Easter is coming and I bet you are all looking forward to eating tons and tons of chocolate!! But you should know that in Italy, there is a very special cake to celebrate these religious festivities: the Pastiera.
Originally from Naples, this cake has become a firm favourite throughout Italy.
This delicacy has a very special place in my heart because it reminds me of my dad and how I used to watch and help him to make it every Easter, when I lived in Italy (he still does, but without my help...). I can never forget the incredible perfume in my kitchen when these amazing cakes were in the ovens! My dad learnt how to bake it from my grandma, who was the Pastry Queen of the house!! The recipe that I use, it's hers and it has been handed down from generations... Like a little secret, isn't it?
This post is dedicated to this amazing cake, enjoy it!
Originally from Naples,"Pastiera" has both Roman and Greek provenances. It is said that the cheesecake-like dessert comes from baptism ceremony breads made with milk and honey during Constantine's reign. The cake was said to symbolise resurrection and new life, common themes during Easter.
Another legend involves as main character the mythological mermaid Partenope who - enchanted by the beauty of the gulf, between Posillipo and the Vesuvius, had fixed her residence there. Every spring the beautiful mermaid emerged from the waters to greet the happy people that populated the gulf, cheering them with songs of love and joy. Her voice was so melodious and sweet that all the inhabitants remained fascinated and enraptured: they rushed towards the sea moved by the sweetness of the song and the words of love that the mermaid had dedicated to them. To thank her for such a great pleasure, they decided to offer her the most precious things they had. Seven of the most beautiful maidens of the villages were commissioned to deliver the gifts to the beautiful Parthenope: the flour - symbolising the strength and richness of the countryside; ricotta - a homage of shepherds and sheep; the eggs - symbol of life that is always renewed; the soft wheat, boiled in milk - proof of the two kingdoms of nature; the orange blossom flowers water - because even the scents of the earth used to pay homage; spices - representing the most distant peoples of the world; finally, the sugar - to express the ineffable sweetness profused by the song of Partenope in heaven, on earth, and in the whole universe. The mermaid, happy for all these gifts, sank down to return to her crystalline residence and deposed her precious offerings at the feet of the Gods. These, also inebriated by the soave song, gathered and mixed with divine arts all the ingredients, turning them into the first Pastiera that sweetly exceeded the song of the mermaid.
Most likely, the cake was created in a Neapolitan convent (like almost all the traditional Neapolitan cakes).
For it to be ready in time for an Easter feast, the cake has to be made before Maundy Thursday or Good Friday because of the lengthy baking and cooling times. The most dedicated of pastiera bakers insist that it should take 3 days to make it! You can also do this all at once, of course... But do keep in mind, it tastes better the next day, so begin this at least one day in advance if you can.
Nowadays Pastiera is made with precooked grain, or grano cotto, a jarred product created for the sole purpose of making pastiera (it is quite difficult to find it outside of Italy). The cooked grain is slowly cooked again in the milk until creamy and plump. It is this ingredient that creates pastiera's unique texture. All the ingredients used perfectly remind me the flavours and scents of spring in the bay of Naples...
The creamy wheat is then combined with eggs, ricotta, orange blossom water, cinnamon and vanilla to make a delicious filling. Candied citron or pumpkin (zucca candita), is added for texture and sweetness. I personally add an amount of pastry cream in the filling, to create a softer, fluffier texture.
The filling is placed in a sweet pastry crust, and lattice strips of dough are woven over the top. The final touch is some dusted icing sugar!
No Neapolitan home would be complete on Easter day without this rich, perfumed cake on the table... So I really hope you get the chance to try it!!
If you want to order your pastiera, visit our shop online and get yourself one!
Remember, you can't buy happiness but you can buy a cake. And it's kinda the same thing!!