Pastiera is known to many Italians as the traditional Easter cake and can be found on Easter lunch tables throughout Italy. But don’t just reserve it for Easter.
You will love this cake because it’s not overly sweet or rich and can be enjoyed as dessert or as a snack and really, is quite healthy as far as sweets go!
AN ITALIAN EASTER TRADITION
For many years my Italian cousin spoke of “La Pastiera”, the traditional Italian Easter grain cake. She makes many cakes in the preceding days of Easter Sunday to be gifted to family and friends. Originally a Neapolitan speciality, la Pastiera is full of meaning and now popular throughout Italy.
However, this was not something I grew up with. Ingredients required in Pastiera would not have be easy to come by in the Australia fifty years ago.
Several years ago I made a version with cooked rice but I was not pleased with it. However this past Easter I was able to acquire grano cotto (cooked grain), aqua di millie fiori (water of 1000 flowers) and good quality candied Italian fruit so I set to work. If you can’t find grano cotto, I have seen recipe that use pearl barley but I have never tried that myself.
THIS PASTIERA RECIPE
The recipe supplied by my cousin (who also supplied the recipe for Petralli – a Calabrese fig filled cookie) required 200g grano cotto but the tin I had was 400g so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. I later realised the recipe was very similar to the one found in Luciana Sampogna’s cookbook “Light of Lucia”. The result was a delicious, fragrant pie/cake which I will serve not only for each forthcoming Easter but at many times throughout the year. A filling of cooked grains, ricotta and candied fruits is encased in delicate pasta frolla. It’s said to be a cross between a cheesecake and rice pudding and is best made several days prior to serving to allow the flavours to meld.
- 3 cups (375 grams) all purpose (plain) flour plus extra for dusting
- ¾ cup (150 grams) superfine (caster) sugar
- 7 oz (1¾ sticks/200 grams) chilled butter chopped
- 2 egg yolks from large eggs
- 1 tablespoons iced water more if needed
- 14 ½ oz (420 grams) grano cotto canned
- 1 ⅓ cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 ½ cups (375 grams) fresh ricotta
- 1 ½ cups (300 grams) caster sugar superfine
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water
- 1 grated lemon rind
- 4 eggs separated
- ⅔ cups mixed Italian candied fruit
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Prepare the first part of the Filling so you can let it cool.
- Place the grano cotto, milk, butter, 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla in a saucepan and cook gently over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Cool
Now prepare the Pastry so you can let it rest.
- I did mine in the food processor. Place the flour, sugar and butter in the food processor bowl. Blitz in bursts until crumbly. Then add the egg yolks while the motor is running. Drizzle in a little iced water if the dough doesn’t come to together and seems a bit dry. Remove from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the filling.
- Heat the oven to 300°F/150°C.
- Beat the ricotta with an electric mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and mix well. Add orange flower water, lemon rind, egg yolks, candied fruit, cinnamon and cooled grano cotto mixture. Mix well. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into ricotta/grano cotto mixture.
- Remove the pastry from refrigerator and roll out and line a 9 ½ – 10inch (24-26cm) flan pan, which has been greased and floured. Pour in the filling. I had a bit leftover and made a small individual pie. With the leftover pastry cut strips and form the traditional lattice top.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 2 hours. Once cooled dust with powdered (icing) sugar.
- For the candied fruits, I like to use candied cedro and orange peel but any good quality fruit can be used.
- Be sure to prepare this several days before you want to serve it.