Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Taste of Spring--Pastiera Napoletana

In the dark old days refined sugar and flour were in short supply. These precious commodities were entrusted to convents where nuns did special baking to commemorate the church calendar. That's why many of Italy's traditional breads and sweets are associated with religious orders and Saint's days, Christmas and Easter time.

Titina's traditional Easter cake has even older origins. Pastiera Napoletana dates to ancient Roman celebrations of spring in Southern Italy. Flavored with orange blossoms, candied fruits and cinnamon, it is named for the City of Naples, that great, crazy, town across the bay from Titina's home island of Capri. Here's how she makes this cooking class favorite, a sweet celebration of all things spring.

-Titina’s Recipe-
Pastiera Napoletana
Italian Easter Cake

1 cup spelt (wheat grain) already cooked
1 cup milk
Zest of ½lemon peel
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup candied fruit; i.e. citron peel, cherries, finely diced
3 cups ricotta cheese
3 eggs yolks
4 eggs
½Tbsp orange blossom extract
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
Pinch of cinnamon

For the Pastry dough:
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour
15 Tbsp lard or butter
3 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar

Serves: 12; Preparation time: 30minutes; Cooking Time: 60 minutes; Level of Difficulty: Medium

Mix the grain with the milk, grated lemon peel, cinnamon, and 1 cup of granulated sugar. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the finely diced candied fruit into the ricotta. Add the remaining sugar, eggs, grain mixture, and orange extract.

For the pastry dough:
Heap the flour onto the work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour into which you will put the butter broken pieces-softened not melted, the sugar and the egg yolks. Work with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Knead briefly until the dough comes together.
Roll out three-quarters of the dough to line a 9-inch buttered and lightly floured spring-form pan. Pour in the ricotta filling. Roll out the remaining dough, cut into strips and lay over the filling in a latticework design. Bake in the oven at 350°F for about an hour until it turns golden. Allow the cake to cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

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