Ciao Italia Family Classics
Mary Ann returns to her family's humble beginnings to bring us a treasure trove of more than 200 time-honored recipes.
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MAKES ABOUT 16
When I was in Sorrento, I went to the pasticceria to do what most Italians do everyday - pick out a tempting pastry to have as a little snack. There were so many kinds that it was blind luck that I should choose sfogliatelle.
These are flaky pastries that look like seashells when baked. They are filled with a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese, semolina, and cinnamon. Sometimes citron pieces are also added. In talking with the owners of the shop, I learned that these regal gems were originally made only for the noble families of the Renaissance and that is the reason why they are called sfogliatelle della nobilita, pastry of the nobles. Sfogliatelle means many folds or leaves, similar to the many layers created by puff pastry dough. I have experimented with frozen puff pastry, and I like the results better.
1/4 cup semolina flour
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, well drained
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 1-pound package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed, or 1 recipe Puff Pastry for Sfogliatelle
4 tablespoons lard or butter, melted
Parchment paper, optional
To make the filling, in a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the semolina flour in a thin steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thickened and smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.
Add the cheese, egg, sugar, and lemon zest to the semolina mixture and beat well. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper, if available.
Roll 1 sheet of the puff pastry out to a 16-x-22-inch rectangle on a floured, and preferably cold, surface (I use a marble slab). Starting at a short edge, brush one third of the sheet with some of the melted lard or butter and begin rolling the pastry sheet up tightly like a jelly roll; brush the remaining two thirds of the sheet with lard or butter and roll up.
Cut the roll into 2-inch thick slices. Form each piece into a small seashell shape by pushing your thumbs against the center of the piece and spreading it out to a small cup shape.
Fill each shell with about 2 tablespoons of the semolina filling and place them 1 inch apart on the parchment-lined sheets or on ungreased cookie sheets. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling. Bake for 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Let cool slightly on the cookie sheets and then transfer to racks to cool completely.
To serve, sprinkle the sfogliatelle with confectioner's sugar and then sprinkle a line of cinnamon down the center of each one.
Note: These can be assembled ahead of time, placed on cookie sheets, wrapped in foil, and frozen for later baking. Bake them frozen, allowing about 10 to 12 minutes more baking time.
PUFF PASTRY FOR SFOGLIATELLE
MAKES 1 POUND 6 OUNCES PASTRY DOUGH
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup fine semolina or pastry flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lard, melted
In a bowl or food processor, combine the flours and salt and mix or process well to blend. Cut the butter into small pieces and work into the dough with a pastry blender or pulse in the food processor. Add the water gradually and mix or process until a ball of soft dough forms. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours before continuing with the recipe.
When ready to roll, divide the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Roll each piece into a 16-x-22-inch rectangle on a floured and cold marble slab. Starting at the short end of each piece, brush one third of the sheet with some of the melted lard and roll up the pastry tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Brush the remaining two thirds of the sheet with lard and roll up.
Cut the roll into 2-inch-thick slices and proceed as for the recipe using the prepared puff pastry.
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