The Neapolitan pastiera is a myth, not only the classic Neapolitan Easter cake but an authentic family tradition, a jewel of Neapolitan pastry. And like any myth, it isn’t easy to code an original pastiera recipe that can put everyone in agreement on the ingredients, preparation, and cooking.
Indeed, the beauty of these milestones of Italian cuisine is that each family has its pastiera recipe, born from traditions, from the variations that over the centuries have mixed with human events.
But what is the pastiera?
The Neapolitan pastiera is a hymn to joy, a solar dessert, rich in infinite and sumptuous shades and suggestions, just like the city of Naples. It is a tart with a base of shortcrust pastry stuffed with a filling of ricotta, candied fruit, cooked wheat, and aromas such as orange blossom and vanilla.
So today, we will offer you two recipes to make the traditional Neapolitan pastiera. The first is from a great house cook, Mrs. Alessandra, and is tasty and rustic, while the other recipe is from a great pastry chef, Armando Palmieri, who wishes to see it more often and not just at Easter.
The recipe of the Neapolitan pastiera
Pour the contents of a jar of wheat into a pan by adding 100 g. of milk, 30 g. of butter, and a grating of lemon.
Heat, stirring, for 10 minutes until creamy.
Blend 700 g. of ricotta, 600 g. sugar, 5 whole eggs, and 2 egg yolks, 5 grams of vanilla, a pinch of cinnamon, a grated lemon and an orange, a vial of orange blossom water; finally, add 50 g. of candied citron and the preparation of wheat.
Prepare the pastry with 500 g. of flour, 200 g. of sugar, 200 g. of butter, and 3 eggs.
Roll out a sheet about 2 mm high and place it on a relatively low (greased and floured) cake pan.
Pour the cream up to 2 mm from the edge and decorate with strips of shortcrust pastry, as is done for the tart.
Cooking the pastiera
Cook for an hour, an hour and a half at 160 °; when the pastiera appears dark golden, turn off the oven and leave the pastiera to dry with the oven door ajar.
The pastiera of one of the best pastry chefs in Italy
Courtesy of the legendary Pastry Chef Armando Palmieri, one of the best professionals in Italy and Neapolitan birth, we provide you with his recipe, advice, and reflections on the subject. Because pastry is art, but also chemistry, and nothing must be left to chance.
Neapolitan Pastiera Ingredients
- 500 g re-milled semolina (w180)
- 250 g butter or even better would be to use lard (of excellent quality)
- 170 g icing sugar or (130 grams of icing sugar with 45 grams of dextrose)
- 1 whole egg (about 60 grams) + 1 egg white (about 30 grams)
- 30 grams of lemon peel
Ingredients for the filling
- 300 grams of sheep ricotta
- 200 grams of cooked wheat
- 240 grams of granulated sugar
- the peel of 1 organic and untreated lemon
- 50 grams of candied citron
- 50 grams of candied orange
- 50 grams of candied pumpkin (cucuzzata)
- 50 grams of whole milk
- 20 grams of butter or lard
- 2 whole eggs (about 125 grams) + 2 egg yolks (50 grams)
- vanilla (optional)
- 20 ml of orange blossom essence (orange blossom)
- pinch of cinnamon (optional)
The most crucial ingredient for Neapolitan pastiera: love
At Easter, on the tables of us Campania, the pastiera cannot be missing: a symbol of spring and rebirth, not just a celebration. But do you know what makes this Neapolitan dessert unique and inimitable? Which ingredient of the Neapolitan pastiera makes it unmistakable? The orange blossom: there is all the scents and charm, the rest is technique and patience, but the essence is the symphony that gives elegance, rhythm, and personality to the preparation.
How to make the original Neapolitan pastiera: Armando Palmieri’s recipe
Prepare the shortcrust pastry with the sandblasted method (then semolina and fat together, then sugar and liquids at the end, rest 12 hours in the refrigerator).
The cooked wheat is brought to boil with the milk, the lemon peel, and the butter or lard, cream, and left to cool.
The ricotta was previously sifted and mixed with the eggs and sugar. Finally, add the candied fruit and the aromas.
Roll the pastry on a baking tray or a cake mold.
Fill up to half a cm from the edge with the filling since it swells during cooking due to the steam that forms from the water of the filling.
Once it is brought outside and taken out of the oven, the pastiera will lower and level.
It closes on the surface with strips of pastry (the purely religious character the cross is the symbol of Christ, as well as the wheat symbol of rebirth).
The pastiera cooks in a static oven at 180 ° C for about 60 minutes.
It should be consumed at least 12 hours after cooking.
Tips from the pastry chef to make the perfect Neapolitan pastiera
Which ricotta to use to make the pastiera
First of all, I would say a few words about the ricotta to use. This dairy product, not cheese, depending on the whey it comes from can be sheep, goat and cow. The ideal one for the preparation of the pastiera is the sheep one, as it is tastier as it is rich in fat, in fact sheep ricotta contains about 10% more than that of cow.
It would be preferable to use artisanal ricotta, as those commercially produced on an industrial level contain milk and cream that bring a greater amount of water that may not bind with the other ingredients, giving rise to partial syneresis (loss of water, after cooking), and they certainly contain acidity correctors (which, acting as antioxidants, lengthen their shelf life).
The fundamental ingredient of Neapolitan pastries: cooked wheat
The other main ingredient of the pastiera is wheat. Keeping in mind the composition of this cereal:
- about 60% of starches
- 15% protein
- 15% water
- 5% sugars (dextrins)
- 5% of mineral salts
It would be preferable to use soft wheat, on the market it is usually found already cooked, this facilitates and above all shortens the preparation time, as starting from raw wheat, it must, before cooking it, wash it at least 3 days to eliminate residues and impurities.
The shortcrust pastry
The shortcrust pastry acts as a wrapper for the filling. It is advisable to have a slightly elastic dough therefore with the use of egg white, of medium friability (if it were too crumbly, it would absorb too much moisture from the filling) with a medium-low sugar intake or with a sugar with a sweetening point lower than sucrose ( e.g. dextrose).
The eggs that are inserted into the filling dough are used to bring the amount of water necessary to bind to the wheat which, as already mentioned, is rich in starch to be rehydrated, needs liquids. The egg white provides 88% water, while the yolks, thanks to lecithin and binding proteins, act as an emulsifier between the ingredients.
Sugar (sucrose), in addition to sweetening, acts as a preservative and absorbs any residual moisture contained in the dough. Although there are no particular technical differences between the granulated and the icing one, in this preparation, since the crystals are still able to dissolve during cooking, we take into account the granulated one, but if we use commercial icing sugar, we bring a residual quantity of starches contained in this product, I would suggest to move towards the granulated one.
The aromas used to make the pastiera
The aromas used, namely essence of orange blossom (orange blossom) and cinnamon (optional), vanilla (optional); recall the first period of April, the month in which the orange groves bloom, while for the oriental spice, although a close connection with this dessert has never been found, it is known that historically it has always been a spice that has been introduced from the world Arab, since the early Middle Ages, has found widespread use in the culinary tradition of southern Italy.
Vanilla, also historically not present in traditional desserts, brings roundness of taste and intense aroma.
In addition to enriching the flavor of the filling with its sugar content, candied fruit increases the shelf life of the product.
Since wheat is rich in mineral salts and tasty, no salt should be added to the pastiera.
Enjoy it and for once we don’t think about calories.
Which wine to pair with the Neapolitan pastiera?
For the pairing, let’s move to the rolling hills of Piacenza to combine a nectar such as Malvasia “Tre Noci” from the Badenchini winery. A sweet, savory and spicy Malvasia, full of floral and almond echoes that recall the rose water of the pastiera. Port wine and Calvados are two more substantial alternatives, but excellent for enhancing the aromatic taste of this incredible dessert.
If you want to combine a cocktail, the complex and herbaceous taste of Rusty Nail is ideal.