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Neapolitan dream puffs

Neapolitan dream puffs

The best sfogliatelle in Naples.

My current obsession is the Neapolitan pastry known as sfogliatella. It comes in two styles: riccia, with a crust of many crisp, papery layers, and frolla, with a thicker, more conventional pastry crust. The riccia's tender exterior (made with flour, water, and lard) consists of concentric squashed rings; the frolla shell (made with flour, sugar, and butter or lard) is like the best sweet piecrust. Both hold fillings of sweetened ricotta flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, and scant candied fruit, which contrast nicely with their delicious crusts. A great sfogliatella is never soggy. I prefer the riccia version, but a terrific frolla is nothing to turn away.

This sweet has a long history, according to Annamaria Russo and Ciro Sabatino's book, Madame Sfogliatella (published in Naples in 1996 and now out-of-print). Its story begins with breads used in pagan fertility rites. These mutated, with the advent of Christianity, into triangular pastries made by cloistered nuns in the Neapolitan convent of Croce di Lucca. Three of the nuns, daughters of the Prince of Cellamare, violated their vows of silence in 1624, revealing the secret recipe to friends, and the sfogliatella made its way into noble homes. A Neapolitan pasticceria (pastry shop) owned by Pasquale Pintauro first sold them to the public in 1818. Pasticceria Pintauro is still making sfogliatelle at via Roma 275.

For the best sfogliatelle in Naples, however, local gastronomes directed me to two shops near the train station. They explained that this was the best microclimate in town for pastry. Carraturo has multiple locations in Naples, but only the one in that special neighborhood is reportedly great for sfogliatelle - in both riccia and frolla forms, dusted with powdered sugar as ordered. Nearby is Pasticceria Attanasio, with a sign outside advertising "Sfogliata Calda" ("Hot Sfogliatelle" in Neapolitan dialect). The Attanasio's ovens produce these pastries every ten minutes from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., which is important for optimum sfogliatelle, because they should be eaten promptly and always within four hours of their exit from the oven. Never eat one that has been sitting in a heated case!

Intrepid Epicurious travelers visiting Naples can take a sfogliatella challenge, as I did, and taste at both Carraturo and Attanasio - and even Pintauro (a distant third for me). Post in the Epicurious Italofiles forum and let us know if you like the riccia or frolla style better. Those who cannot get to Naples should recommend their favorite local sfogliatelle bakers.

Note that Neapolitans feast on sfogliatelle at the bakery and then get a package to go. I'd follow suit.

Pasticceria Carraturo, via Garibaldi 59, Naples.
Open daily.

Pasticceria Attanasio, vico Ferrovia 2/3/4, Naples.
Closed Monday.

Pasticceria Pintauro, via Roma 275, Naples.
Closed Tuesday.

March 1, 2001


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