This is my first attempt at these rather challenging Italian pastries – pastries I had never heard of until I tried one very recently and was immediately smitten. It goes without saying that I had to have a go at making these.
Sfogliatella means small, thin leaves – and that is precisely what you have here: a shatteringly crisp pastry shell, formed with so many thin layers (the leaves), all encasing a soft, creamy spiced orangey filling with a hint of honey and the added crunch and flavour of toasted pistachios.
Recipes for sfogliatella vary quite a bit: some use a little ground semolina in the dough, others just bread flour and others just pasta flour. I decided to use a mixture of strong white bread flour and pasta flour. This gives a lovely crispness to the baked pasties: they literally shatter as you bite into them!
Essentially you roll out and stretch the dough very thinly, brush with butter and/or lard and roll back up tightly like a swiss roll to form a cylinder of dough that then gets sliced into thin discs, shaped and filled before baking.
Traditionally the filling for sfogliatella is a semolina and ricotta base, flavoured with cinnamon and candied oranges, but I flavoured it with honey, toasted pistachios and orange zest. I adapted a fairly standard recipe for the key elements of the filling.
The pasta machine to the rescue!
I took the pasta machine route, which makes it much easier to get thin sheets of dough: you just take a bit of the dough at a time, run it through the machine from widest to thinnest setting. You can then stretched each sheet a little to make them wider.
It takes about an hour to roll out the all dough and then roll it back up again around itself to get a firm cylinder, so put the music on and go for it! This cylinder can then be frozen for as long as you want until you want to make the dough.
The slideshow below gives the stages for making the dough. I have also given the individual images with the recipe stages.
Shaping: the hard part!
The traditional shaping is actually the hardest part about the sfogliatelle: the idea is to gently open up the layers as you shape, working quickly enough so as not to warm up the dough in your hands.
There are a few recipes online and several YouTube clips that demonstrate the technique for the traditional shaping: the one I have linked here is the clearest and most helpful, I think: sfogliatelle video clip
However, despite shaping a few of them fairly traditionally (something for me to work on!) I decided to go for an easier, non-traditional approach by first rolling out the discs very thinly, cutting out some of the dough and wrapping the remaining dough to give a pocket to house the filling. The layers still opened up to give a great flake and tasted great.
This approach is given with step-by-step photos in the recipe.
NB: you can bake the cut-out pieces just as they are in the oven, and dust them with caster sugar: they are wonderful little bites!
Suggested time frame for making sfogliatelle
- make dough (takes seconds)
- chill dough for about an hour
- make filling (takes about 20 minutes)
- roll out the dough pieces thinly and form the dough cylinder
- chill dough cylinder for a few hours until firm (and therefore easily sliceable) or freeze for about an hour
- slice the dough cylinder into thin discs
- roll out each disc thinly and fill – or shape traditionally (see video link above)
Recipe: sfogliatella with a honey, orange & pistachio filling: makes about 20
- 300g strong white bread flour
- 200g pasta oo flour
- 7g fine salt
- 40g caster sugar
- 220-250ml cold water
- 70g lard, melted
- 70g unsalted butter, melted
- 220ml full-fat milk
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g fine semolina
- 250g ricotta
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 2 tablespoons runny honey
- 50g pistachios, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- finely grated zest of 2 large oranges
- icing sugar
(1) To make the filling, combine the milk and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and slowly add the semolina, whisking all the time to prevent lumps. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes (it will becone very thick and dough-like). Spread the mixture thinly onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof to cool.
(2) Tear the semolina into small pieces and place into the bowl of a food mixer mixer, using the paddle attachment rather than the whisk. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until very smooth. Scrape into a container, place plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until needed (up to 3 days). The filling can also be frozen.
(3) Make the dough by mixing the ingredients together, starting with about 220ml water and increasing if needed: you want a firm, but not dry dough. Knead until it is very firm, wrap it in clingfilm and chill for an hour or so.
(4) Cut the dough into small pieces, about the size of a walnut, and roll it out thinly using a pasta machine, going gradually to the thinnest setting. Use a little flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the rollers of the pasta machine.
(5) Stretch the dough gently widthways, but don’t worry if it tears a little here and there!
Top tip: to stretch the dough widthways more easily, use a little melted fat to stick the top of the sheet of dough to the work surface and work down the length of it, stretching it outwards as you to give you to give a wider strip.
(6) Brush the dough with the melted fat and roll it up tightly.
(7) Roll out a second piece of dough, stretch it widthways and brush it with melted fat. Place the first roll near the bottom of this sheet of dough and roll this sheet of dough tightly around it, going all the way up. You now have a fatter roll of dough. NB: don’t worry if the sheets of dough are not exactly the same width!
(8) Repeat this process until all the dough is used up, or until you get a thick log of dough! Trim the edges with a sharp serrated knife if they are a little rough.
(9) Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for at least a couple of hours to firm up, or freeze for an hour or so. You can also freeze the dough fully if you want to use the dough at a later stage.
(10) Using a sharp, serrated knife, slice off thin pieces of the dough: a serrated knife gives better cuts and is less prone to squashing the dough!
(11) Roll out the pieces of dough thinly: you should be able to see those wonderful layers, forming a tree-ring effect. Brush with the melted fat and place fat-side down (this will be the outside of the pastries. NB: ideally, run your finger from the centre of the dough to the outside once you have brushed the fat over, which will gently open the layers, giving more of an open flake, but you still get great results without doing this.
(12) For the simplest, more rustic approach, just place a spoonful of the filling towards one edge of the dough and fold the rest of the dough over. There is no need to seal it. Just place these on baking sheets and bake (see stage 17).
(13) For a tidier pastry, cut out a large circle from each piece of dough.
(14) Cut out a small sector of dough from each piece: you end up with pieces of dough that resemble Pac-man! The bits you cut out can be baked for about 15 minutes, dusted with icing sugar and used as simple sweet treats with coffee, tea or to dip into melted chocolate!
(15) Wrap the remaining dough around to form a cone: in the picture, curve the 3 o’clock edge over to about 8 o’clock and run your finger gently inside to form a cavity. The overlap is fine here as the pastry is so thin.
(16) Pop your finger between the quarter-circles to form a pocket, and place about a teaspoon or so of filling inside. Pat down the pastry to hide the filling, but there is no need to seal as the mixture will not ooze out during the baking.
(17) Place onto baking sheets that have been lined with greaseproof paper or silicone sheets. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 170C (fan) for 25–30 minutes, until golden brown: and admire the very many layers you can see!
(18) Transfer to a wire rack to cool and the dust liberally with icing sugar.