Neapolitan pastries

November 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Surprise, surprise, I didn’t find any UK style “Neapolitan ice cream” on our recent trip to Naples and the Sorrento peninsula – you know, that rigid tricolour block of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavours touted by Walls and similar industrial concerns.

What I did find was cake in profusion – on every street corner there’s a little pasticceria catering to what is clearly a very sweet Italian tooth. What’s on offer ranges from trays of positively austere little biscotti sold by the etto (100g) to some of the most over-the-top and lurid confections I’ve come across, like this glazed blue swan marvel from Sorrento:

The city of Naples itself is home to some of the most long-established family run pasticcerie like this one, Angelo Carbone’s, complete with its obligatory skein of drying laundry. You’ll find Carbone’s in Largo Regina Coeli, a mini-square amidst the maze of streets that makes up Naples’ centro storico.

We stopped here after a visit to Naples’ wondrous Museum of Archaeology and refuelled on thimblefuls of espresso and a generously proportioned zuppa inglese pastry and wild strawberry tartlet:

Tempting they may look, but my goodness they were heavy! Those fragoline di bosco atop the tartlet may look delicate but beneath was a layer of hefty pastry and a crema pasticcera that you could use to repoint the walls of Pompeii.

Perhaps a better option might have been a slice of home-made torrone, a Carbone speciality, or a jam-filled biscuit:

Of course we couldn’t leave without sampling some of Naples’ famous sfogliatelle. The name, meaning “many leaves” implies a light-as-air puff-pastry confection and indeed one type, the “riccia” exceeds expectations in this regard. I fell instantly in love with this organza-wrapped parcel of clamshell-shaped loveliness.

The intricate pastry encloses a dense sweet filling of cooked semolina, ricotta, candied fruit and spices. Oh, and they’re served warm, generally from a hot cabinet, much as we buy our cheese and onion pasties back here in the UK.

Just to confuse the novice pastry-eater, there’s a second type of sfogliatella known as a frolla, the plainer country cousin of the glamorous riccia, made with a sweet, crumbly shortcrust pastry encasing the same semolina/ricotta filling. In the interests of research, I had to try one of these too:

I’d happily eat either of these for breakfast along with a cappuccino. Having looked at recipes for each, I might consider having a go at baking a frolla, but shaping the riccia looks enough to have even a proficient croissant-maker quaking in his or her boots. There are videos of the process on youtube if your curiosity is piqued http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GGmqK6VVz4&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

I think the conclusion I’ve drawn is that Italian pastry-chefs come into their own when they’re not aping their French cousins. This display from Capri’s legendary Pasticceria Buonocore would seem to prove my point – don’t these look inviting?

And maybe the best Italian cakes are home-made – Marcella Hazan and Anna del Conte’s recipes for walnut cake, ricotta cake, apple cake and the like are enough to persuade me that this is the case. In fact, some of the best cakes we ate on our trip were not professionally made but were these slices of nutty chocolatey Torta Caprese and lemony lipsmacking baked ricotta cheesecake served up at a little café above Capri’s blue grotto and made by the proprietor’s wife. Home bakers rule!

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