Whenever I'm in Naples I make sure to head to a Neapolitan pastry shop so I can pick up some of the very best of Neapolitan pastries and that most definitely includes Pastiera Napoletana. When you look into pastry shop windows in Naples not a single shop is without a delicious display of Pastiera Napoletana.
The Pastiera Napoletana dessert dates back to the 16th century and is steeped in rich history combined with fascinating legend.
For example why are there traditionally just seven strips of crisscross pastry on top of the Pastiera? And what is the meaning behind all the various ingredients used? Listen to the centuries old story of the Pastiera Napoletana here:
Pastiera Napoletana is classically an Easter cake but you can purchase it year-round. On Easter every Neapolitan family has Pastiera Napolitano for dessert and many families make it themselves. It's a bit time consuming to make although by no means complicated. It also needs plenty of time to cool down and rest and is decidedly tastier the day after it's made.
What makes this Neapolitan Easter cake so unique is the grano cotto in the recipe. In Italy grano cotto is widely available in the baking section of grocery stores. It's usually sold in 650 g glass jars.
So what is grano cotto? None other than wheat berries cooked to a creamy porridge-like consistency.
This is basically a simple dessert to make but because there are a lot of resting periods involved you should set aside a couple of days to make it, especially as the flavor improves with an overnight final rest.
One of the first steps is to cook the pre-cooked wheat berries with milk and flavorings like orange blossom water until it's nice and thick.
Then the mixture needs to cool down to room temperature.
While it's cooling down whisk the eggs and ricotta together until it has a smooth and creamy consistency. I always use my KitchenAid mixer for this.
The next step is to mix all the filling ingredients together then pour into the piecrust. The final step is to top the Pastiera Napoletana with crisscross strips of pastry and then pop into a 300°F preheated oven.
The Pastiera Napoletana takes an hour and a half to bake and then needs to thoroughly cool to room temperature before serving. It's infinitely better if it has an overnight rest!
- A 25 - 28cm X 4 cm (10 - 11 inch X 1 ½ inch) flared pie pan
For the pastry crust:
- 250 g flour
- 150 g butter
- 120 g sugar
- 1 egg + 2 egg yolks
For the filling:
- 300 g cooked wheat berries*
- 350 g fresh sheep milk ricotta drained
- 40 g butter
- 150 g milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 250 g sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon orange or rose blossom water
- Zest from one orange and one lemon
Optional ingredients for the filling:
- 100 g of candied citron orange and/or lemon
- 50 g pinenuts
For the pastry crust:
- Cut the cold butter into 1 cm (½ inch) cubes.
- Whisk the three eggs together and set aside.
- Whisk the flour and sugar together in a mixing bowl.
- Use a handheld pastry cutter or a pastry cutter attachment for a KitchenAid mixer to cut the butter into the sugar and flour mixture until it's crumbly and sandy.
- Gently fold the eggs into the flour mixture.
- Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for half an hour or more.
For the filling:
- Put the wheat berries in a large pot and cover with plenty of water.
- Boil covered for about an hour or until the wheat berries are soft. You can cut the cooking time in half if you use a pressure cooker.
- Place 250 g of the cooked wheat berries and the milk, sugar and butter together in a saucepan.
- Boil the ingredients together for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Once the ingredients have thickened set the saucepan aside and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
- While the mixture is cooling whisk the eggs together.
- Whisk the eggs, ricotta, vanilla, salt, zest from one orange and one lemon,
- and orange or rose blossom water together.
- Whisk in any of the optional ingredients you decide to use – the candied fruit, orange and lemon zest and/or pinenuts.
Assemble the Pastiera:
- Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F)
- Roll out ⅔ of the dough into a round the right size to fit your pan.
- Place the bottom crust in the pan.
- Roll out the remainder of the dough and cut it into strips for the criss-cross top pie crust.
- Put the Pastiera filling into the pie crust and spread it out evenly.
- Top the Pastiera with the dough strips in a criss-cross fashion.
Bake the Pastiera:
- Bake the Pastiera Napoletana for 90 minutes.
- Let the Pastiera Napoletana cool to room temperature then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rest overnight before serving.
- You can store the Pastiera Napoletana refrigerated for about four days.
When you prepare the Pastiera Napolitano it's probably a good idea to cook the wheat berries the day before.
Cover wheat berries with plenty of water, bring to a boil and boil covered until the wheat berries are soft, usually about an hour. I almost always use a pressure cooker and this will cut the cooking time in half.
You can cook a bunch of wheat berries at a time and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Cooked wheat berries also freeze well.
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