A Specialty Pastry from Italy: Sfogliatelle

SfogliatelleWe wanted to share our experience making a specialty Italian pastry called Sfogliatelle.  We were inspired by a picture seen in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, and took to the kitchen to re-create this masterpiece. While it was challenging to make at first, the labor was well worth the outcome: a slightly sweet, subtly flavored, crisp-tender pastry that was the perfect vehicle for homemade ricotta (if you haven’t seen our video or read our blog on how to make your own ricotta, click here).  While you do need a pasta roller to execute the thin layers of olive-oil dough, you will come to see that it is well worth the expense.  If you have a cooking buddy, this is a perfect recipe for two!  Enjoy the photograph of our finished cookies and have a look at the recipe below.

**If you love the idea of the cookies but are daunted by the recipe, there’s always another great option.  Visit Cortina’s Italian Market, in Anaheim.  This is our favorite Italian Market and they often carry Sfogliatelle, ready to bake, in the freezer section.

Rolling the dough for sfogliatelle with a pasta maker.
Rolling the dough for sfogliatelle with a pasta maker.

Sfogliatelle Recipe and Instructions

These delicate pastries are a specialty of Naples, Italy.  The key to making them is using the freshest ricotta you can find.  Do not substitute packaged ricotta, which, in terms of flavor and consistency, can not compare with artisan (or homemade) varieties.

Makes about 20

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 ½ tsp salt

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup vegetable shortening

2 ½ cups fresh ricotta cheese

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup semolina flour

2 large whole eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp finely grated orange zest

Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour with 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, the olive oil, and ¾ cup water; stir together until a dough forms (it will be slightly dry).  If the dough is too dry to absorb all of the flour, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until soft and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Transfer mixture to a small bowl, and set aside.  In a food processor, blend ricotta cheese until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup water with the granulated sugar, and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Add semolina flour, and stir until there are no visible lumps and mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Whisk in ricotta cheese, and cook over medium heat until mixture is smooth and thickened, 1 minute.  Remove from heat, and whisk in whole eggs and yolks, one at a time.  Return the pan to heat and continue to cook until mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute more.  Stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, orange zest, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.  Transfer to a medium bowl.  Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and cut into four equal pieces.  Lightly dust each one with flour.  Using a rolling pin, roll out each piece to a thickness that will easily fit through the widest setting on a manual pasta machine (it should be about 5 ½ inches).  Pass each piece of dough, one after the other, through every other setting, ending with the thinnest setting.

Place one of the strips of dough on a lightly floured work surface, and trim both the rounded ends.  Using an offset spatula, evenly spread one quarter of the reserved butter mixture on the dough.  With a short side facing you, begin rolling the dough into a tight log; gently stretch the ends as you roll to make them thinner (the log should be about 8 inches long).  Repeat with remaining three pieces of dough.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Stack two baking sheets, and line the top one with parchment paper; set aside.  Transfer chilled custard to a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch plain tip (such as Ateco #806).  Slice each log of dough into ½-inch pieces (dip your knife in flour to prevent sticking).  With your thumbs, slowly push out the center of each roll to form a clamshell shape.  Fill the opening with custard; pinch openings to seal.  Transfer filled pastries to prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

Bake, periodically basting pastries with the accumulated melted butter, until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Good eating!

~Jonathan Dye

1 thought on “A Specialty Pastry from Italy: Sfogliatelle”

  1. I have the Martha Stewart book and came to the internet to see if there were a mistake with the recipe. If you have 4 rolls of dough each 8″ wide and cut 1/2″ slices how do you end up with 20 pieces? If you don’t trim the ends you’d get 16 pieces from each piece of dough or 64 pieces altogether. Or if you rolled all the dough into one big roll you’d get 16 pieces. Thanks for your help with this.

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