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Sfogliatelle, or lobster tails as they are also known (easy to guess why), must be one of the nicest things to have come out of Italy – and that’s of course a serious claim. The name means roughly something composed of leaves or layers and that’s an easy guess why, too. They originate from Campania, first created somewhere in a convent (those nuns! devoting their lives to such good deeds!) and thence arrived in Naples.
Funnily enough, I first tasted them in France, but they are famous worldwide, wherever Italian immigrants lay their heads and kneaded their dough – their fame apparently (never watched) boosted by The Sopranos. As many things though, only the Napoletani tend to be authentic. I was still hooked by the French ones, love at first sight.
Very tricky to make – I perhaps should have started with sfogliatelle frolle – smooth, not layered. The riccie – curly – are a damn challenge. The pastry should be perfectly leafed, not clumpily stuck together, and mine really refused to leaf properly, no matter how much lard I threw at them. Still – an achievement.
I followed this YouTube recipe which makes it look so easy…
- For the pastry:
- 500 g plain flour
- 50 g sugar
- 6 g salt
- 200 ml water
- about 150 g lard, softened
- For the filling:
- 300 ml water
- 50 g sugar, plus 20 g extra
- 2 g salt
- 100 g semolina
- vegetable oil
- 450g fresh ricotta
- 1 egg
- 1 orange, rind grated
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
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 forming a stiff dough. Knead for a few minutes, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into a few pieces (each about the size of a slice of bread) so it is easier to work with. 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 1 mm thick. Lay the sheet on a work surface and use your fingers to paint with a layer of the lard.
Begin rolling the sheet up from one of the short edges, gently stretching it longer and wider as you do so, until you have formed a cigar. 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. Continue with the rest of the dough until you have formed a large roll. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
To make the filling, put the water, 130 g 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, turn out onto a plate, brush the top with a little vegetable oil and place in the fridge to cool.
When cold, cut the semolina into small cubes and place in a bowl with the extra 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 seeds and cinnamon and beat for another 3 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Cut the chilled pastry into 1 cm 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. 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. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until crisp and golden.