Le Minni di Sant’Agata
February 5: Feast Day of St. Agatha
Blog visitors might do a double take, literally, when glancing at the graphic photo above of what appear to be mammary glands. These baked “breasts” are one of many different versions of pastries made in honor of St. Agatha, the patron saint for breast cancer.
St. Agatha was martyred in 251 A.D. by having her breasts cut off, as well as being subject to other tortures, because she vowed to be chaste and faithful. Her gruesome story is as graphic as her iconography, such as the one we saw painted by Sebastiano del Piombo at the art gallery in Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. There are other perturbing passion paintings of St. Agatha as well as unusual ones depicting her excised breasts on a plate.
Her hometown of Catania, Sicily, celebrates her feast day annually with a mass in her honor, large processions and symbolic foods, such as le minni di Sant’Agata or le minni di virgini (“breasts of St. Agatha” or “breasts of the virgin”), which we are featuring as our blog recipe post.
(Adapted from Medical Advocates)
For the filling
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup sugar
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 2 cups milk
- orange zest (grated from half an orange)
- pinch of saffron
- dried or candied cherries
In a saucepan, whisk egg yolks with the sugar. In a bowl, dissolve the corn starch with ½ cup of milk first, then gradually add the rest of the 1 ½ cups milk. Pour the milk mixture into the saucepan with the egg yolks and sugar. Stir over low heat for about 10 minutes until well blended and thickened. Remove from heat. Mix in the orange zest and saffron. Pour into a bowl. Cover with plastic film wrap directly on top of the filling to prevent a skin from developing. Cool in the refrigerator.
For the dough
- 4 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
- 3 egg yolks
- ½ cup cold water
- 1 egg (beaten for the egg wash)
In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour with the salt. In another bowl, cream the sugar and butter. Gradually add the flour mixture and blend well. Beat in the egg yolks and water until a pliable dough is formed. Cover and chill the dough until firm (about 30 minutes).
To assemble the pastries, on a floured surface roll out the dough about ¼-inch thick into even pairs of rounds. Onto half of the rounds, scoop the cream filling in the middle. Top with a cherry. Wet the edges of the bottom rounds of the dough with water. Cover with another round of dough and press to seal. Using a three-inch round cookie cutter or rim of a glass, cut over the mounds. Shape a “nipple” from the cherry middle and make sure that the bottoms of the pastries are sealed well.
Lightly mist a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the pastries onto the sheet and brush with egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until browned. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks. Dust the tops of the pastries with powdered sugar (optional). Serve them traditionally as a pair on a plate.
- For obvious reasons, St. Agatha is often invoked by those suffering from breast cancer. She prayed for mercy and was miraculously healed in an apparation of St. Peter. We pray for a cure for breast and all cancers!
- The pink ribbon symbolizes breast cancer awareness. The free clipart is available from Wikimedia Commons.
- For different recipes and photos of le minni di Sant’Agata, see the Italian-language websites Le Freccia Verde, Il Cucinario and E Cucinando.