Quick Easter Colomba cake
- 1 h 50 min
At Easter, in particular on Holy Thursday before Easter, in Neapolitan kitchens there is the traditional preparation of the Neapolitan pastiera. It is a genuine ritual made up of gestures and secrets that are handed down from one generation to the next. Each family has its own way of preparing the perfect dough, of flavoring the filling with wheat cream and ricotta cheese (either with sheep’s milk or sheep’s and cow’s milk), and of deciding the thickness and number of decorative strips. We invite you to discover the recipe of pastry chef Stefano Avellano from the historic Gran Caffè Gambrinus of Naples. You will enjoy its incredible taste and aromas, an explosion of flavors... pure poetry. Behind this one-of-a-kind dessert, which is the pride of Naples and indeed of a whole territory, are many hidden legends and historical curiosities. Remember to be patient when preparing this typical Easter cake, because the more your Neapolitan pastiera rests, the better it will taste!
Happy Easter everyone!!
Check out also these traditional Easter recipes:
If you liked this Neapolitan recipe, do not forget to check the one for the traditional babà!
To prepare the pastiera, start by preparing the shortcrust pastry dough. On a work surface, sift the flour 1 and add a pinch of salt 2 to form a volcano, making sure you can see the work surface underneath in the center 3.
In the center add butter, lard 4, and sugar 5. Mix these 3 ingredients well by hand 6.
Continue to mix and add the honey 7, egg, milk 8, and citrus peels 9.
Continue to mix the ingredients in the center of the flour 10 until you obtain a kind of soft batter 11. Then begin to add the flour slowly 12 and mix with the help of a dough scraper if needed.
Shape the dough into a ball 13. To make it more homogeneous, you can lightly dust the work surface with a little flour. Then continue to knead the dough to make it completely smooth and homogeneous 14. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour 15.
While the dough is resting, prepare the wheat cream. Pour the precooked wheat in a pan and add a pinch of salt 16. Mash the wheat a little to make it uniform and pour in the milk 17 and add the butter 18.
You can also add a piece of orange and lemon peel 19. Bring it to the verge of boiling which will take just a few minutes. Use a fork to mash the wheat as it cooks and continue to stir 20. Once it is about to boil, turn off the heat and transfer the wheat mixture to a low and wide pan to cool 21.
In a separate bowl, add the drained ricotta 22 cheese and the sugar 23. Stir until you obtain a soft cream and then let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour 24.
After the time has elapsed, take out the cold wheat mixture from the refrigerator, remove the citrus peels 25 and place the wheat mixture in a large bowl. Add the diced candied citron 26 and stir briefly. At this point, if you want, you can use a hand blender for a few seconds to obtain a mixture with a less rustic consistency 27.
Take the bowl with the ricotta cheese and sugar, add the honey 28, stir, and add the wheat mixture, stirring constantly to combine the ingredients 29. In another bowl, add the eggs, yolk, and orange blossom water 30.
Then add the milk 31, zest a little bit of lemon and orange 32, and mix everything well 33.
Add this mixture to the ricotta cheese and wheat cream in two or three parts and continue to mix. The filling is now ready 34. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and divide it into two parts, one larger than the other 35. Roll out the larger part on a work surface with a rolling pin, making sure they are both lightly floured 36, until you obtain a thickness of 1/8 inch (3 mm). Then roll the dough around the rolling pin.
Unroll it over an 8-inch (20 cm) flared pastiera cake mold (no need to grease and flour) 37. Let it adhere well to the bottom and sides, then remove the excess dough by passing the rolling pin over the edges 38. Trim with a small knife 39 and prick the base with a fork.
Place the filling inside, gently beat the mold on the work surface to eliminate any air bubbles 40. Roll out the remaining dough and make seven ½-inch (1-2 cm) 41 thick strips. Place the first 4 strips over the filling reaching over the edge of the pastiera mold in a diagonal direction. Then add on top of the 4 strips the other 3, again reaching over the edges, to create a grid pattern. Then eliminate the excess dough 42. The pastiera is now ready to be baked in a preheated static oven at 360° F (180° C) for about 50-55 minutes on the lowest rack.
Then take the Neapolitan pastiera out of the oven 43 and when it has completely cooled you can either remove it from the mold or serve the cake directly in it 44. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar just before serving and enjoy 45!
It is advisable to prepare the ricotta cheese mixed with sugar, as well as the wheat cream, the day before. This way the aromas will be more intense.
The dough can be prepared in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for 2-3 days.
The finished cake can be kept for a week in the refrigerator or for 3-4 days under a glass cloche.
It can be frozen whole in the cake mold.
Honey is used to give more color to the shortcrust pastry, but it can be omitted.
Lard can be replaced with butter.
Unmolding the pastiera is a guarantee of its success or failure: if it does not break while transferring it to a serving dish, then it is a good pastiera!
Before being enjoyed, the pastiera has to cool well. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.
Ingredients and procedure
The Neapolitan pastiera is an ancient dessert whose roots go back to the Etruscan period. Over the centuries, it has undergone many evolutions until it became the dessert we nowadays know with some cornerstones and due differences with which families prepare it.
Lard: it was traditionally used for the shortcrust pastry, but it can be replaced entirely by butter or you can use half and half of the two ingredients.
Honey: it serves to make the shortcrust pastry more golden, but it can be omitted.
Sheep's milk or water buffalo’s milk ricotta cheese: tradition requires ricotta cheese made from sheep’s milk, but you can use water buffalo’s milk ricotta cheese if you prefer. In fact, it needs to be rich in fat to give the right body, creaminess and humidity to the filling.
Wheat: nowadays it is normal to use precooked wheat both at home and in pastry shops, whereas raw wheat was used in the past. You can use it, but it has to be boiled so the preparation time will consequently be longer.
Candied fruit: it would be preferable not to omit them. Their main purpose is to add aroma, but they also help to increase the shelf life of the pastiera. You can use just orange or just citron or both according to taste.
Cinnamon: there are those who add it to the filling and those who do not. It depends on personal taste and family traditions. Cinnamon is a precious spice and certainly not everyone could afford it decades ago. It is a more recent addition to the recipe.
Blend the filling: you can choose not to blend it or to blend only a part of it. It gives greater creaminess to the filling. It is a question of taste.
History and Legends
A legend recounts that to thank the goddess Parthenope, seven ingredients were given as a gift to the sea, then returned by the goddess herself in the form of a dessert: the pastiera. Another story has Maria Theresa of Austria as the protagonist, nicknamed “the queen who never laughs” by the Neapolitans. When tasting the pastiera, however, she let out a smile for the first time. Still another story places the birth of the pastiera among the nuns of a convent in San Gregorio Armeno.
The most accredited historical account, on the other hand, concerns two written works: in “Lo cunto de li cunti” (around 1634) by Giambattista Basile in the story La gatta Cenerentola, the pastiera was mentioned in the banquet scene. But it was not until Ippolito Cavalcanti's cookbook in 1837, that the pastiera recipe was first put in writing.
Number 7: the strips on the pastiera, 4 below and 3 above, the ingredients that make up the pastiera and the number of decumani in the city of Naples.
The strips, or so-called gelosie: according to a legend, the strips bring to mind the gratings (called gelosie) placed on windows to prevent prying eyes from peeking into homes and seeing other people's wives and daughters.
A visit to Naples must include a stop at the historic Gran Caffè Gambrinus. Since 1860, it has been one of the historic places of the city where high society, art, and the intellectual world merge. Gran Caffè Gambrinus is a member of the Associazione Culturale Locali Storici d'Italia, an association of historical hotels, pastry shops, bars, and restaurants which have contributed to the history of Italy thanks to the events they have hosted and their illustrious clients. It is also mentioned as one of the best pastry shops in Naples in food guides and highly recommended by customer reviews. The pastry shop is entrusted to the expert hands of Stefano Avellano: all traditional desserts are present in a classic guise and in some original reinterpretations, both to be enjoyed with coffee rigorously served in a very hot cup. The owner, Massimiliano Rosati, is committed to spreading, through the care of the gastronomic experience, the culture of this wonderful city known and envied around the world.