Sfogliatelle is a complicated recipe (and complicated spelling) but I guess once you’ve done it a few times, you get the hang of it and it’s easier. The shell-like armadillo shape is created by making thin sheets of dough on a pasta maker, buttering it, then rolling it into a big sausage and cutting it crossways. The filling is usually ricotta, thickened with semolina and flavoured with candied orange, lemon zest, cinnamon and cardamom.
I’ve been intrigued as to how to make them ever since seeing these pastries sold in Naples. There is a fantastic place, Attanasio, near the main train station of Naples, where you can get every type, smooth or ridged, savoury or sweet.
So, on a cold January day in London, I prepared the dough on a long table lined with silpats. I followed a couple of online recipes, but I advise looking at Youtube videos to get a clearer idea. The hardest bit was making the cones. Here I somewhat failed. But not bad for a first attempt. Next time however, I will roll the dough even thinner, or perhaps stretch it out more, and really make sure I butter the doughy layers.
My advice: don’t lose faith. When trying to form the cones, I felt like I was squashing the dough too much and that all the patiently formed thin layers would disappear. But they came back to life in the oven and you could see all the layers.
I had too much ricotta left-over from this recipe so I made Sfingi, which are small ricotta doughnuts. These were a great deal easier.
For the dough:
- 350 g 00 flour
- big pinch salt
- 175 g butter (salted or unsalted it's up to you)
For the rolled out dough:
- 150 g butter, room temperature, or more traditionally, lard
For the filling:
- 400 ml whole milk
- 150 g caster sugar
- 175 g fine semolina
- big pinch salt
- 2 eggs
- 400 g ricotta (if very liquid, drain it)
- 1 tbsp vanilla paste
- zest 1 orange
- zest 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp cinnamon, ground
- 1 tbsp cardamom, ground
- 100 g candied orange peel (optional)
- 50 g icing sugar
- First mix all the dough ingredients together. Knead by hand on a clean counter until dough is well mixed. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
- Get out your pasta machine. Prepare a long table with silpats. Or use a rolling pin to roll the dough around loosely. The sections of dough will be very long.
- Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters. Using the first quarter, roll it through the widest setting.
- Then gradually run it through the machine, until you reach at least number 5 or 6 on the machine. You should easily see your fingers through the pasta. The thinner the better, for the final result.
- Unrolling it, or laying it out on the table, pull the dough sides apart gently with your fingers so that it's wider. This is scary but it shouldn't break.
- Smear the butter or lard all over the dough, right up to the sides. This grease keeps the layers separate when you finally roll it up into a big sausage.
- Repeat this process with the other quarters. Use two quarters to make a sausage. You will end up with two large rolled up logs of dough. Wrap them in cling film and chill overnight again.
Make the filling:
- In a medium saucepan, add the milk and sugar and pinch of salt. Heat until dissolved.
- Add the semolina, stirring until the mixture thickens and the semolina is soft.
- Set aside, letting it cool. Then add the rest of the ingredients, beating them in until you have a thick paste for stuffing the sfogliatelle. Don't stint on flavouring up the ricotta. Otherwise it's really bland.
- Argh, this is the hardest bit, believe it or not. Prepare a baking tray or two with kitchen paper or a silpat.
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- Slice the logs of dough into slices, crossways, of about 1 cm.
- Then using your fingers, gently manipulate the dough disks into a funnel-like cone. Don't worry! You might want to do this in two stages: one to make a flattish disk with a raised ridge around the outer circumference
- Secondly, to make the dough into a cone. The idea is that the butter or lard makes the doughy layers slip into the desired shape.
- Once you have a cone, stuff with a generous tablespoon of ricotta mixture. Then close each one by pressing the end together with your fingers.
- Continue until you have all of the pastries laid out, nicely closed, on your baking trays.
- Brush with melted butter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, let cool slightly then dust with icing sugar. Your sfogliatelle should be crisp and shell-like.
Sfingi- tiny ricotta doughnuts
For the doughnuts:
- 250 g flavoured ricotta mixture (from previous recipe) or make fresh
- 250 g self-raising flour
- Pinch salt
- 2 eggs
- 50 g caster sugar
- 250 ml whole milk
- 250 ml vegetable oil
- 75 g icing sugar
- Pour the flour and salt in one bowl. Mix the ricotta, eggs and sugar in another bowl.
- Whisk the milk into the ricotta mixture then add the flour mixture. You should have a thick batter.
- Heat up the clean oil in a deep frying pan or deep fat fryer to 180C
- Prepare a tray lined with kitchen towels or paper for draining the doughnuts.
- When the fat is hot enough (use a thermometer), use a tablespoon to drop a ball of batter into the oil. Fry until both sides are light gold and floating.
- Do this in batches, using a slotted spoon to fish out the fried doughnuts and placing them on the kitchen paper.
- Once finished, dust the the doughnuts with icing sugar using a tea strainer.
Using almost the same recipe as the Sfingi, I also made some ricotta hotcakes:
- 250 g ricotta, use the drier kind or drain
- 125 ml whole milk
- 2 eggs, separated
- 100 g self-raising flour
- pinch salt
- butter for cooking and for serving
- fruit or maple syrup or honey for serving
- Mix the ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a bowl.
- Add the flour and salt
- Beat the egg whites and fold into the batter.
- Heat up a cast iron crepe pan or flat frying pan.
- Rub a generous knob of butter around the pan.
- Prepare an envelope in tin foil to keep the hotcakes warm until all of them are cooked.
- Using a dessert spoon, add dollops of the batter and leave to cook for a few minutes until you can easily lever off the hotcake and flip it over. Cook until golden. Keep going until they are all cooked.
- Serve with butter, fruit, maple syrup or honey or all of these things.