"The waiter returned, bringing the order: the doctor beat down on the sfogliatella, hungry. The graying mustache turned white for the icing sugar sprinkled on the soft dough; he accompanied every bite with moans of pleasure.
"Hmmm … ask me what I love about this city, and I'll tell you: the sfogliatella! Not the sea, not the sun, but the sfogliatella."
from "Il senso del dolore" (The meaning of pain) by Maurizio de Giovanni (p. 101)
If you hadn't realized it yet, reading between the lines of my posts, I'm a fierce reader, and among my favorite genres are crime, noir and thriller, although I can call myself an "omnivore" reader, 'cause I never disdain a good book, whatever genre it belongs.
But I have a weakness for crime, in its broadest sense. Sure, I hang behind with this genre knowledge, but I struggle to be after an increasing amount of books and time, which is always a hard master. But when I find an author who catches me with his plot, his characters and his settings, time somehow carves himself out, so I can savor every page, every line, every word.
I discovered that author last year, but since then I foretaste every book release as I wait for something that is baking in my oven: in reverent waiting, mouth-watering and with a hint of anxiety, which accompanies any discovery or confirmation.
Not only I discovered that author, but I also met him in person, and when behind a book lies a man who makes you laugh and moves you (sometimes to tears), who takes great interest in the opinions of his readers and who shows affection and gratitude to them, never committing the sin of pride, then I can afford to buy his books like a pig in a poke, even before they are written.
This author, this person, this man, is Maurizio de Giovanni, Neapolitan writer and "father" of police chief Ricciardi, Maione, Lucia, Dr. Modo, Enrica, Nanny Rose and all the characters that fill the pages of his novels: and including them in "crime" genre is correct, but simplistic. In those pages, in fact, you could find the atmosphere of the '30s in Naples, you can read about Love and Death, poverty and marginalization, but also about happiness and beauty. In those pages you can find everything, everything I look for in a book, including crime.
So, when a friend of mine sent me the link to a culinary competition organized by L'acqua 'dorosa entitled "Il delitto è servito" (Crime is served) I immediately thought about Ricciardi and his sfogliatelle ricce (aka curly sfogliatelle). First of all you should know that sfogliatelle ricce are one of my favorite desserts (once I begged a friend to bring me one from Salerno, despite they lose some of their crispness), so try my hand at this wasn't only a way to honor my love for Ricciardi and to attend an original and delightful contest, but also a great gift to myself.
And so we came to the point (it's about time, you might say), ie the making of Neapolitan sfogliatelle ricce. I want to play it safe, and I tell you now that I had to repeat three times this preparation: the first time I followed a recipe a little inaccurate in the crucial points, the second time I found the right recipe, but the heat "killed" the dough (also my recipe has some crime in it, to stay on the subject) … well, since good things come in threes, the third time I did it, and I am very satisfied with the result. Despite the most abhorrent curses… IT COULD WORK (it works, it works)!
For the recipe, the right one, I based on the instructions given by Luciana (in her blog Testarda aka Stubborn), and I refer to her pictures of intermediate stages (on the right, in her blog, you can find the list of recipes; under "Dolce", scroll to "Sfogliatelle ricce"), as I'll refer to her useful explanatory video on the "molding".
But now let's start the explanation… and it will be a bit long (euphemism)…
NEAPOLITAN SFOGLIATELLE RICCE
Ingredients (about 17-19 sfogliatelle)
For the dough
* 500 g manitoba flour
* 200 g water (you could need some more water)
* 20 g honey
* a pinch of salt
For the "leafing"
* 150 g lard (this ingredient makes the difference, so don't replace it)
For the filling
* 375 ml water
* 125 g semolina
* a pinch of salt
* 175 g ricotta
* vanilla (extract or bean)
* 125 g sugar (I used vanilla powdered sugar, so I didn't put any other vanilla)
* a whole egg
* 150 g diced candied fruits (I used candied citron and orange peels)
* half a teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)
* powdered sugar
Put in a bowl flour, a pinch of salt, honey and water and knead (by hand or in a mixer), until the dough is smooth and homogeneous; if you knead by hand, don't worry if the dough seems too hard, it's perfectly normal. Grease your hands with lard and rub the dough obtained. Wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 2 to 3 hours (but you can leave it overnight).
After this rest time, prepare the worktable (a long table covered with a plastic tablecloth is perfect … of course I didn't have a plastic tablecloth) with the pasta machine (secured to the table or free if you, like me, have the engine for the pasta machine. Personal note: I must remember to kiss my boyfriend again for this gift), a rolling pin, a sharp knife, melted lard (it shouldn't be hot, but neither cold, 'cause it resolidifies. If it happens, melt it again) and a soft kitchen brush.
Pull the dough out of the fridge and roll it out with a rolling pin until it reaches a thickness that passes easily through the pasta machine. Divide the dough into 3 pieces, cutting into three equal parts the longer side. Now we need to roll out the three pieces, passing them through the pasta machine without skipping any notch (I worked in series: I passed the three pieces in the first notch, then all in the second notch and so on, until the last notch) and making sure that the edges remain smooth (not broken or jagged). In the end, you'll have three thin and long (probably you'll need some help to extract the sheet from the pasta machine, at the last notch) sheets: lay them on the table, so that you could work better.
In fact, the dough isn't thin enough, so it has to be thinned by hand, extending it at the same time: this isn't difficult, since the dough is very elastic, but you have to work quickly, since the dough dry out easily. For this reason it's best to thin the first sheet, go ahead with the recipe and then thin the other sheets one at a time: in fact, if the sheet is thicker, it retains more moisture and dry not too quickly.
To be more clear (I hope so, anyway), I did it this way:
1. I manually thinned the FIRST sheet: I kept the sheet with both hands, one on each edge (longer side), and I gently widened the sheet: the dough is very elastic and it won't resist. I did the same thing along the length, in order to obtain a sheet almost twice as large as before and nearly transparent (you'll see perfectly the tablecloth underneath the sheet).
2. I brushed plenty of lard on the first 20 cm of the sheet and I started to roll the dough around itself, pulling gently and rolling at the same time (so the lard will fill the blanks). I went on, 20 cm by 20 cm, brushing and rolling, leaving the last millimeters of the sheet clean (without lard), 'cause there I joined the second sheet.
3. I manually thinned the SECOND sheet (see item 1).
4. I joined the shorter edge of the second sheet with the shorter edge of the first sheet, now almost completely rolled up.
5. I went on, 20 cm by 20 cm, brushing lard and rolling, leaving the last millimeters of the sheet clean, 'cause there I joined the third sheet.
6. I manually thinned the THIRD sheet (see item 1).
7. I joined the shorter edge of the third sheet with the shorter edge of the second sheet, now almost completely rolled up.
8. I went on, 20 cm by 20 cm, brushing lard and rolling, this time until the end of the sheet.
At the end of this process (which is longer to tell it than to do it) you'll have a roll about 5 cm in diameter: level off the ends of the roll, wrap it in cling film and place in refrigerator for at least a night, or even a full day. Below you can see some artistic pictures of the waste from the leveling off (a famous Italian song says "nothing comes from diamonds, but flowers come from manure").
After 8 to 24 hours (the original recipe suggested 15 to 36 hours), you can begin the real work and, first of all, prepare the filling. Bring to a boil 375 ml of slightly salted water and, when it's boiling, pour in the semolina, stir with a whisk and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Put the semolina in a bowl and let it cool completely; when it's cold, add ricotta, sugar, vanilla (or powdered vanilla sugar, like me), a whole egg, candied fruits and cinnamon, stirring until you have a smooth cream without any lumps. Put the cream in the refrigerator to cool down for at least half an hour.
Pull the roll of dough out of the refrigerator and, using a sharp knife, cut it into slices about 1,5 cm thick (not thicker than 2 cm), which will resemble narrow rolls of ribbons. Now you have to work each slice with the tip of your fingers (don't rush: take your time) to create the shape of a shell: from the center outwards (or the opposite, if it's better for you) you have to help the layers slide on each other (they slide perfectly, thanks to the lard), making sure that ribs don't become entirely separated (otherwise the sfogliatella will open up). Maybe it's difficult to understand this procedure, so I give you the link to Luciana's explanatory video and to a video made by Neapolitan pastry chefs: I hope these help you understand better.
Once you have your shell, keep it in the palm of your hand, fill it (don't overdo, but don't be sparing, either) and close it by pressing the outer edges (see Luciana's video). Place your sfogliatelle on a baking pan covered with parchment paper and, in the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 390° F (200° C). Below you can see the slice (the starting point) and the sfogliatella, before baking.
Place the baking pan on the middle shelf of your oven and bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes at 390° F (200° C), then lower it to 356° F (180° C) and bake for another 30 minutes or so. The cooking time will depend on the size of your sfogliatelle, so check on them once in a while: they have to be golden brown, but not burnt!
When sfogliatelle are golden brown, pull them out of the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool down.
When they are cold, sprinkle them with plenty of powdered sugar …
Now you have to do one more thing: enjoy your sfogliatelle ricce in their perfect crispness, perhaps together with a good espresso, while reading a great book… if you're good detectives, try and guess what books I have in mind.