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sfogliatelle

Updated: Wed, 13 October, 2021

⯆ JUMP TO RECIPE
Sfogliatelle riccie, Italian famous ‘lobster tail’ pastries are quite a tough cookie to make! But utterly delightful to eat, as attested by Tony Soprano.

sfogliatelle cuisinefiend.com

The Sopranos’ pastries

Sfogliatelle are also known as lobster tails. They are the completely adorable pastries of Neapolitan origin whose fame was boosted by the iconic television programme, The Sopranos.

In Episode 8 of Season 1, Tony Soprano sends his nephew on a pastry run, to ‘get some sfogliatelle for the guys’. James Gandolfini’s pronunciation is a bit iffy so it probably took fans a while to get to the bottom of what pastry cost the poor baker’s boy a foot.

italian pastries, sfogliatelle riccie cuisinefiend.com

Pronunciation and origins

It should be pronounced ‘'sfohl-ya-TEL-leh'. The word means roughly something composed of leaves or layers and that’s exactly what sfogliatelle riccie are: layers upon layers of leaf-thin pastry baked into crunchy, crisp shell, not unlike a lobster’s tail indeed. The filling is a divine mixture flavoured with orange or lemon.

They originate from Campania, first created somewhere in a convent (the nuns clearly devoting their lives to exceedingly good deeds) and thence arrived in Naples.

From there, they went worldwide, or rather wherever Italian immigrants lay their heads and kneaded their dough. As many things though, only the Napoletani are claimed to be authentic.

Sfogliatelle must be one of the nicest things to have come out of Italy. I have not been fortunate enough to try the genuine ones made in Naples as I first tasted them in France – and I was instantly hooked. Sfogliatella and I – love at first sight.

It is such a good job there is a dearth of genuine Italian pasticcerias in my locality, otherwise my diet would definitely suffer from sugar overload.

lobster tail pastry cuisinefiend.com

What is sfogliatelle pastry like?

Sfogliatella – singular – is a pastry filled with custard-like mix. There are two types: frolla, made from typical Italian shortcrust pastry, smooth and shaped like an oversized clam shell, and riccia (curly), a devil to make and an angel to sample.

Sfogliatelle riccie are made from pastry that looks and tastes like a cross between layered filo and super-crisp puff. It is in fact simple and rough, slightly sweetened pasta dough rolled out to a paper thinness.

rolling out pasta sheets

It is then liberally brushed with soft lard (none of that vegetarian nonsense in old Naples!) and rolled up and stretched, rolled up and stretched into a tight scroll.

rolling up sfogliatelle dough cuisinefiend.com

After a spell in the fridge, the scroll is sliced into discs, and each disc is pressed, pushed, turned and worked with deft fingers in order to fan the greasy layers out in a shape of a cone.

slicing sfogliatelle pastry cuisinefiend.com

What are sfogliatelle filled with?

The filling is made from cooked semolina beaten until smooth with ricotta and eggs.

The flavouring is vanilla, lemon, orange and cinnamon, all of those together or each featuring separately. It’s like frangipane or pastry cream as it can be stuffed into uncooked shells and baked as a whole.

making ricotta filling cuisinefiend.com

How hard is it to make them?

Making the filling is a doddle; it’s the riccia pastry that is seriously challenging. The rolling out until it’s a mile-long, paper-thin tongue of pastry is infinitely helped by a pasta machine though I do not doubt the original nuns and innumerable later nonnas would spurn such device with a menacing shake of a rolling pin.

And then the shaping of a multi-layered disc of dough into a thin pocket is a bit like trying to unfurl a roll of ribbon into a tube without using glue. But even if the pastry is not perfectly flaky and layered, if it is a little clumpy, it will still taste incredibly good.

And the satisfaction of the achievement is as enormously blissful.

My recipe instruction is the result of scouring numerous YouTube videos, all of them making it look very easy. The pastry and filling recipe based is on an Australian Italian one by Claudio Ferrano. As I said, wherever the Italian émigré chefs set up their pastry boards…

sfogliatelle pastry cuisinefiend.com

More Italian pastry recipes

Sicilian pistachio cookies are delightful, and ridiculously easy when compared with sfogliatelle. To be honest, most things are.

Ricotta is a main player in these Italian biscuits, drizzled with icing and decorated with sprinkles.

For Christmas, but not necessarily only, spongata is a honey and nut-filled cake quite similar to an oversized mince pie, Italian style.

More filled pastry recipes

Profiteroles are definitely due a comeback! Mine are frosted with triple chocolate: mousse, ganache and sauce.

Canadians do it with maple syrup: butter tarts, traditional pastries for Canada Day and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Jewish biscuits for Rosh Hashana are called hamantaschen. They are filled traditionally with poppy seeds, alternatively with jam and there is a lovely story attached to their origins.



sfogliatelle

Servings: makes 2 dozen pastriesTime: 4 hours

INGREDIENTS

  • For the pastry:
  • 500g (4 cups) plain flour
  • 50g (14 cup) sugar
  • 6g (1 tsp.) salt
  • 200ml (scant cup) water
  • about 150g (34 cup) lard, softened
  • For the filling:
  • 300ml (114 cup) water
  • 50g (14 cup) sugar, plus 20g (1 tbsp.) extra
  • 2g (13 tsp) salt
  • 100g (scant cup) semolina
  • vegetable oil
  • 450g (1 pound) fresh ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 tsp ground cinnamon


METHOD

1. To make the pastry, put the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and gradually mix in the water with your hands, or in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment, to produce stiff dough. Knead for a few minutes, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

2. Divide the dough into several pieces (each about the size of a slice of bread) so it is easier to work with.

3. Take the first piece and roll it through a pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold it in three and run it through the machine again. Do this about four times until smooth, then start rolling the pasta out at narrower settings until the sheet is 1mm thin.

4. Lay the sheet on a work surface and use your fingers to brush it with a layer of the lard.

5. Begin rolling up the sheet tightly from one of the short edges, gently stretching it longer and wider as you do so, until you have formed a cigar shaped log.

6. Then roll another piece of dough through the pasta machine, coat it with lard, and roll it up around the first sheet to create a thicker roll.

how to make sfogliatelle pastry cuisinefiend.com

7. Continue with the rest of the dough until you have formed a large cigar roll. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

8. To make the filling, put the water, the 50g of sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, gradually add the semolina, stirring. Cook for a couple of minutes, until thick. Remove from the heat, scrape it out onto a plate, brush the top with a little vegetable oil and place in the fridge to cool.

cooking semolina cuisinefiend.com

9. When cold, cut the semolina into small cubes and place in a bowl with the extra 20g sugar. Beat with electric beaters until it breaks up. Add the ricotta and the egg and continue beating until smooth. Add the orange zest, vanilla extract and cinnamon and beat for another 3 minutes.

Ricotta filling for sfogliatelle cuisinefiend.com

10. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375F/gas 5.

11. Cut the chilled pastry log into 2cm thick slices with a serrated knife. Use your fingers to massage a little lard into the cut sides of each slice and gently push out the centre of the spiral, separating the layers to gradually form a pouch or shell.

shaping sfogliatelle cuisinefiend.com

12. Scoop some ricotta mixture into the centre, filling to the top. Loosely close the shell and lay it on a tray lined with baking paper.Continue with the rest of the pastries.

13. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until crisp and golden. Cool on the parchment on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar before serving.

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