There was a discussion on one of the Italian-American cooking pages on Facebook recently that showed a photo of a little Italian tartlette with a cross on top which people tried to identify. It looked familiar to me and at first my memory told me is was simply a Pasticiotti (one of my favorites) with a cross on top instead of the typical plain top crust.
I looked into this a bit more, because I do remember these little pasticiotti being sold in Italian-American bakeries in New Jersey and New York. To verify how the Pasta Croce is made, I spoke to Pete Alaimo from La Dolce Vita Italian Bakery in Allentown, Pennsylvania who makes both types. According to Pete (who is from Palermo), the Pasta Croce is a traditional Sicilian pastry similar to pasticiotti but filled with a ricotta mixture. In fact, some bakeries might call them "ricotta pasticiotti" for this reason. And although many think Pasta Croce are little "grain pies" (pasta grana), he insists that traditional Pasta Croce are never made with wheat grain (grain pies are made using soaked grains or rice).
On the other hand, Pasticiotti definitely has a custard filling, either vanilla and chocolate--I've had large, pie-sized pasticiotti in which included both chocolate and vanilla custards, layered. The similarity between the two is that they are both the same size--a small tartlet--and their shells and tops are made with Italian sweet pastry crust, called Pasta Frolla (an Italian short crust pastry).
Pasta Croce's is filled with a rather dry (to my taste) ricotta-semolina flour mix with eggs, sugar, cinnamon, orange water, and candied orange mixture. It's nothing like the texture of an American style cheesecake--much less creamy. The top always has a cross made with strips of pasta frolla, hence the name (croce = cross).
I should also mention that there is a third type of pie called Pastiera Napoletana that is very similar, but wheat grain is added to the ricotta-orange scented filling.
Marianne Esposito's recipe for Pasticiotti from Ciao Italia
Cake Boss's "Torta di Ricotta" seems to be the only recipe for Pasta Croce that I can find. If you plan on trying this recipe, you'll need Orange Blossom Water. Click on the photo to see it on Amazon.