its shape when rolled up in the crêpes, rather than oozing out.

In the most traditional recipes, these crêpes are actually made solely with eggs (sometimes just the yolks or even just the whites) and a touch of salt, simply lightly beaten together — a frittatina, or little frittata, if you will, which makes for a nice, naturally gluten-free option. Pugliese nonnas in the know will tell you that one egg should produce three crêpes, meaning each frittatina should be so thin you can practically see through it.

If you’re going the boozy crêpe route, you can douse your filled crêpes with liqueur (like amaro or limoncello) a few hours before you need them, letting them soak up the liquid. Just before serving, dust them with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Dita Degli Apostoli (Apostle’s Fingers) 

Makes 8 to 10 crêpes

For the crêpes:

1 3/4 cups (220 grams) flour
3 tablespoons (20 grams) powdered sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (500 ml) milk
Zest of one lemon or orange
Butter for greasing

  1. For the crêpes, combine the flour and powdered sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs and mix with the dry ingredients, then add the milk, bit by bit, to obtain a creamy consistency. Add the lemon zest. Heat a flat pan over medium-high heat and grease it with some butter. Pour over a ladle of batter and tip the pan to cover the surface with a very thin layer of batter to make paper-thin crepes. Cook the crepes until the top looks dry, then flip over briefly and set to the side on a plate. Continue making crepes until batter is finished.

For the filling and assembly:

3 cups (750 grams) ricotta
3/4 cup (150 grams) fine sugar
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) liqueur, such as limoncello or Borsci San Marzano (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons powdered sugar 

  1. For the filling, leave the ricotta to drain overnight — spoon the ricotta into a muslin cloth (or a clean linen tea towel) set in a strainer over a bowl in the fridge. The next day, discard the leftover liquid and combine the firmed ricotta, sugar, lemon zest and juice (and if desired, one of the additions mentioned in the notes, like a handful of candied orange peel or chopped dark chocolate).
  2. With the help of two teaspoons, spoon the filling, about an inch wide, across the centre of a crêpe. Roll it up tightly and cut the roll into three even pieces. Continue with the rest of the crepes and filling. Serve the crêpes with a splash of liqueur, if desired, and a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon.

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Photos by Emiko Davies

This article originally appeared on Apostle’s Fingers (Crepes with Lemon and Ricotta Filling)