Inspired by California-Mediterranean cuisines and farmers markets, I cook healthy, flavorful dishes that are easy-to-prepare yet elegant. I write for Zester Daily, One for the Table, Luxury Travel Magazine, Huffington Post & New York Daily News. My latest Amazon eCookbook is 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes. My handcrafted chocolates are available at www.dchocolates.com.
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Holiday Baking - Sfogliatella - the Best Italian Pastry You Can’t Pronounce
Growing up in Los Angeles, and this was many years ago, the
closest I got to an Italian meal was opening a can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs.
Only when I moved to Providence to teach at Rhode Island College did I
experience authentic Italian cuisine. Living close to Federal Hill, the
historic center of the city’s Italian community, I had easy access to Italian
delis that imported cheeses, pastas and charcuterie directly from Italy. Every
block had a small bakery making cakes, pies, cookies, breads and pastries
according to recipes handed down for generations.
I discovered cannoli filled with ricotta cheese studded with
flakes of bittersweet chocolate. Twice baked biscotti with almonds. Pastry
cream filled zeppole, a fat doughnut of sugared dough, baked or deep fried. I
loved them all, but my favorite was a seashell shaped pastry, the deliciously crisp
What makes this Tuscan pastry so famous is a crunchy
flakiness outside and a sturdy, sweet ricotta cheese filling inside. Imagine
the best croissant with a thick custardy filling. And, by the way, the “g” is silent, so
sfogliatella is pronounced “sfo-li-a-tella.”
Some recipes are best saved for the holidays or special
occasions when helping hands are available to join in the cooking. Making
tamales on your own isn’t easy, but at holidays when you are joined by friends
and family, the repetitive work becomes social and fun. The same for making
Chinese dumplings filled with savory ground pork and spices.
For me, I’m making sfogliatelle with my family. Happily the
pastry can be made in stages, so the work can be spread out over several days. The
dough and ricotta filling can be made on separate days and refrigerated.
Assembling the sfogliatelle can be saved for yet another day. And, the
completed, unbaked pastries can be kept in the freezer for months, available on
a moment’s notice to brighten an afternoon tea break or a weekend dinner party.
Executive Pastry Chef
For years I searched for an easy-to-follow recipe without
success. When I was told that Executive
Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez would demonstrate making sfogliatelle in his
kitchen at the Four Seasons Los Angeles
at Beverly Hills, I jumped at the opportunity.
Born in Buenos Aires, Fernandez is a worldly student of
South American, French and Italian cuisine. His pastries have been served at
some of the world’s most elegant hotels, the Park Hyatt, the Marriott Plaza,
the Fontainebleau and now the Four Seasons. Before we met, I admired his work
on Instagram. His elegantly beautiful pastries are amazing.
Making sfogliatelle requires patience, muscle work and an
attention to details. Demonstrating how to make sfogliatelle for the YouTube video on Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, the
very affable Fernandez showed how the process can be fun. I enjoyed the passion
he puts into baking. He is an artist with a soul and a good sense of humor.
While he worked, he filled my head with technical details about the art of baking
and fed me samples that put me into culinary heaven.
All-purpose flour could
be used, but that would be a mistake. Fernandez uses bread flour because its
higher gluten strength gives the dough more elasticity. That allows the dough
to be worked repeatedly to create sfogliatelle’s characteristic flaky layers.
In the video, Fernandez
uses a recipe to make 50 sfogliatelle. Not that he bakes that many at one time.
He freezes the unbaked pastries, taking out each morning only the number he needs
for the hotel’s breakfast service. Freezing does not diminish the quality of
the sfogliatella which are freshly baked before serving.
To make his
sfogliatelle, Fernandez includes semolina flour in the dough to add color and
texture. He also uses semolina in the filling because that is a traditional
ingredient and because Semolina gives the filling density as well as its
characteristic yellow color. By contrast, pastry cream which is not as dense
would melt when the sfogliatelle are baked in a hot oven.
Fernandez uses a room-sizedRondomat sheeter machine to
flatten and stretch the dough. “Little by little,” as he says in the video, the
dough softens and thins. At home you will use a rolling pin and a lot of elbow
grease. Have friends help with the process or take breaks. If you want to rest,
place a damp kitchen towel over the dough.
layers gives the pastry its distinctive crispy, flaky quality. This is the most
labor intensive part of the process. The result is worth the effort.
If you do not have a
small rolling pin, pick up a ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6” in length from a lumber yard
or hardware store. When you get home, sand the dowel and treat with a light
film of safflower oil. Dry and clean before using.
2 large, sturdy rolling
1 small rolling pin or
½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6” long Wooden spoon Wire whisk
A large work surface
A heavy duty electric mixer
1 metal ring, 3 ½”– 4” in
diameter, the ring of a small spring-form pan will do nicely
Parchment paper or Silpat sheets
Yield: 10 -12 sfogliatelle
Time: 4 hours + refrigeration
overnight for the dough
famous for being deliciously crisp. Three things create that wonderful quality,
a dozen+ paper thin layers of dough with fat between the layers and using bread
flour with more gluten to create thin, stretchable sheets of dough.
For the fat, unsalted
butter can be used, but Fernandez recommends an equal mix of unsalted
butter and Sweetex Z or Crisco because butter melts too easily. Please note
that Sweetex is an artificially sweetened fat. Fernandez uses a different
product, Sweetex Z which has zero trans fats. Even though fat is essential to making the sfogliatelle's layers crisp, in the heat of a 400F oven, the fat all but disappears.
Ingredients for dough
4 cups bread flour
2 cups semolina flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 cup + 1 tablespoon water
4 cups unsalted butter, room
temperature or 2 cups unsalted butter + 2 cups Crisco or Sweetex Z
½ cup all-purpose flour for dredging when assembling the
powdered sugar for dusting before serving
Ingredients for ricotta filling
2 ½ cups whole milk
½ rounded tablespoon fresh orange zest, avoiding all the
bitter white pith
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups semolina
5 egg yolks
1 ¾ cups cow’s milk ricotta cheese
Before making the dough, whip the unsalted butter or
unsalted butter and Crisco or Sweetex Z in a mixer for ten minutes using the
paddle attachment so it is very soft and fluffy. Use at room temperature.
Making dough with layers using a “simple fold”
In a mixer fitted with a hook, combine the two flours, salt
and honey. Blend on a low speed to mix well, then slowly add water. Continue
blending on a low speed about 10 minutes. Increase the speed and blend another
Touch the dough in the bowl of the mixer. If it feels too
dry, add a small amount of water. Turn on the mixer and incorporate the water.
Be careful not to add too much water. If the dough becomes soggy, you cannot
add more flour.
Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to a work surface.
Work the dough with your fingers until it is in the shape of a fat log. Wrap
the dough with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes on the counter. Do not
After resting, remove the plastic wrap. Dust the work
surface with bread flour and position the log in front of you, the long way.
Use the rolling pin to roll the dough away from your body. The log of dough
will flatten and elongate.
To create layers, fold 1/3 of the dough from the end closest
to you onto the middle. Fold the other 1/3 from the opposite end on top of the
first fold. This is called a “simple fold.”
Roll out the dough. Flip the dough over and rotate it
clockwise a quarter turn. Press down on the folded dough with your hands. Roll
out the dough again. Allow the dough to relax a minute or two before making the
next simple fold.
After folding, rolling out, flipping and rotating the dough 15
times, you will have created dozens and dozens of delicate layers. Cover the
dough with a damp kitchen towel. The dough needs to rest and so do you. Take 10
minutes and have a cup of tea.
Making fat dough thin
Now that you have created layers
and made the dough softer, the dough needs to become thinner.
Fernandez uses a Rondomat dough sheeter. He can handle a
large recipe because the mechanical rollers do the physical work of rolling out
the dough into a sheet almost thirty feet long. In your kitchen, you will use a
rolling pin and a lot of upper body strength. But even though you are using a
smaller recipe, your sheet will still be quite large. As you roll and thin the
dough, it will spread in length and width so clear your counter for this step.
You will need the space.
Sprinkle bread flour on the work surface. Make a simple fold
one time, then roll out the dough. Because the sheet will become too large for
the work space, you will wrap the dough around the second rolling pin.
Once you have rolled out all the dough and accumulated it on
the second rolling pin, check the thickness. If it is not yet paper thin, roll
the dough out again. You may have to do this step several times until the dough
is paper thin. Once all of the paper thin dough has accumulated on the second
rolling pin, you are ready for the next step.
Adding fat for crispness
In order to create croissant-like flaky layers, a fat is
required. Using your hands, apply a thin film of room temperature butter or the
mixture of butter-Crisco or Sweetex Z on the work surface.
Place the rolling pin with the sheet of dough on the back of
the work area.
Keeping the sheet attached to the rolling pin, pull forward
on the dough and lay a length of the unbuttered sheet on the work surface. Use a
sharp knife to trim off and discard the rounded end of the dough so the edge
facing you is square.
Spread a thin layer of fat onto the sheet of dough on the
Start a new roll. As Fernandez shows in the video, use your
fingers to lift the end of the buttered dough off the work surface and roll it
away from you.
To unwind another length of dough from the rolling pin, lift
the roll of buttered dough and bring it back toward you.
Continue that process, pulling dough from the rolling pin
onto the work surface, spreading on fat and adding that length to the buttered
roll, until you have buttered all the dough.
As you create the buttered roll, the ends will become
untidy. No worries. You will trim those later.
When you have applied fat to all of the dough, the roll will
be in the shape of a large log. Give the entire log a final coat of fat, seal
with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
You can make the
sweetened ricotta filling and refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to
three days until you are ready to assemble the sfogliatelle.
Combine whole milk and white sugar in a pan over low heat. Whisk
to combine. Add orange zest. Increase the heat.
When the mixture boils, add semolina all at once and whisk well.
The mixture will thicken quickly. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently to
combine. Avoid burning.
Switch to a wooden spoon when the filling becomes
paste-like. Continue stirring. Reduce heat. Cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove
Use a spatula to transfer the thickened mixture into the
mixer bowl. Be certain to scrape off all of the batter that has accumulated on
the sides and bottom. Allow to cool for a minute.
On the mixer, use the paddle attachment to aerate the
filling. Run the mixer at a low speed for a minute. Increase the speed and run
for another 2 minutes.
To prevent splattering, before adding the egg yolks, stop
the mixer and lower the bowl. Add yolks.
Change the mixer speed to low. Mix for a minute. Increase the speed and run
another 2 minutes.
Once the filling is creamy, use a spatula to scrape the
sides of the bowl and incorporate all of the mixture. Run the mixer again at higher
Add ricotta using the low speed and, once incorporated,
increase the mixer speed to high. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again
for 10 minutes on medium to aerate the filling.
Once the filling is creamy, allow to cool. If not using
immediately, place in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to three
When you make the
individual sfogliatella, work in batches of four. Plastic wrap and refrigerate
the other sfogliatelle so the fat doesn’t soften.
Organize an assembly
line on the counter with the four sfogliatelle rounds, the bowl of ricotta
filling, the small rolling pin, the metal ring, a large spoon and all-purpose
flour in a bowl.
The mini-rolling pin
makes flattening out the dough faster and easier but if one is not available,
use your fingers to stretch out the dough.
Directions for assembly
Preheat oven to 400F.
Remove the buttered dough from the refrigerator and unwrap.
Lightly flour the work surface. Use your hands to press,
stretch, roll and reshape the log. Roll the log back and forth and squeeze with
your hands, keeping the shape round until the diameter is reduced to 2 ½”.
Using a sharp chefs knife, remove 1” of the uneven dough on
both ends and discard. Cut the log into ½” thick rounds.At this point, the slices can be plastic
wrapped, refrigerated and stored for a day or two.
Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a
round with your fingers and lightly dredge in the all-purpose flour.
Place the dough on the work surface. Use the small rolling
pin to flatten the dough until it is half again as large as it was. If the
layers come apart, press them back together.
Adding the filling is easy. Use your fingers to soften and
slightly stretch the middle of the dough. Make a circle with your thumb and
index finger. Lay the thin round of dough over the opening between your thumb
and finger. Create a cone shape by gently pressing the center of the dough into
Spoon two large tablespoons of ricotta filling into the cone
and center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling. Press the edges of
the dough together and create a conch-shell shape. Lay the sfogliatella on the
Use the metal ring to trim the ragged
front edge of the dough.
Line a sheet pan with a piece of
parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. Place the sfogliatelle on the sheet pan with
½” spacing between them.
If you want to save
any of the sfogliatelle for later use, refrigerate or freeze them as described
Directions for baking
If serving right away, place the
parchment paper covered sheet pan in the preheated 400F oven and bake 35
minutes, checking that the sfogliatelle brown but do not burn.
Allow to cool. Dust with powdered
sugar before serving.
Refrigerating and Freezing
If reserving for use within 72
hours, keep the sfogliatelle on the parchment paper covered sheet pan. Lay
another parchment paper on top and seal the sheet pan in a plastic bag.Place in refrigerator. Remove before serving and bake as directed
If reserving for even later use,
place the plastic bag covered tray with sfogliatelle into the freezer. Once
frozen, remove the sheet pan. Put the frozen sfogliatella into an airtight bag.
They will keep up to six months in the freezer.
Baking After Freezing
Remove from the freezer the
number of sfogliatelle you want to bake.
Place on a parchment paper lined
sheet pan, cover with parchment paper and seal in a plastic bag. Refrigerate
for one day so the sfogliatelle defrost slowly.
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