Professionally trained chef and owner of Food Lover's Odyssey Vacations. Sharing my love for the food, wine and culture of Italy and France with travelers since 2009.Read More
This recent trip to Naples wasn’t only about the pizza. With delicious food that ranges from fried treats to decadent desserts, Neapolitan cuisine can satisfy any food lover. This food lover absolutely sampled as much as possible. Before delving into the Neapolitan sauces I learned to make with Napoli Unplugged, let’s start with my favorite course: dessert!
On my first day in the city, I got a rather impromptu pastry lesson on the streets of Naples. While patiently waiting for the walk sign before crossing the street and holding my first pastry purchase of the trip carefully in front of me, I saw two guys cross AGAINST the light! I laughed at myself because it was then I realized how much safer it might be to cross with them and when there were no cars instead of waiting for a light to give me some false sense of security.
One of the guys mistook my laughing as flirtation, and stopped to talk. Certain that I was a foreigner, his first question was, “Di dove sei?” (Where are you from?). What actually gave my foreign status away, I’m not sure: was it my red hair and pasty skin or the fact that I was actually waiting for a traffic light? After I answered he called out to his friend, “Ay, Oh, lei e Amerigana!”
His Neapolitan accent, pronouncing “Americana” with the hard g and the “Ay” and “Oh” to get his friend’s attention, made me laugh even harder. This, of course, only encouraged them. I continued to chat for a while and soon the subject of food came up.
They peeked into my bag and proceeded to school me on the make up of the Zeppole di San Giuseppe I had in my hand. While they might have been the most unlikely source of information, what they said was similar to the information those in the pastry shops gave me. Besides, they were a fun intro to my pastry-eating adventures in Napoli.
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Below are photos and a few details of what I learned during my journey through the pastries of Napoli:
Sfogliatelle (Riccia) – To thoroughly appreciate this pastry, you need to eat it right out of the oven while it’s still warm. (Like Parisian croissants and other viennoiserie, sfogliatella loses its deliciousness after a few hours.) The crust is crunchy and flaky and the filling creamy and not overly sweet. The crust is a sort of puff pastry, where thin layers of pastry are rolled into a cylinder. Between each layer of pastry is a thin layer of lard. The pastry is formed into its famous clam-like shell and filled with a custard-like mixture of semolina, ricotta, eggs, sugar, candied citrus and a pinch of cinnamon.
Sfogliatelle Frolla – The sister to the riccia (curly), the frolla uses pasta frolla (shortbread crust) instead of the flaky sfoglia crust. The filling is the same; a mixture of semolina, ricotta, eggs, sugar, candied citrus and cinnamon.
Baba au Rhum – A yeast-levened cake soaked in a rum simple syrup, these and the sfogliatelle are the sweet symbols of Napoli. You can find baba (bah-BAH) plain, like the one above, or filled with fruit and sweetened whipped cream, Nutella, pastry cream, and even ricotta cream. I prefer the ones filled to offset the rum in the syrup.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe – These pastries are in abundance in pastry shops all over the city during the days surrounding il giorno di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day), March 19th. It’s a choux paste piped in a ring shape. The paste/dough is either fried or baked, and then filled with a lemon pastry cream and topped with macerated Amarena cherries.
As I stated, they come in two forms, fried and baked. At the first pastry shop I asked the clerk which was better. I got a look from him that said, “It’s obvious, Amerigana” as he told me, “I fritti” (the fried ones). At the second pastry shop, when I specifically asked for the one “al forno” (baked), I again got a look from the clerk, letting me know that I obviously chose the wrong one. I had to try both, and both were quite good. Yes, the fried one is better.
Torta Caprese – This is a flourless chocolate cake from the Isle of Capri. There are many versions depending on how fine you chop the almonds. I prefer that the almonds are finely chopped, creating a denser and moister cake. At Pasticceria Scaturchio they used more coarsely chopped almonds, but the cake was still quite moist due to a bit of liqueur included in the recipe.
Torta Caprese al Limone – This is the lemon version to the chocolate cake from Capri. White chocolate and lemon, lemon rind, and limoncello replace the dark chocolate and cocoa powder to give you a dense cake full of lemon flavor. Also flourless, this cake uses ground almonds. Like the chocolate version, much of the texture depends on how finely you chop the almonds.
Delizia al Limone – As its name says, it’s a lemon delight. Lemon sponge cake imbibed with a limoncello spiked simple syrup, filled with lemon pastry cream and iced with lemon flavored whipped cream. If you love the lemons, especially the lemons from the Amalfi coast, this is your dessert. (We’ll make this dessert together during the Food Lover’s Amalfi Coast vacation!)
Ricotta e Pera – Ricotta cream and whipped cream together with poached pears are sandwiched between a hazelnut biscotti, and sometimes two layers of sponge cake. I found that restaurants usually serve this dessert with the sponge cake, probably to make it easier to eat. Pastry shops usually serve it with the biscotti. While the crunchy biscotti pushes out the soft center when you’re eating it, causing a bit of mess when eating, I still prefer it for the contrast in textures.
Pastiera – “Non puo mancare sulla tavola di Pasqua” (It can’t be missing on the Easter table) – This is the saying I saw and heard whenever the subject of Pastiera came up. Because I was in Naples during the “Easter season” (which seems to start immediately after Carnevale), I sampled several. It was in every pastry shop and on every restaurant menu while I was there in March.
The crust is a pasta frolla, traditionally made with lard (strutto) instead of butter. The filling is a ricotta cream and egg mixture that is lightly flavored with rose flower water an studded with cooked hulled wheatberries (grano precotto) and sometimes candied citrus fruit. (I thought the candied citrus fruit was a must, but a Neapolitan restauranteur told me they are optional – and even made a special Pastiera without the candied citrus for me).
Scaturchio’s – Napoli’s oldest pasticceria
The chocolate disk in the top photo isn’t a pastry you’ll find throughout Naples, but it is the specialty of Scaturchio’s. It’s their Ministeriale, a chocolate medallion filled with a chocolate and liqueur cream. It was very good and very rich, with a potent punch of liqueur. I may have been a little drunk after eating it.
Most of the pastries in these photos came from Scaturchio’s (the oldest pastry shop in Naples) or the Gran Caffe Cimmino.
Scaturchio – Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, 19
Gran Caffe Cimmino – via Gaetano Filangeri, 12