The fried Iris is a typical Palermo dessert made of a casket of soft breaded brioche dough that holds a refined heart of ricotta cream and chocolate chips.
It was conceived in 1901 by Palermo pastry chef Antonio Lo Verso in honor of the first staging of Pietro Mascagni’s opera “Iris” at the Teatro Massimo.
His creation, which originally involved the use of stale rosettes stripped of the crust and part of the crumb, was so successful and became in such demand among Palermo residents that the already renowned pastry chef was prompted to change the name of his café precisely to “Iris.”
- 1 pound skim milk ricotta cheese, well drained
- 4 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 recipe Straight Dough***
- About 6 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying
In a small bowl, combine the cheese, chocolate, ¼ cup of the sugar, and the lemon and orange zests and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Crack the eggs into another small bow. Beat them slightly with a fork and set aside.
Pour the bread crumbs into a medium bowl and set aside.
Place the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and the cinnamon in a heavy paper bag. Fold over the top, shake to blend the ingredients well, and set aside.
Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for 3 to 4 minutes, until smooth and no longer sticky. Roll the dough out into an 18-inch circle. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut circles from the dough. Place the circles on clean dish towels, about 1 inch apart. Reroll the scraps and cut enough circles to make 24 in all.
Place 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each of 12 of the circles. Brush the edges lightly with some of the beaten eggs. Cover with the remaining circles and seal the edges with your fingers. Then pinch the edges together all around to seal.
Carefully lift each filled round with your fingers and dip it in the beaten eggs, turning to coat on both sides. Then gently coat each round with the bread crumbs and place the rounds on cookie sheets, leaving some space between each one.
In a deep-fryer or deep heavy pan, heat the vegetable oil to 375ºF. Fry the iris a few at a time until they puff up and are browned on the bottom. Turn and cook until browned on the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove the iris to brown paper to drain well.
While they are still warm, place the iris one at a time in the bag with the sugar and cinnamon and gently shake to coat them. Place the iris on a decorative platter and serve warm.
*** STRAIGHT DOUGH RECIPE
MAKES 1 POUND, 14 OUNCES DOUGH
- 1 package active dry yeast (0.ounces)
- 1 3/4 cups warm (110°to 115°F) filtered or bottled noncarbonated water
- 1 tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
To Make the dough using the fontana method, in a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of the water, stirring to mix well. Let the yeast proof for about 5 minutes, or until tiny clusters of chalky-looking bubbles appear on the surface. Stir the remaining 1 ¼ cups water and the olive oil into the proofed yeast.
Mound the flour on a work surface and make a hole in the center of the flour (this is the fontana). Sprinkle the salt over the flour. Carefully pour the yeast mixture into the hole. Using your fingers, begin bringing the flour from the inside wall of the fontana into the liquid, working in a clockwise movement as you incorporate the flour. Be careful not to break through the wall; if any liquid does leak out, catch it with some of the flour, a shaggy, lumpy mass will form; add just enough flour to make a dough that holds together. Push the excess flour to the side with a bench knife.
Now you are ready to knead the dough: Knead until you have a soft ball of dough that is slightly tacky but not sticking to your hands, about 5 minutes. Lightly spray a large bowl with oil spray, put the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour.
To make the dough by hand in a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl and proof as directed above, then add the remaining 1 ¼ cups water and the olive oil. Begin adding the flour to the yeast mixture, 1 cup at a time, mixing it in well with your hands. Add the salt with the third cup flour. Add just enough flour so that the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and follow the directions above for kneading and rising.
To make the dough in an electric mixer, pour the amount of warm water indicated in the recipe for dissolving the yeast into the bowl of the mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Attach the dough hook or batter paddle to the mixer and on low speed, mix the yeast into the water. Let the yeast proof as directed above, then add the remaining water into the bowl and stir on low speed to blend the yeast and water.
Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring on low speed to blend the ingredients. Add the salt with the third addition of flour. Turn the speed to medium-high and add just enough additional flour to create a dough that moves away from the sides of the bowl and clings to the dough hook or batter paddle. Stop the machine and feel the dough. It should be soft, but not sticky or gummy.
If it is too sticky, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, until the right consistency is obtained. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add a little water, about a teaspoon at a time, until the dough becomes soft and smooth. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and follow the directions above for kneading and rising.
When the dough has risen and is almost doubled in size, it is ready to bake. 375 degree oven, one hour, or until internal temperature reaches 190F.