The great theater actor and author, Eduardo De Filippo once said, “When the night falls and your heart sinks deep, eat a sfogliatella and your heart will soar!”
The fragrance and scent of warm puff pastry, filled with sweet ricotta cheese and enriched with a few pieces of candied fruit, or the triumphant vision of the version with cream and red cherry topping (the “Santa Rosa”, named after the convent where it was invented), are delicacies that can bring anyone back at peace with the world and its contradictions.
Thus Pintauro, Scaturchio, and the other famous makers of sfogliatelle and pastiere can make the day of the patient gourmands standing in line for their treat… out of gluttony, of course, and out of love for these traditional Neapolitan sweets.
The same lines form every Sunday, in front of the windows of the Neapolitan patisseries in New York, Chicago and Buenos Aires.
Yet only few know that for a long time the sfogliatella lead a secret life: the sweet ‘pasticciotto’ was locked up in the seclusion of the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Cross in Lucca, devoted to the Holy Face that is venerated in the Tuscan city, a stone’s throw from the lovely church of Saint Peter in Majella.
But in 1624, the story of the sfogliatella took a turn. Nicola Giudice, Prince of Cellamare and Duke of Giovinazzo, had his three daughters – Aurelia, Mary and Eleanor – home for one of the visits they were entitled to thanks to the dignity of their rank. In the convent of the Holy Cross, they had learned the secret art of preparing sfogliatelle, rolling out the puff pastry with flour and suet, kneading ricotta from Agevola, durum from Priano, sugar, vanilla, and candied fruit with cinnamon oil; they knew how to make the cream filling, and how to decorate it with cherries from the Neapolitan countryside. Thus the secret, so closely guarded by the nuns of the convent until then, was revealed to the palace’s chef to pay homage to the prince – a generous benefactor of the monastery – and to his majesty the King of Naples, on the occasion of Christmas and Easter.
It did not take long for all of Naples to discover the recipe. The nuns wrote letters of protest to the prince, accusing his three daughters of revealing their secret, and ultimately got the bishop to punish them with a brief period of strict seclusion.
But it was too late: nothing could stop the increasing fame of the sfogliatella. Cavalier Pintauro, a renown restaurant owner in Naples, decided to devote his oven to the convent’s sweet ‘pasticciotto’, recreating it in the thinnest of puff pastries – the so-called ‘sfogliatella riccia’ – as well as in the more modest and familiar short crust pastry.
As the pastry chef’s fame spread throughout the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the sweet sfogliatella was crowned queen of Neapolitan patisserie, and today the delicate and fragrant ‘pasticciotto’ is offered at all hours in every bar in Naples, as well as in many cafés all over Italy and in the Americas.
Alberto Manodori Sagredo