Italian Cakes and Pastries Recipes

Sfogliatelle Ricce (Recipe)



 Mini Sfogliatelle


Flashback, I remember my father James "Jimmy" Selvaggio telling stories about a worker in his bakery,"Big John" he said they use to joke that his Sfogiatelle were huge like giant clams due to the size of his large hands.

Sfogiatelle Ricce (layered Sfogiatelle) is one of the most famous examples of Neapolitan pastry.

The local tradition says that this pastry was created by pure chance. It happened on bread-making day; one of the sisters (cloistered Nuns).

 A cook and blessed at pastry, found herself with some leftover semolina flour cooked in milk. As it is a sin to throw away food,  she thought of adding a few ingredients which she had in abundance in her pantry.


She mixed the semolina with dried fruit, lemon liquor (not yet called "Limoncello"), and sugar.

Then, after kneading the bread-dough with a little pork-fat and white wine, she flattened two portions of dough, filled them with the dried fruit preparation, folded them in the shape of a nun's wimple and cooked them in her wood burning oven.

 The abbess was the first to taste the new cake; she relished it so much that she decided to share it with "the outside world". On the Feast Day of St. Rosa's August 30th, she offered it to the people of Conca. Conca dei Marini google map

The Legend holds that when King Ferdinand first tasted the Sfogiatelle, he understood that he had found a way to access all European royal courts: what king or queen could resist such a Machiavellian culinary temptation?

 How many alliances would be owed to this splendid and delicious masterpiece? But... and there was a but: the Santa Rosa nuns had to remain cloistered... The king therefore had to abandon his project, because the authentic Sfogiatelle could only be eaten fresh out of the oven, it could not be re-warmed without losing its delicate crunchy crust.

According to the 18th century convent recipe:

Take half a rotolo* of flour, mix it with a little pork fat and knead it with all your might (literally: "with the strength of a convict").

Then flatten out the dough and roll it out into the shape of a large bowl. Add a quarter of pork fat and roll it out four times "summerwise" and six times "winterwise".

Then cut it up into many pieces, roll them out and fill them with cream and chocolate or, if you prefer, with Castellammare ricotta.

Should you add a dash of vanilla, a drop of extract of Orange flower or a stick of candied citron, it will become a heavenly thing.

Fold the pâte feuilletée only halfway and, where the cream seeps from, add seven "weeping eyes" made with black-cherries or slices of peach. Slip into the oven and cook at a low temperature. Eat warm and lick your fingers."

*A rotolo ("roll") is an old Neapolitan measure of weight, approximately 2 lbs.

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Tiramisu Italiano (Recipe)




Tiramisu Italiano , the first time tasted this popular Italian Dessert I was impressed with its creamy rich, satisfying flavor with hints of chocolate, espresso coffee and liquor.

I have seen many versions that have a variety of non traditional ingredients.  Here is a classic version with marsala, brandy and Grand Mariner liquors,

Tiramisu in essence means “pick-me-up” in Italian, think of it as the energy drink of desserts with its sugar and caffeine from the strong espresso coffee. According to Anna Maria Volpi, "There are many different stories about the origin of Tiramisu’. It is a layered cake; therefore some people place its origin in Tuscany, where another famous layered Italian dessert is very popular. It is called “Zuppa Inglese” (English Soup). It is not English and it is not a soup. Instead is a simple cake of ladyfingers or sponge cake, soaked in “alkermes” liquor, and alternated layers of chocolate and egg custard." You can read more in her book,“The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine – Centuries of Scrumptious Dining”, there is extensive information about culinary history of the various regions of Italy.

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Cannoli (Recipe)



I love Cannoli, it doesn't matter how you make them, I love them!

It has to be the best known Italian pastry ever, especially in southern Italy!

  My first experience with Cannoli would have to begin as a child, my father had a bakery in South Chicago where I have early memories of eating frozen Cannoli!

  They were like rich creamy ice cream cones to me with lots of crunchy pistachios on each one! These Cannoli were the real thing they had diced Citron and Candied fruit.  They were made with Rose Water, chocolate and real pistachios on the ends not green colored almonds!

Flashback - My father teaching me how to make Cannoli filling telling about the most important thing being that you're ricotta cheese is drained well and run through a food mill so it's smooth!

 He also shared with me his secret that he had, which was using oil of cinnamon. He explained to me as if this was a secret flavor and If I told anyone I would be betraying a family secret!

 The way he would put it into the Cannoli filling was by dipping a toothpick into the oil of cinnamon and then flicking it into the mix.

He would then take a dollop of the ricotta cheese and put it on top of the oil of cinnamon and make sure it was incorporated into the mix and not just sticking on the sides of the bowl.

 It was as if this was the magic secret ingredient that he put in and only he knew about it.

Well least that was my impression is young man.

The recipe I'm giving you here for the Cannoli shells uses Marsala wine which will give it a little bit of sweetness and wine flavor to the shell. My grandfather Salera used red wine vinegar and ammonium carbonate this would help in the leavening and flakiness of the shells.

This recipe uses more common ingredients found in your kitchen.  If you choose to use red wine vinegar instead of the marsala wine your Cannoli shells will be little tart in flavor but have a very reddish brown color.

I recommend making your Cannoli shells in advance putting them in a sealed container in a dry place and or in the freezer so when you need them you can fill them as needed like they do in the pastry shops. As far as the Cannoli filling, it may certainly keep it in the refrigerator and freezer as well.

I've searched on the Internet and found a few videos showing how Cannoli are made, frankly if you haven't made them before they can be a little tricky. Especially when you're trying to make the shells, it's always helpful to have a little visual aid. See Cook-Italian TV

The image seen above is from a Sicilian bakery, they are true authentic Cannolis. In this instance the baker took the Cannoli shells and lined them with dark melted chocolate so the filled Cannoli would not get soggy.  They then dip the edges of the Cannoli shell into chopped pistachios and use the decorative maraschino cherry as well.

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Pastiera Napoletana


Pie shell for pastaria
Pastaria ready to eat
Photos by Maggie Soladay

As I was searching for for Pastiera Napoletana. I came across this great piece written by Carla Passino,


I also have included a recipe that I found in the Ambassador Magazine of the

 National Italian American Foundation


Ms. Passino covers some Naples classics. 

-"The first thing that strikes you about Pastiera Napoletana is its scent. It’s like smelling a bouquet of orange flowers. Indeed orange flower water and orange peel go into this pie, which has a crisp golden crust and a soft, creamy filling of ricotta, sugar, eggs and cooked wheat, flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla.


 It is so heavenly that legend wants it to be the creation of a siren, Partenope, protectress of Naples, who concocted it from the food offerings the populace brought her every spring. The cake, Neapolitans say, was the only thing that was sweeter than the siren’s voice.


Another story gives Pastiera Napoletana equally sacred but more modern origins—it is said that a nun of a Neapolitan convent first made it to celebrate Easter, and tried to capture in the recipe the scents of Spring blooming in the cloister garden. Indeed, Pastiera was long the preserve of nunneries, which excelled at making the cake.


Today, it is made at home, usually on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, so that the flavors have time to blend and steep before the Easter banquet.


Recipe from the Italian Culinary Institute in New York City


2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups lard
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 egg yolks

*Vegetable shortening can replace lard, but lard is the traditional ingrediient in this Neapolitan specialty and adds to the pie's distinctive taste.


In a mixing bowl, cut the lard into the flour until fine crumbs form.

Make a well in the center. Add 5 yolks.

Bring the dough together by pulling and pressing, avoiding excess kneading. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Roll out the dough and line the pan. Dough should fold over the edge of the pie pan.

Reserve leftover frolla to cut 3/4 inch strips for the top of the pie.

Note: Frolla made with lard is very fragile. We rolled to a little thicker than 1/8 inch within an envelope of wax paper, then removed the top layer of wax paper and flipped the frolla into the pie pan. Frolla dough can be refrigerated overnight.



17 oz. sheep ricotta (or cow ricotta)
2 cups sugar


Crumble the ricotta and place into a mixing bowl.

Fold in sugar well by hand.

Let stand overnight in the refrigerator; Return to room temperature for mixing into the filling.

Some recipes call for straining the ricogtta before adding it.  this is not necessary. 


Recipe is a combination of one taught at Italian Culinary Institute and a traditional recipe from Chef Guido Magnuagno.


1 cup hulled wheat berry soaked in water for 12 hours (Water can be changed 1 or 2 times, if desired)
6 oz. milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon orange blossom water

Zest of 1/2 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (1 tbsp. in reserve)
1 tablespoon sugar Water to cover Hint of salt

Drain water from the grain.

Place grain, zest, lemon juice, sugar, crumbled cinnamon stick and salt in a covered saucepan under a low flame with enough water to cover.

Cook until grain is somewhat softer and larger, or about 25 to 30 minutes.

Drain the water. Place the wheat and all other ingredients back in the saucepan and add milk. (If the grain is salty, add reserved lemon juice.) Stir vigorously for another 10 minutes or until the mixture is creamy (not sticky), and the grain is al dente.

Remove and place into a mixing bowl.


Recipe is a combination of Italian Culinary Institute's recipe and a traditional one.


Pre-prepared Ricotta/Sugar mixture ('The Ricotta")

1 1/4 cups pre-prepared wheat mixture ('The Grain")
4 eggs, 3 yolks*

4 teaspoons orange blossom water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tbsp. lard

1/3 cup freshly made candied fruit (orange and lemon)
Dash of cinnamon Confectioner's Sugar for dusting

*Yolks result in a dense pie; if you wish to have a lighter consistency, replace them with 2 egg whites. Whip separately and add 2 tbs. sugar right before they peak. Fold in at the end, after the wheat has been added to the filling, and just before emptying the filling into the frolla.


Add the following ingredients to the pre-prepared ricotta/ sugar mixture: 4 eggs and 2 yolks, lard, vanilla, orange blossom water and cinnamon. Whip with a hand mixer until smooth.

Add candied fruit and pre­prepared grain. Blend by hand.

In a small bowl, whip 1 yolk with 2 tsp. water.



Roll out reserved dough to a greater thickness than crust (more than 1/8 inch) in an envelope of wax paper. Remove the top sheet of wax paper and cut four strips about 3/4 inch wide. (Less experienced bakers may wish to cut more than four strips so that if a strip tears in the middle of the pie, it can be picked out of the filling and quickly replaced with another.)

Brush yolk and water mixture over the frolla around the edges of the pie pan.

Spoon filling into the pie pan.

Replace the wax paper over the strips of frolla so that only one strip is exposed at one time. Flip the strip diagonally over the filling carefully securing  the strip at each edge of the pie. Repeat to create a lattice design.

Brush yolk and water mixture over the strips.

Place pie in oven pre-heated to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Lower oven to 325 degrees and cook for another 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


Cool and then refrigerate la pastiera for an hour or more before dusting it generously with confectioner's sugar. Pie should be refrigerated. It will stay fresh for four or five days.