Pastiera Napoletana or Barley Cake from Naples
Every month Grazia Barletta prepares a recipe from the history of the Church in her Cape Town kitchen, and shares it with our readers in text and photos taken by the chef herself.
The Modern Pastiera, or Barley Easter Cake, was invented in a Neapolitan convent. One of the nuns wanted that cake, a symbol of the Resurrection, to have the perfume of the citrus flowers which grew in the convent gardens. She mixed a handful of grains with white ricotta cheese, and then added eggs, symbol of the new life, and candied citron and grated lemon zest.
We know that the nuns of the ancient convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, Italy — its church holds the relics of St Patricia of Naples, whose blood is said to liquefy periodically — were considered to be geniuses in the complex preparation of the pastiera.
The cake has to be prepared over three days, starting no later than Good Friday to be ready by Easter (or any other three days), to allow fragrances to mix properly and result in its unique flavour.
Preparation: 3 days • Baking: 45-50 min
Servings: 4 large tarts (freezes well)
PREPARATION – DAY 1:
1. Place 250g of barley in a bowl and add enough water to cover the grains. Add 10ml salt and leave to soak overnight.
Once the barley is swollen, transfer it to a pot, and throw out the soaking salt water. Add fresh water, just enough to cover the barley in the pot. Cook till soft.
Add the following ingredients to the soft barley and cook till creamy:
• 500ml milk
• 20ml cinnamon
• 1 lemon rind
• 50g butter
Let cool, then refrigerate overnight.
Use these ingredients for the pastry:
• 500g self-raising flour
• 150g butter
• 5 large eggs
• 40ml sugar
• 2ml salt
• 5ml vanilla extract or essence
Combine all ingredients to form a soft dough, then roll out to a thin layer, and cover the base of four foil pie-plates.
For the filling use:
• Grated zest of 2 lemons
• 100g candied citrus peel
• 2 tubs of ricotta cheese
• 5ml vanilla extract or essence
• 6 large eggs
• 100ml sugar
• 40ml coffee liqueur (optional)
1. Add all the ingredients together with the barley mix from the fridge. Stir with a spoon till it’s smooth, with bits of barley visible. Taste to make sure you are happy with the sweetness.
2. Add filling to the pie-plates.
3. With the spare dough, make lattices for the tops of the tarts: three horizontal and three vertical layers (see photo).
4. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C till golden (around 30-45 minutes; check with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked in the middle).
5. Sift icing sugar over the cakes once they are cool.
6. Enjoy and say a prayer to St Patricia of Naples!
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