I grew up in a big Italian family where English was not spoken in the house. My big Italian family consisted of not only my parents but also my grandparents, 7 aunts and 7 uncles, all of whom were Italian immigrants just entering the US. I was the first born American in our family. As much as they reasoned that they wanted the children to all speak Italian, I believe it was more because no one knew a word of English. I started learning English when I began school. But it was not until I took Italian in college that I realized that whatever language I was speaking at home was not Italian! It was not only a mixture of Italian and Napolitano dialect but it was also consisted of English words said with a thick Italian accent. I soon realized that so many words that I thought were Italian were actually English mispronunciations. For instance, we lived in Poughkeepsie, but my Italian family insisted we lived in ‘Pookeepzz’. The Italian teacher corrected me when I said river was translated to riviera in Italian. Riviera is a riverbank. But my big Italian family were trying to say Hudson River in English and they would refer to it as Riviera. And then whenever we visited my grandmother, she would offer us kids ‘gookeez’. No such word in Italian! They were speaking English and were offering us cookies! I even thought that sandwich in Italian was san-gweecio. I did not even realize I was saying san-gwich when ordering at the McDonald’s drive thru until my children brought it to my attention. After that I made sure I said SSSaaaannndddwhich while they snickered in the background. When I think back to all the times my dad brought us to Italy to visit the family, it is no wonder my cousins had no clue what we were saying. So basically, we did not speak Italian and we did not speak English.
There was one time in fourth grade that my mother went to pick up my report card from Sister Mary Regis’ class. I was an overall good student, but the teacher complained to my mom that my English could be better. My mom was perplexed and asked her what she meant. She proceeded to tell my mom that I should be able to pronounce ‘th’. My mom explained that I never learned the ‘th’ sounds because it is not in the Italian language. With a stern voice Sister Mary Regis said, “You live in America and Teresa needs to speak proper English!” After that I made sure to pronounce all the ‘th’ words correctly while developing a stutter with every ‘th’ word.
It was not until years later that I got a good handle on the ‘th’ sound minus for the occasional confusion with tong and thong. We were in Italy and I was 13. My Italian cousins and I were sitting on the beach with their friends. They all found great joy in having me say three thirty and three thousand over and over. They were laughing hysterically. For some reason hearing me pronounce the ‘th’ sound made for a quite entertaining afternoon for them. It is no wonder that I still stutter over an occasional ‘th’ word.
Alright already! I admit it I have the occasional speech issues leftover from my childhood. But! I can say sfogliatelle perfectly! And even my children can say it right. I made sure that they were able to pronounce words properly in the language they were speaking in. I know this to be true because there was one time while in college my daughter and her college friends visited an Italian Bakery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Everyone ordered either eclairs or cannoli. When it became my daughters turn to order, she ordered her favorite sfogliatella in the proper Italian pronunciation. The Italian shop owners did a double take and immediately focused all their attention on my daughter asking her name. Their eyes glimmered as she told them her name was Adriana. “Aaaahh, what a beautiful name! You are Italian!“, they rejoiced as they lovingly served her a delicious sfogliatella on a golden plate. ……wink wink
What is sfoglialtelle?
Sfogliatella is a crispy clam shaped pastry made from dozens of thin layers of dough and filled with a citrusy sweet mixture of ricotta and semolina. They are a symbol of the city of Naples in Italy. What makes them so uniquely special is that as crunchy as the pastry is on the outside, the inside filling is a complete reverse and so smooth. Sfogliatelle are best served warm with the perfumes of the candied fruit and the cinnamon adding to the experience.
Legend has it that this pastry was invented in the 1600’s in the Covent of Santa Rosa on the Amalfi Coast. The Mother Superior, Clothilde, had some leftover semolina soaked in milk. So instead of wasting it, the Mother Superior, made it into a sweetened filling mixing it with ricotta and placed it into dough shaped like the monk’s hood. It was so delicious that the convent began selling it and the rest is history.
Wherever the Italian immigrants from Naples settled they brought their love of sfogliatelle to share. So it has come to be that when you go into an Italian Bakery anywhere in New York, they are most likely offering the Sfogliatelle. As famous as the Sfogliatelle Riccia (crunchy pastry) is, there is also less known variety as the Sfogliatelle Frolle ( smooth pastry). I have been trying to make Sfogliatelle Riccia in the last few years experimenting with different flours to get the perfect texture. I found the best flour to use is the 00 flour. If you can’t find 00 flour, pastry flour is a good alternative. The most time consuming part of this recipe is preparing the dough from a pasta roller. I used the kitchen aide mixer with the pasta roller attachment to get the dough as thin as possible and rolled it into a log. If you enjoy a challenge this recipe is very rewarding!
(makes about 16)
- 1 pound 00 flour
- 0.25 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 0.75 cup + 1 tablespoon water
- 8 ounces unsalted butter
- 2 cups whole milk
- pinch salt
- 5 ounces (generous 3/4 cup) semolina
- 7 ounces (1 cup) ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 ounces (about 1/2 cup) candied citrus peels or candied cherries, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Procedure for the filling:
- Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and add the salt.
- Bring the mixture to the boil. Sprinkle in the semolina, whisking gently all the while to keep lumps from forming.
- Cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes until it thickens to a paste-like consistency.
- Remove it from the heat, pour it into a bowl and allow it to cool.
- Meanwhile, press the ricotta through a fine mesh strainer, again, to eliminate lumps.
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl….…and stir them together.
- Cover the filling with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. It will store up to two days.
To make the Sfogliatelle:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment combine the flour, the salt, the honey and the water.
- Let everything mix on medium speed for a good 10 minutes.
- Note that the dough will be kind of dry and crumbly. It will not form a ball. That is fine.
- Transfer the dough to a wooden board and start putting all the crumbs together to form a ball.
- Start kneading the dough until the ball comes together and it feels supple and smooth. The kneading process will take about 10 minutes.
- Coat the dough with a thin coat of lard, wrap it in plastic paper and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
- If you have a long table roll out a sheet of wax paper at least 9 feet long. Otherwise, no worries, do it in shorter length.
- After 1 hour, take the dough and divide in half.
- Take one half and leave the other half in the plastic paper.
- Attach the pasta roller to your stand mixer or use any other pasta roller that you may have. Set the roller to the widest setting.
- With your hands flatten the dough as much as you can and begin to the pass it through the roller. The first few times the dough will rip, not to worry, keep folding the dough and keep passing it through the rollers. Eventually it will no longer rip and the dough will become smooth and velvety.
12. Once you have a sheet that is nice and smooth, set the pasta roller to next to the thinnest setting (on the Kitchen Aid I set it to 8).
13. Pass the dough through the roller and be careful to catch the thin layer of dough that will come out Once you catch it, gently deposit it the sheet of dough on the wax paper that you laid on the table.
14. Starting from one end, put some lard on your fingers and spread it over the entire surface of the dough. Do it gently as you do not want to rip the dough.
15. Once you have covered the entire surface with lard, start from one end and begin to roll the dough into a log as tight as possible until you reach the other end. If you table isn’t 9ft. Just keep attaching the shorther lengths until you have a log about 2 1/2 inches thick.
16. Apply a coating of lard over the entire log, wrap it in plastic paper and store it in the fridge.
17. Repeat the same process for the other half of the dough.
18. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 5 hours.
19. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.Take each log and cut it in slices of a little less than 1/2 inch. Take each slice and with your thumb press all around toward the center of the dough so that it spreads and forms a cone
20. Fill each cone with two teaspoons of filling, close the end and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
21. Once you have made all the sfogliatelle, bake them for 27-28 minutes.
22. Once they cool, you can optionally sprinkle them with powdered sugar and serve them.
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