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Pastry of the Nobles

Sfogliatelle della Nobilita


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 In talking with the owners of the shop, I learned that these regal gems were originally made only for the noble families of the Renaissance and that is the reason why they are called sfogliatelle della nobilita, pastry of the nobles.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 cup milk

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

Confectioner's sugar


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.



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.


  1. natalieburl's avatar


    Hope to see this recipe on an upcoming show. Have tried this in Boston at a pastry shop and saw some in a pastry shop in Naples and on your show when you visited an established family pastry shop on a sidetrip for a community celebration. Looks formidable but oh so lovely.
    the pastry both in boston and in Naples did not have the filling exposed, just multiple leaves of dough, looking very flaky indeed.
    the Boston pastry seemed to have little bits of fruit in it.
  2. Cristina Harrison's avatar

    Cristina Harrison

    Mary Ann, I love your show but I have not seen it in 4 or 5 years.. when are you coming to Dallas, Fort Worth (KERA)????
    And yes I dream for Sfogliatelle!!
    BTW when I lived in San Pedro, Ca I got turned on to Pasta fagioli, but it was like no other (no tomato sauce..
    in a pot put in some shredded prosciutto and a lot of garlic, and brown... add some chicken stock, bring it up to a hard simmer. I put in some whole tomatoes (but tare them up a bit) (a can is ok but drain it.(not in the soup).. Im lazy so get a can of progresso red beans, and drain it into the soup.. It should look like old dish water. purplish brown with chunks of red in it. season to taste(oregano, basil, etc.) Dump in the beans wait a few minutes and serve over a dish of ditali, and top it with some shredded Locatelli. - enjoy
  3. Mary's avatar


    Mary Ann

    I have two of your books and I am looking forward to getting your family classics. I wish my family had put one together for their heirs. Luck you!

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