There are several versions of sfogliatella but this is a classic recipe created by nuns in a monastery in Conca dei Marini along the Amalfi coast, which was way back in the 17th century. While this recipe is time consuming, it’s still easier than the version we are familiar with today, which calls for delicately funneling out the very thin dough to form the cone shape of many thin flaky layers. Making this sfogliatella does require patience, which I think the nuns at the monastery had plenty of and, thankfully so.
Makes about 40 small pastries
For the dough:
- 8 cups flour – divided
- 1 ¾ tbsp. sugar
- 7 tbsp. lard
- 1 ¾ cups water
- ½ tsp salt
For the cream filling:
- ¾ cup semolina flour
- 15 oz. well-drained ricotta
- 1 lemon zest
- 1 orange zest
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ¾ cup candied orange peel – diced
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1 ¼ cups water
For the dough:
- Mix 7 cups of flour with the water, sugar and salt. Mix until well combined and you have a smooth, compact dough. If you feel the dough is too stiff, slowly add a little more water until you are satisfied.
- Form the dough into a ball and grease it with a little lard. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, flatten the dough slightly and pass through a pasta machine to obtain a very thin sheet of pastry.
- Dust your work surface with a little flour, then lay the dough out and grease its surface with a little more lard.
- Roll the dough up very tightly so that you have a roll that measures 2 ½-inches wide by 10-inches long.
- Grease the entire surface with a little more lard and wrap again in plastic.
- Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. In the meantime, make the cream filling.
Special note: This is a very old recipe and sometimes, lard is difficult to find. Butter is a good substitute for lard. It does create a slightly different flavor but it is a suitable substitute.
For the cream filling:
- Place the water in a pan and add the salt.
- Add semolina flour and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Drain well and cool.
- Once the semolina is cool, place it in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the drained ricotta, eggs, candied orange peel, cinnamon and zests from the lemon and orange.
- Reserve 1 cup of the cream filling to use for decorating the tops of the sfogliatella.
Putting it all together:
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and by using a sharp knife, cut it into ¼ to ½-inch thick slices. The thinner, the better!
- Grease the surface of each slice with lard.
- By using your hands, work the dough into a bell shape or fat cone shape.
- Fill the inside of the shell with the stuffing right up to the edge which will not be closed. Repeat the process until you have used all of the dough and filling. Any extra filling can be combined with your reserved cream filling that will be fluted on top of the baked pastry.
- Place the sfogliatellas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes.
- Once cooked, allow them to cool on a wire rack until they are slightly warm.
- Dust each sfogliatella with powdered sugar, then pipe or place some of the extra cream filling on top and fit with one stemmed cherry, if desired.
- Have a delightful munch on your sfogliatella!
A History of This Sfogliatella Recipe and How It Came to Me
The monastery where this sfogliatella recipe came from no longer exists. Before the monastery was built, it used to be the church of Santa Maria di Grado. It was sadly reduced to ruins and was gifted to Sister Rosa Pandolfi, a descendant of the noble family Pontone di Scala. She eventually took residence in Conca dei Marini. She fortunately had the means to make a difference and so, she funded the monastery’s construction which was completed in 1681 and dedicated to Saint Rose of Lima. It was through her that she established the Dominican monastery housing for nuns who spent the day farming, cultivating herbs and baking. It operated until the late 1800’s when the nuns were evicted by law and the convent was handed down to the municipality. The nuns were allowed to live there but it did not receive the attention it needed and it gradually fell into disrepair.
In 1924, the property was purchased by a Roman hotelier named Mr. Marcucci. He appreciated the historic beauty and value of the property, so he transformed it into a hotel. At one time, it was known to be one of Italy’s best 39 hotels. However, the hotel didn’t last. As many circumstances happened and after many glorious years, the last family member died and the hotel was deserted.
In 2000, the abandoned property was discovered by an American named Bianca Sharma. She was also called Signora Bianca by the Amalfians. She was so captivated by its beauty that she bought the property. Then she moved to the Amalfi Coast and spent 11 years restoring it with historical antiques and elements, complete with confessionals and pews. The end results culminated with the perfect blending of the past embellishments that meets the modern adornments of a hotel. Today, the property is serving as a luxury hotel and spa for visitors from around the world. It is now called Albergo Santa Rosa Monastero. One inspiration that was put into the hotel is a bell. A tolling of a bell just inside the gated courtyard announces every guest’s arrival, just like what usually happens so many centuries ago.
So how did this recipe reach me?
In 1958, I visited the Amalfi Coast with my parents, aunt and siblings. The bakeries in and around the area of the monastery and especially those in Naples, still sold that specific sfogliatella. I remember that my aunt was a very good baker. While we were in that place, she was actually given the recipe and it was handed down to me years later. This is the same sfogliatella recipe I am sharing with you now! I know that it has aged but it’s definitely worth the time and taste to make these sfogliatellas.