Pastiera: the Easter cake with a Neapolitan scent
The Neapolitan pastiera is a typical cake of the Easter period and of the Campania pastry. It is a typical food of Naples, like pizza and babà. The richness of the dough, the sophisticated flavors and aromas make it an excellent dessert. Although it looks similar to a tart, the making process is a bit more complex. Let’s find out some more details about the pastiera.
Pastiera: a bit of legend
According to the legend we have to thank the mermaid Partenope for her beautiful song, the population brought her gifts. First of all, flour, a symbol of wealth; then ricotta, a symbol of abundance. They gave eggs, a symbol of fertility, and wheat cooked in milk, as a symbol of the union between the animal and plant kingdom. The orange blossoms, then, represented the scent of the Campania region, while the spices represented the homage of all peoples. Finally, they donated sugar to celebrate the sweetness of the siren’s song. Partenope, appreciating the gifts, mixed all fo them creating this amazing dessert.
There are those, however, who trace the tradition of the pastiera to the priestesses of Ceres to celebrate the return of spring. According to another hypothesis, the pastiera refers to the ritual focaccias of the time of the Emperor Constantine. In fact, they created these focaccias for catechumens who received baptism on Easter night.
Pastiera: a bit of history
Anyway, the first written recipe for this dessert is dated to the 1693 and also appears in the cooking treatise Lo scalco alla Moderna by Antonio Latini, written in the same year and published in Naples. According to these recipe, it was a cake halfway between rustic and sweet. In fact, there were ingredients such as grated cheese, pepper, salt, marzipan paste.
The nuns of the convent of San Gregorio Armeno changed the recipe to the version we know and love today. In fact, according to tradition, a nun decided to prepare a dessert by combining Christian elements, such as eggs, ricotta and wheat, with Asian spices and the scent of orange blossom from the convent garden. Definitely, the nuns of the convent of San Gregorio Armeno were really experts in the preparation of the pastiera. They gave them to the aristocratic families of the city. Even Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, the so-called “Queen who never laughs“, let out a smile after a bite of the pastiera.
Furthermore, in 1837 Ippolito Cavalcanti wrote the recipe for today’s Pastiera in the Cusina casarinola all’uso nuosto napoletano appendix to a compendium of Neapolitan gastronomy included in the first edition of Cucina teorico-pratica.
Pastiera: the recipe
The pastiera is a shortcrust pastry cake with a dough made from ricotta, sugar, eggs and wheat cooked in milk. Furthermore, on the top there are strips intertwined in the form of a St. Andrew’s cross. As I said before, in the classic recipe, we use aromas such as cinnamon, orange peel, vanilla and orange blossom water. Nowadays, however, there are numerous versions of the pastry. In fact, some add custard to the dough, others substitute candied fruit with chocolate chips. Moreover, there is a version obtained with rice instead of wheat and another without ricotta. It has now become just a matter of taste. Yet, according to tradition, Neapolitan housewives prepare it on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. However, it must be said that the pastiera can be found all year round in the best Neapolitan pastry shops and is no longer just a dessert linked to Easter.
Easter Pastiera: Our recipe
For the frolla (the base)
- 250g 00 flour
- 100g room temperature butter
- 1 medium egg
- 100g caster sugar
- A pinch of salt
For the filling and the Wheat Cream:
- 150g caster sugar
- 1 spoon of concentrate orange blossom essence
- 50g mixed candies fruits
- 200g sheep ricotta cheese perfectly drained
- 3 medium eggs
- 150mg fresh whole milk
- 200g cooked wheat for pastiera
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 lemon peel
- A sprinkle of cinnamon
To prepare the Easter pastiera you will have to start with the precooked cream of wheat. This cream must cool completely, in 2-3 hours. To take advantage, you can also prepare it the night before and store it in the refrigerator.
Put the cooked wheat, whole milk, 1 teaspoon of butter and 25 g of sugar in a pan and cook for 15 minutes, over medium heat. Mix often with a hand whisk, to prevent the mixture from sticking. Once ready, it will have the appearance of a cream. Let it cool completely.
In a large bowl, put the sifted flour in a fountain. Then add the sugar, a pinch of salt, the chopped butter and the egg. Work the mixture first with a fork, then knead with your hands until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Form a ball, wrap it in cling film and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. You can also use the planetary mixer (K or leaf whisk) or a food processor.
For the filling, divide the yolks from the whites and whip the egg whites until stiff peaks are not too firm.
Pass the ricotta through a sieve and put it in a large bowl together with the remaining 125 g of sugar and 1 teaspoon of butter. Mix everything and also add the egg yolks. Blend briefly with the electric whisk.
Also add the precooked cream of wheat (previously prepared), the lemon zest, the aroma of orange blossom, a light sprinkling of cinnamon and vanillin. Blend for a few more minutes. I use the orange blossom aroma vial. If you have a bottle with orange blossom water, add 2 tablespoons.
Finally, add the cedar and candied orange and the whipped egg whites. Gently mix by hand, using a wooden spoon or spatula, so as not to disassemble them.
Turn on the static oven at 170 ° C
Grease a 24 cm mold. Dust the work surface with flour and knead 3/4 of the shortcrust pastry, keeping some for the strips on the surface.
Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a sheet of lightly floured baking paper and transfer the shortcrust pastry over the pastiera mold, adhere well and remove the excess shortcrust pastry. If you use, like me, a classic round cake pan, with a plate you already make the right circle, so that it is 4 cm larger than the pan itself: in this way you will already have your shortcrust pastry shell with high edges of 4 cm.
Pour the filling inside and form the strips with the remaining shortcrust pastry to be placed on the surface.
Bake in a preheated static oven at 170 ° C for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The cooking of the pastiera is quite long, so that both the pastry and the filling are perfect. After the hour, check with your oven, so that it does not become too golden. I recommend that you cover with a sheet of aluminum foil.
Enjoy your Easter Pastiera!