Pastiera is a traditional Easter cake from Naples, filled with boiled wheat, ricotta, and candied citrus. The wheat provides an interesting texture and also makes the cake quite filling. The candied citron, candied orange, lemon zest, orange blossom water, and cinnamon, give the cake a delicious flavor as well.
The wheat needs to be soaked at least 24 hours before it is cooked. When using durum wheat (the usual in Southern Italy), it needs to be soaked for 3 days and the water needs to be changed each morning and each evening. With our soft wheat, 24 hours is sufficient. The wheat is then cooked with milk, lemon zest, and butter until it is al dente. This takes about an hour and a half, or half that time with a pressure cooker. To cut down on the preparation time, in Italy the boiled wheat (grano cotto), is sold precooked. Since it is not available here, I made my own from scratch.
The hardest part of making this cake is to avoid that the ‘lattice’ of shortcrust pastry on top sinks into the filling. Next time I make this cake, I will allow the filling to firm up in the refrigerator to make this easier. I’ve used the recipe from GialloZafferano with some modifications, the most important one being that I cooked the wheat myself. The authentic pan for this is not a springform pan but a conical pan with a top diameter of 24 cm (9.4″) and a bottom diameter of 21 cm (8.3″).
For the grano cotto
225 grams (1 cup + 2 Tbsp) soft wheat, soaked at least 24 hours in 750 ml (3 cups) water
250 ml (1 cup) milk
30 grams (2 Tbsp) butter
grated zest of 1 lemon
For the sweet shortcrust pastry (pasta frolla)
315 grams (2 cups + 1 Tbsp) pastry flour
155 grams (11 Tbsp) cold butter
1 egg + 2 egg yolks
135 grams (2/3 cups) sugar
For the filling
400 grams (1 2/3 cups) well-drained ricotta (preferably half cow’s milk and half sheep’s milk)
350 grams (1 3/4 cups) sugar
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
50 grams (1/4 cup) chopped candied citron (Dutch: sukade)
50 grams (1/4 cup) chopped candied orange peel
2 Tbsp orange blossom water
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
butter for the springform pan
1 egg, beaten
If not pressure cooking, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 90 minutes.
This is great with passito di pantelleria, especially Ben Ryè by Donnafugata.
These colomba muffins are my alternate take on Colomba Pasquale, another traditional Easter sweet from Italy. Colomba is a sweet bread in the shape of a cross with candied citrus and an almond glaze. It is actually not supposed to be a cross but a dove, since that is what “colomba” means. It takes a bit of good will to recognize the shape of a flying dove. The traditional way of making colomba takes about 24 hours and 5 different rising steps. This recipe requires ‘only’ three, and with a stand mixer it is not a lot of work and just takes time. In Italy cardboard molds are sold before Easter for baking a colomba at home. I made the colomba for Easter dinner and I thought it would be nice to use a muffin tin instead. This makes for a nice presentation, even though it now certainly does not look like a dove anymore. These muffins turned out great, very soft and fragrant.