sfogliatelle

Sfogliatelle

As it turns out, pastry making is quite a bit more difficult than baking the muffins, cakes and quick breads I have begun to master lately. Patience is required. I tend to get ahead of myself and spaz around in the kitchen, which is not conducive to perfect pastry. But I enjoyed the effort. It was a morning of trial and error in the From Away kitchen and I thought I would share the highs and lows of dough as I learned for myself today.

When I was a junior in college I worked in an Italian bakery and cafe. I tossed together wiggly squid and octopus salad at nine am on post partying Saturday mornings. I filled cannoli shells with sweet cheese and only broke a few dozen a day, and endured every cliched demonstration of machismo from whistles to cheek pinching and butt swatting all to earn roughly $7 dollars an hour. In their tiny Orange Street kitchen I observed the basics of pizza, pasta and pastry. And though I still can’t pronounce the name of this shell-shaped cream-filled concoction, I remember how pleasing they were to package into little white boxes tied up with string. Today I tried my hand at the tricky sfogliatelle.

And I’m not sure I’d do it again. This is labor intensive. And hard! There will be moments of doubt, confusion, and panic. There will also be shortening. I did find a recipe or two that used butter, but of all the many that I referred to, 90% employed the white greasy stuff over dairy. So I conceded. Many recipes were consulted for ingredients, technique, and alternate methods. I largely disregarded Epicurious and Mario Batali on the basis of way too crazy overcomplication and poor reviews. This is how I did it:

Sfogliatelle

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the dough:

  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup melted shortening

Method

For the filling:

Add semolina to boiling milk, slowly and stirring. Simmer for three or four minutes before transferring to a bowl. When mixture is cool, incorporate the ricotta, which has (ideally) been pressed through a sieve, along with the other ingredients. Blend well and set aside.

For the dough:

Combine sifted flour and salt, then cut in solid shortening until a mealy consistency is achieved. Add water and knead to combine, working for a few minutes. Form into a ball and chill in the refrigerator for thirty minutes. Using half of the dough, roll as thinly as humanly possible, on a worksurface lightly dusted with flour, into a sheet approximately 16 x 23 inches. (I was able to see the counter through the dough at this point.) I then halved this, because it seemed easier to confront. I began brushing on the melted shortening onto the dough, in three parts, and rolling it up like a jelly roll. Cut into one inch pieces. In the palm of your hand, plant the rolled dough and begin shaping with your thumb, sort of like a pinch pot or collapsable travel cup, gently pulling up the dough.This will make more sense as you do it. The open end should be twice as large as the bottom, like a cone. On a parchment lined baking sheet, fill the pastry and pinch to close, so they resemble seashells. Brush with melted shortening and bake at 425 for fifteen minutes.

The big question is, how do they taste? And the answer is: they taste okay. The pastry is a teensy bit dry, flaky but somewhat crumblesome (it’s a word). The filling is tasty, creamy, playful. The overall effect is less than spectacular though. Maybe a combination of butter and Crisco, as in the pie crust that turned out so lovely, would improve the texture? I flubbed the filling by not reading the recipe all the way though, combining everything in a bowl like a ham-handed Morlock rather than following the simple steps. My solution? I popped it all in the microwave to thicken and it worked, much to my surprise and delight! But obviously had I taken my time…I do think the cream was sufficiently salvaged. It has great flavor and consistency. I would recreate that portion of the dessert. Maybe.

The pastry is the glaring failure here. Maybe it’s overworked? Not rolled thin enough? Cooked too long because every time I peeked they didn’t seem truly golden? Should I have brushed with egg white and sprinkled with granulated sugar before baking? I’m afraid I’m left wondering, with more uncertainties than conclusions. I would love to hear from you, if you have any experience with this style of rather more sophisticated baking than I am used to. I would love to know how to improve.

If you’re wondering what the point is of this exercise, so am I. I wanted to challenge myself. Do something that I wasn’t sure of. I had an inkling that the process would be more satisfying than the result, and I was right! And I think there’s a lesson here. And I think we all know what that is. As much as we like being able to recreate our favorite things from other places, this one is not yet a success. The next time we want Italian pastries, I think we’ll drive the four hours south to Libby’s on Wooster Street.




There are 23 comments

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  1. SB

    This was a mightily ambitious undertaking, and one I doubt I’ll ever try due to the effort!

    I’ve always pronounced the name of this, my favorite of all Italian patries, “schvoyadel.”

    I haven’t had a good one since moving away from New Jersey, though Mike’s in Boston has a pasable represnetation.

  2. Mister Matball

    I would never say an unkind word about a woman who would make my beloved sfogliatelle. Bravissimo!

    That said, by the photo I would say that the pastry must be much thinner.

    I know. That is why even many pastry shoppes buy their sfogliatelle frozen and then bake them. (True.)

    Very nice effort!

  3. Missy

    Crumblesome is how I would describe myself most days. It’s always a pleasure reading your voice and keeping up with your culinary bravery.

  4. Trish

    Wow! I have never seen someone make these before. Italians always tell me they are just too hard to make but I was always so curious as they are my favourite pastry. I must give them a go! Thanks for the recipe

  5. Marc

    I’ve made these several times. Kudos for attempting this with a rolling pin. I’ve only ever made it with an atlas pasta roller. Rolled to the thinnest setting, it does work. It’s crazy how much work this is though – it never feels like the rolling ends. Plus, to get the size I wanted I had to double the recipe.

    The end result is worth it. The pastry is shatteringly crisp and the filling flavors come through. Good luck.

  6. Mary

    Just wanted to post the pronunciation, as you posted not being sure of the correct one. Here in RI, at all the Italian bakeries, it’s pronounced to sound like Shroy-a-dell

  7. Chloe

    I love pastries and am always looking for recipes! I will have to make these very soon! These look fabulous and I can’t wait to make these for me and my family. Thanks for posting!

  8. eLIZABETH

    JUST READ THE POST TODAY, I HAVE MADE THESE IN A CLASS JUST FOR PROFESSIONAL COOKS AND THE DOUGH IS ROLLED OUT SUPER THIN AND THEN BRUSHED WITH A THICK COAT OF WHIPPED CRISCO, THEN ROLLED INTO A BIG LOG OF SORTS. THEN SLICED INTO ROUNDS AND FILLED WITH THE CHEESE. IT IS THEN CLOSED LIKE A CLAM AND THEN BAKED WITH A BLOB OF WHIPPED SHORTENING ON TOP SO IT SORT OF FRYS IN THE OVEN. IT IS A HUGE GREASY UNDERTAKING.

    KUDOS ON YOUR EFFORTS

  9. Carrie @ poet in the pantry

    I just attempted these yesterday with a shortcut method (using puff pastry dough), and I have to tell you, even with the shortcut they were a challenge! I should have used the pasta roller, but I have no space to be rolling out that much dough–eek!

    I commend your efforts! They look pretty darn good–a heck of a lot better than mine turned out! Next time, though, I’d leave it to the professionals. ;)

  10. Nancy

    Made these yesterday, and they were small, but good – not perfect. Got up this A.M. and because I had filling left (a lot) I decided to try again with a different dough recipe. I did use my pasta roller with these, and this morning with the help of my husband got the dough rolled out super thin. My problem with this batch is that even though the tops of the pastry browned nicely, the bottom looked undercooked so I left them in the oven for another 20 minutes with little bottom browning.

    I now have a double batch of this pastry sitting on my kitchen table and I’ll freeze them. They do taste good, but not as good as the bakery. I will try again in a week or so when I can get my back in shape.


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