All this month we are featuring real Italian recipes and Mamma Mia have we had some goodies. We’ve gone from classic Pasta Aglio Olio Peperoncino to Sicilian modica and today, my sweet-toothed friends, we are in Naples, enjoying sfogliatella, straight from the Amalfi Coast’s own, Laura Thayer of Ciao Amalfi!
The first time I traveled to Naples, I had “EAT A SFOGLIATELLA” written in big letters on my Must See and Do list. If your travels haven’t taken you to Naples or the Campania region in southern Italy, then you’re in for a sweet treat when you arrive. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, she came to Naples to eat the town’s world famous pizza. When I read the book, I hoped she got also got a sfogliatella while she was there. This wonderful pastry is worth the trip alone!
So, how was my first sfogliatella? Well, it wasn’t love at first bite. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) This little pastry turned out to be quite the challenge to eat. I’ve even caught a few Neapolitans making a powdered sugar mess of themselves without seeming to notice. And it’s oh so worth it! Unless you were blessed with an unusual amount of grace, you can expect a little white shower as you bite into the crunchy pastry shell dusted lightly with powdered sugar. The reward, however, is the first taste of the luscious, cinnamon scented ricotta cheese filling dotted with tiny bits of candied fruit.
While each recipe varies slightly, my favorite sfogliatelle have the perfect balance of spices and the scent of orange, and must not be too crunchy on the outside. It’s a delicate balance. It wasn’t a pretty sight the first time I tried a sfogliatella. The crunchy outer shell poked the top of my mouth when I bit in and, unfortunately, I was wearing black that day. The second time around I began to notice the subtlety of the flavors. And it wasn’t long before the sfogliatella became my favorite Neapolitan dessert!
My top choice for sfogliatelle in Naples is the historic Gran Caffè Gambrinus located right off the Piazza Plebiscito in the center of the city. I always stop by there for a sfogliatella and one of theirdelicious espressos with hazelnut cream when I’m in Naples. But you don’t have to visit Naples to find great sfogliatella. You’ll also find them at cafés and the local pasticcerie (pastry shops)
throughout the region of Campania. Where I live in Amalfi, my favorite spots for enjoying this special treat are the small and welcoming Pasticceria Leone or at the elegant Pasticceria Pansa located right in Amalfi’s main piazza.
While the sfogliatella is considered a signature Neapolitan pastry, the birthplace of this tasty treat was in Conca dei Marini, a tiny village located in the mountains of the Amalfi Coast. In the 1600s the precursor to today’s sfogliatella was created by nuns at the Monastery of Santa Rosa. You’ll still find this variety of sfogliatella, called santarosa after the monastery, in pasticcerie throughout the region. It differs in that it’s filled with a crema pasticcera instead of ricotta and is topped with a dab of crema di amarene (sour black cherry).
While I prefer the traditional Neapolitan variety, you’ll have to do some taste testing during your travels to find your favorite spot for enjoying the best sfogliatelle. That’s your Campania travel challenge, should you choose to accept!
Gran Caffè Gambrinus
Via Chiaia, 1/2
(Piazza Trieste e Trento)
Pasticceria and Bar Leone
Via Lorenzo d’Amalfi, 47
Piazza Duomo, 40
Prefer to make your own? Check out this recipe for Sfogliatella from Mangia Bene Pasta or watch the video demonstration below.
Laura Thayer is an art historian and freelance writer living on the Amalfi Coast in Campania, Italy. She writes about life on the Amalfi Coast at her own site Ciao Amalfi.
Traveling to Calabria? Then check out my Calabria travel tips e-guide “Don’t Get Caught with Dirty Drawers.”