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.
Pastiera Napoletana Recipe
- 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 eggs
- 19 ½ oz (550 grams) grano cotto see notes
- 1 ⅓ cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) butter
- zest of 1 lemon finely grated
- 1 ¾ cups (14oz/400 grams) fresh ricotta
- 1 ½ cups (300 grams) superfine (castor) sugar superfine
- ⅔ cups mixed Italian candied fruit
- 4 eggs see notes
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon optional
- Place the grano cotto, milk, butter, and lemon zest in a saucepan and cook gently over a low heat stirring regularly, for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is thick and creamy. Spread out onto a large plate to cool.
Pastry (Pasta Frolla) – using a food processor
- Place the flour, sugar and butter in the food processor bowl. Pulse until crumbly. Then add the eggs and pulse until the mixture gathers into a ball. Remove from the bowl, flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the filling.
Filling and assembly
- Heat the oven to 375°F/180°C.
- Butter and line the base of a 10inch/25cm cake pan or high sided pie pan.
- Beat the ricotta and sugar with an electric mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy. Add eggs, cooled grano cotto mixture, candied fruit, orange flower water and cinnamon (if using). Mix well.
- Remove the pastry from refrigerator. Place ¾ of the pastry on a floured surface and roll out to at least 12 inches/28cm in diameter. Carefully wind the pastry around the rolling pin then unroll into the prepared pan. Carefully lift and ease the pastry in to line the base and ¾ of the way up the sides.
- Pour in the prepared filling. Cut away any excess pastry above the filling and reserve.
- Press remaining pastry together with excess pastry. Roll out onto floured surface un
- 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.