Pastiera Napoletana and its Secrets – Authentic Neapolitan Ricotta and Wheat Berry Easter Pie Step-by-Step

Pastiera Napoletana is one of the most delicious Neapolitan cake known for its crispy crust and its insanely addictive perfumed filling that is rich and soft like a cheesecake – thanks to ricotta – but grainy like a rice pudding – thanks to whole wheat berries – simply amazing!


pastiera napoletana best neapolitan ricotta wheat berrye aster pie cake

Pastiera (pron. Puhss-tee-A-ruh) is a classic Easter pie, especially in Naples area, and is usually made on spring time but nowadays you can find it in restaurants or pastry shops all year around.

This cake – dated back to the ‘700 in Gregorio Armeno convent in Naples – is easy to make especially if you follow my instructions (and secrets) step by step although it takes time and planning – the most dedicated of pastiera bakers insist that it should take at least 3 days to make it (from Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday) – but there really isn’t much “work time” – just more “wait time” and the end result is well worth every minute you spend on it, trust me!

Today’s post isn’t just a recipe. It’s a lesson.
And I’ve really made some effort to keep this post from being too long, but I really want you to make this, so I’m guiding you through every single visual-step with photos so you know exactly what you are doing.

You’re not convinced to make it yet, right?

I really want you to challenge yourself and making this pie that tastes SO UNBELIEVABLY GOOD from scratch and of course even for the pleasure of making something remarkable, traditional and timeless.

Do you really want to miss this beauty???

pastiera authentic italian ricotta berry pie cake

No, you don’t, right? So let’s keep reading this TO-DIE-FOR recipe and I promise you’ll be so amazed by this pie that even a Neapolitan wouldn’t believe you made it. – Yes, you read that right.
By making this pie you may say you’re italian and you will fool even an italian – on condition that you won’t let your english accent to be heard, of course!

I searched and tested several recipes before finding THE ONE. Every family has their own recipe and along the italian boot you can find millions of variations. The latest (newest) ways of preparing pastiera is by using custard (instead of just eggs) to make the filling softer and wetter, but I’m not in favor of that, it would change too much the tradition and you know how much I love keeping heritage alive! And BTW, if you do in the right way the classic recipe you still have a soft and moist filling.
(10/04/2015 update: in all Penisola Sorrentina, not in Naples, it’s tradition to use pastry cream in the Pastiera filling, this dated back to about 100+ years.)

What I did is finding the most traditional homestyle recipe and adapting it to a modern palate. The result is a comfort and tasty pie crust (called “pasta frolla” in italian) filled with whole wheat berries cooked in milk, half “creamied up” with a mixer for a softer consistency – so you don’t have a too crunchy and crumbly texture – mixed with ricotta, eggs, sugar, candied citron, a mix of spices and the typical “springy” scent of orange blossom.

Pastiera Napoletana – Authentic Neapolitan Ricotta and Wheat Berry Easter Pie

Difficulty: medium
Preparation: 1 1/2 hour = 20 minutes for the Pie Crust + 60 minutes for the filling
Cooking Time: 90 minutes
Yield: 12-16 servings (one 30cm / 12inch ø pie or two 22cm / 9inch ø pies)

INGREDIENTS:

Pie Crust or “Pasta Frolla”

  • 500 gr / 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 200 gr / 7 oz / 2 sticks lard/butter at room temperature (tradition says lard for longer shelf life)
  • 200 gr / 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 lemon zest (only the yellow part of the lemon, not the bitter white one)

Ricotta and Wheat Berry filling

  • 550 gr / 1.2 lbs cooked wheat berries* (“cooked grain” or “grano cotto“)
  • 400 ml / 1+3/4 cups whole cow’s milk
  • 40 gr / 3 tbsp butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • 600 gr / 1.4 lbs sheeps’s ricotta (or at least a mix with cow)
  • 500 gr to 600 gr / 2 to 2.5 cups granulated sugar (I use 500 gr –  ≈ 2 full cups)
  • 7 medium eggs
  • 1 orange zest or 5-8 drops of pure Sweet Orange essential oil (organic!!!)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 3-4 tbsp orange blossom water or 4 gr orange blossom flavouring or 8-10 drops of pure Neroli essential oil (organic)
  • 70 gr / 1/2 cup chopped candied citron** – I don’t recommend getting the waxy, artificially coloured stuff…

Garnish

  • powdered sugar / icing sugar

cooked wheat berriesif you cannot find cooked wheat berries: put 200 gr / 7 oz uncooked wheat berries in a bowl covered with water for 3 days – changing water twice a day to clean them. Drain and rinse under cold water then simmer for about 1 1/2 hours without stirring, until soft. Drain and reserve until needed (cooked wheat berries can be stored in the fridge for a week).

** if you don’t like eating chopped candied fruits just leave them out or mix them along with half wheat berries. I prefer the latter because the taste of candied fruits give a boost to the pie and you won’t feel their presence.

INSTRUCTIONS

DAY 1 (Maundy Thursday) – 30 minutes

In a heavy bottomed saucepan place the cooked wheat berries with butter, milk and a pinch of salt over medium heat, stirring occasionally (to avoid the berries from sticking onto the bottom of the pan) until it becomes thick and creamy like oatmeal, about 30 minutes.
Let it cool then place in a cool and dry place covered (OUTSIDE the fridge) for about 12 hours.

wheat berry milk butter

(I used a Thermo mixer that helped me in the cooking)

wheat berry milk

(I used a Thermo mixer that helped me in the cooking)

In the meanwhile, mix well ricotta with sugar.

ricotta sugar

Place this creamy mixture in a clean* cotton cloth and store in the fridge for about 12 hours (*do not use fabric softener on the cloth!).
That’s the SECRET that neapolitan grandmothers always used to do to drain ricotta from water. (IMPORTANT STEP)

ricotta inside cloth ricotta enclosed cloth

DAY 2 (Good Friday) – 50 minutes

To make the Pie Crust

Place in a bowl flour, sugar, butter/lard and lemon zest and combine with a fork or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal – you can do this by using a food processor for about 15 seconds.

pie crust ingredients lard butter lemon zest pastry blender cutter butter flour

Add 3 medium eggs and 1 yolk and mix JUST until the dough is uniform and holds together.

pie crust dough orange eggs

Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Divide the dough into two pieces one larger than the other.

pie dough ball cut

Cover both with plastic wrap and refrigerate before using (this will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour) – you can do this passage on DAY 1 if you want.

pie crust balls plastic wrap

To make the filling

Remove ricotta from the cloth and put it in a bowl.
It should look dry like that.

dry ricotta cotton cloth pastiera secret

Add eggs, cinnamon (optional), vanilla and orange blossom flavouring and stir until all is mixed well – do not over beat! – freshly beaten eggs will make the filling rise while cooking then sink when cooled, presenting a hollow and some cracking on top and you don’t want that, right?

ricotta orange eggs vanilla cinnamon mixed ricotta eggs pastiera pie

In a mixer, blend half the amout of wheat berries – this will ensure a creamier filling. As I said before, if you don’t like eating pieces of candied citron you can blend them now with wheat berries – but tradition says to use them whole.

blender wheat berries candied citron wheat berry

Add wheat berries (whole and mixed) to the (yellow) ricotta mixture along with finely chopped candied citron if you don’t have mixed it before.

To make Pastiera Napoletana

Preheat the oven to 325° F (165° C – gas mark 3) and place oven rack in the center of the oven.

Remove the larger pie dough from the fridge and place it on a wax/baking paper.

Put another wax/baking paper over the dough – to prevent the pastry from sticking to the rolling pin and to ensure uniform thickness – and roll the pastry into a 14 inch (36 cm) circle – about 1/8 – 1/4 inch (0,3 – 0,5 cm) thick.

pie crust rolling pin easy rolled pie crust baking paper

Gently remove the first wax/baking paper and transfer the dough to a 12 inch (30cm) greased springform pan (you can leave the second baking paper, your choice).

remove baking paper rolled pie crust

rolled pasta frolla pie crust pastiera pan pie crust pasta frolla pan

Make sure that the height of the edge has to be 2.5 inch (6 cm) – if the pie is shorter pastiera would be drier while if it’s taller pastiera would be too moist, so that’s the best height for a good pastiera.

holes pie crust pan pasta frolla

Poke holes with a toothpick or a fork all over the pie. This will prevent air pockets during the cooking.

Put the filling onto the pastry base.

filling pie crust pastiera

Remove from the fridge the remaining dough ball and roll out the pastry using the wax/baking paper method used before.

With a pastry wheel cut 5 long strips 1.5 inch (4cm) wide (this width is a peculiarity of pastiera) – usually narrower strips are used for fruit tarts.

If room temperature is a bit hot and it’s messing up the working of the pastry dough, you can help to chill the dough by putting some ice bags on it, before removing the baking paper.

pie crust ice

Using an offset spatula, gently transfer the strips to the pie: lay them across the top of the pie to form a criss cross diamond pattern (not square) (2 strips under and 3 over).

pie crust pasta frolla strips

Trim the edges of the strips to fit the pan then lightly press the pastry around the edges to seal.

Now, if you want, you can brush the pastry gently with some egg wash (whisk one egg with 1tbsp milk or cream) to make it shiny like those pastieras sold in bakeries.

Bake Pastiera for about 90 minutes at 325°F (165°C – gas mark 3) until the crust is golden and the filling is amber-brown on top.

It’s important, though, not to open the oven door while it’s baking (or at least for the first 45 minutes) as the batter may collapse.

The long cooking time at low temperature allow pastiera to cook evenly and to remain lightly moist inside – this will also ensure a longer shelf life.

When Pastiera is baked, turn off the oven, open the oven door and leave the pie in the turned off oven for about 15 minutes.

When it’s cooled, store Pastiera in its pan covered with plastic wrap in a cool place (room temperature), DO NOT refrigerate (if you’re not living in the caribbean of course).

pastiera out oven easter

Try with all your self control to wait until 2 days before eating a slice.

DAY 3 (Holy Saturday)

Wait…. I know, waiting is torture. Pure torture.
But if you can wait, this delicious “springy” parfumed pie is even more flavourful and moist on day 3 or 4 – heavenly I say.
It takes A LOT of willpower, so ummm… you definitely don’t have to wait…. but resting time allow flavours and spices to mingle nicely, so have a try….

DAY 4 (Easter)

Dust neapolitan pastiera with a bit of powdered sugar and…… here it is, the Majesty Queen Pastiera Napoletana ready to be devoured!

pastiera napoletana best ricotta easter pie

Pastiera can be stored at room temperature (covered with plastic wrap) for about 5 days, although I have never had one last that long.

neapolitan pastiera easter pie

You can even freeze it and when you want to eat it just thaw the pie out (or a slice) and leave it – well covered – at room temperature (do not microwave). It will be like fresh-made.

pastiera authentic italian ricotta berry pie cake

Pastiera Napoletana pie is totally not bikini friendly, I know, but totally worth every bite and BTW your mind would be so grateful, this is what’s really important (at least make it once a year!). And as I always say, let’s put us on a diet tomorrow, not today!

best pastiera italian pie closeup

MORE TECHNICAL INFORMATION FOR PASTIERA EXPERTS:

If you follow the recipe above, you’ll turn out to have a perfect Pastiera but if you want to make some changes you need to know several things to help you out.

You need to balance liquids and solids to obtain good results so:

  • if ricotta is too wet you need to use drier wheat berries (they need to have absorbed all the liquid when cooked in milk);
  • if ricotta is dry you need to use creamy wheat berries (not overcooked in milk);
  • the batter needs to be creamy (a bit thick) – if it’s too liquid you need to add eggs – so, when cooked, they create a retaining structure and the pie won’t droop in the middle.

authentic italian ricotta pie naples Other related recipes you may like:

best italian cheesecake ricotta mascarpone fluffy soft Authentic Italian Cheesecake (Torta di Ricotta e Mascarpone)

authentic gelatin-free panna cotta best perfect italian Piedmont Authentic Gelatin-Free Panna Cotta

tenerina pie cake best italian ferrara chocolate tender heart Tenerina: tender, rich and delicate chocolate pie

Pastiera Napoletana and its Secrets - Authentic Neapolitan Ricotta and Wheat Berry Easter Pie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Pastiera Napoletana is one of the most delicious "springy" Neapolitan cake known for its crispy crust and its insanely addictive perfumed filling that is rich and soft but grainy like a rice pudding, simply amazing! - Please read through the recipe in full before beginning.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 12-16
Ingredients
Pie Crust or "Pasta Frolla"
  • 500 gr / 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 200 gr / 7 oz / 2 sticks lard/butter at room temperature (traditions says lard for longer shelf life)
  • 200 gr / 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 lemon zest (only the yellow part of the lemon, not the bitter white part)
Ricotta and Wheat Berry filling
  • 550 gr / 1.2 lbs cooked wheat berries
  • 400 ml / 1+3/4 cups whole cow's milk
  • 40 gr / 3 tbsp butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • --
  • 600 gr / 1.4lbs sheep's ricotta
  • 500 gr to 600 gr / 2 to 2.5 cups granulated sugar (I use 500 gr - ≈ 2 full cups)
  • --
  • 7 medium eggs
  • 1 orange zest or 5-8 drops of pure Sweet Orange essential oil (organic)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1½ tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 3-4 tbsp orange blossom water or 4 gr orange blossom flavouring or 6-8 drops of pure Neroli essential oil (organic)
  • 70 gr / ½ cup chopped candied citron
Garnish
  • Powdered sugar
Instructions
DAY 1 (Maundy Thursday) - 30 minutes
  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan place the cooked wheat berries with butter, milk and a pinch of salt over medium heat, stirring occasionally (to avoid the berries from sticking onto the bottom of the pan) until it becomes thick and creamy like oatmeal, about 30 minutes.
  2. Let it cool then place in a cool and dry place covered (OUTSIDE the fridge) for about 12 hours.
  3. In the meanwhile, mix ricotta with sugar. Place this creamy mixture in a clean* cotton cloth and store in the fridge for about 12 hours (*do not use fabric softener on the cloth!). (IMPORTANT STEP)
DAY 2 (Good Friday) - 50 minutes
To make the Pie Crust
  1. Place in a bowl flour, sugar, butter/lard and lemon zest and combine with a fork or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal - you can do this by using a food processor for about 15 seconds.
  2. Add 3 medium eggs and 1 yolk and mix JUST until the dough is uniform and holds together.
  3. Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball.
  4. Divide the dough into two pieces one larger than the other. Cover both with plastic wrap and refrigerate before using (this will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour) - you can do this passage on DAY 1 if you want.
To make the filling
  1. Remove ricotta from the cloth and put it in a bowl.
  2. Add eggs, cinnamon (optional), vanilla and orange blossom flavouring and stir until all is mixed well - do not over beat!
  3. In a mixer, blend half the amout of wheat berries (and citron if you like) - this will ensure a creamier filling.
  4. Add wheat berries (whole and mixed) to the ricotta mixture along with finely chopped candied citron if you don't have mixed it before.
To make Pastiera Napoletana
  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F (165° C - gas mark 3) and place oven rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Remove the larger pie dough from the fridge and place it on a wax/baking paper.
  3. Put another wax/baking paper over the dough - to prevent the pastry from sticking to the rolling pin and to ensure uniform thickness - and roll the pastry into a 14 inch (36 cm) circle - about ⅛ - ¼ inch (0,3 - 0,5 cm) thick.
  4. Gently remove the first wax/baking paper and transfer the dough to a 12 inch (30cm) greased springform pan (you can leave the second baking paper, your choice).
  5. Make sure that the height of the edge has to be 2.5 inch (6 cm).
  6. Poke holes with a toothpick or a fork all over the pie. This will prevent air pockets during the cooking.
  7. Put the filling onto the pastry base.
  8. Remove from the fridge the remaining dough ball and roll out the pastry using the wax/baking paper method used before.
  9. With a pastry wheel cut 5 long strips 1.5 inch (4cm) wide (this width is a peculiarity of pastiera) - usually narrower strips are used for fruit tarts.
  10. Using an offset spatula, gently transfer the strips to the pie: lay them across the top of the pie to form a criss cross diamond pattern (not square) (2 strips under and 3 over).
  11. Trim the edges of the strips to fit the pan then lightly press the pastry around the edges to seal.
  12. Now, if you want, you can brush the pastry gently with some egg wash (whisk one egg with 1tbsp milk or cream) to make it shiny like those pastieras sold in bakeries.
  13. Bake Pastiera for about 90 minutes at 325°F (165°C - gas mark 3) until the crust is golden and the filling is amber-brown on top.
  14. When Pastiera is baked, turn off the oven, open the oven door and leave the pie in the turned off oven for about 15 minutes.
  15. When it's cooled, store Pastiera in its pan covered with plastic wrap in a cool place (room temperature), DO NOT refrigerate (if you're not living in the caribbean of course).
  16. Try with all your self control to wait until 2 days before eating a slice.
DAY 3 (Holy Saturday)
  1. Wait
DAY 4 (Easter)
  1. Dust neapolitan pastiera with a bit of powdered sugar and...... here it is, the Majesty Queen Pastiera Napoletana ready to be devoured!
Notes
If you don't like eating chopped candied fruits just leave them out or mix them along with half wheat berries. I prefer the latter because the taste of candied fruits give a boost to the pie and you won't feel their presence.
Do not open the oven door while it's baking (or at least for the first 45 minutes) as the batter may collapse.

Pastiera can be stored at room temperature (covered with plastic wrap) for about 5 days.

You can even freeze it and when you want to eat it just thaw the pie out (or a slice) and leave it - well covered - at room temperature (do not microwave). It will be like fresh-made.

Authentic Gelatin-Free Panna Cotta

Thinking of a famous dessert you can find in almost every italian restaurant, I remembered how my grandmothers use to do it, with simple and easy available ingredients. I’ve made several tests to achieve a perfect result because unfortunately I didn’t have a recipe in hand….. so now let’s talk about a delicious, creamy, delicate and authentic gelatin-free Panna Cotta!


authentic gelatin-free panna cotta best perfect italian

Panna Cotta (pron. pun-nuh cot-tuh – means “cooked cream”) is a great italian dessert, born in the Piedmont region and then widespread all over Italy, generally made from cream, set with gelatine, served chilled and topped with chocolate, wild berries or caramel sauce.

But some time ago people didn’t have widely available gelatin in their pantry and they used egg whites instead. So this recipe can be useful to use up leftover egg whites instead of throwing them away (you can freeze extra egg whites and defrost them in the fridge when you’re ready to use them).

Today you can find gelatin in every grocery store and you can do Panna Cotta easily in few minutes, but I like this traditional Panna Cotta recipe the most because I think it has the real Panna Cotta taste.

parmigiano reggiano discount

Authentic Gelatin-Free Panna Cotta

Difficulty: medium
Preparation: 5 minutes + cooling time Cooking Time: 90 minutes
Yield: 4

Ingredients:

  • 500 ml double / heavy cream (2+1/3 cup)
  • 150 gr egg whites (about 5 medium eggs, but try to be precise) *
  • 80/100 gr granulated white sugar (I use 80 gr / 3 oz) *
  • 1/2 empty vanilla pod or 1/4 vanilla pod with seeds

(*I prefer to not convert these ingredients in volume measures because in desserts the weights are essential for the final result)

Instructions:

Place the cream, sugar and vanilla pod in a pan and bring to the simmer. Remove from heat, remove the vanilla pod and let cool.

cream vanilla pod sugar panna cotta

Preheat oven to 300°F – 150°C – gas mark 2.

In a bowl beat the egg whites with a fork, paying attention to not create foam or bubbles or your Panna Cotta will come out with holes, until the whites are become liquid quite like water and have lost elasticity. If you can find them at the grocery store, use pasteurized egg whites that are better because they usually are perfectly liquid.

Update: a reader commented saying that she used an immersion blender to beat the egg whites instead of a fork. It took about 15 seconds to make the texture like water, and by keeping the whole blade under the surface it made no bubbles.

egg whites bubbles

Add egg whites to the cream mixture (as you can see from the picture above, I created foam, because I was in a hurry, but I resolved by using a sieve in adding egg whites to the cream mixture and it also stopped any egg whites impurities).

Mix well with a fork and divide the mixture among buttered non-stick moulds.

panna cotta mixture mould

Immediately, pour boiling water into a baking pan until the water level reach 3/4 of the moulds.

panna cotta boiling water

Place the moulds in the pan (bain-marie method).

panna cotta moulds baking pan

The picture may show 1/3, but the boiling water has to reach 3/4 of the moulds height.

Bake at 300°F – 150°C – gas mark 2 for 1 1/2 hour (90 minutes) or until the surface is golden brown.
If you bake Panna Cotta at 275°F – 140°C – gas mark 1 you would need about 2 hours and the surface will be less coloured.

Turn off the oven and let cool Panna Cotta completely inside it before covering the moulds with plastic wrap.

panna cotta baked

Refrigerate several hours (at least 4).

To serve, unmould the Panna Cotta by passing a thin knife, or a long needle, heated in boiling water around the inside of each one. Turn each Panna Cotta out onto a dessert plate holding the base with a warm cloth to help the release. If you don’t like the soft brown crust at the end of Panna Cotta, remove it before serving.

Spoon your favourite sauce or fresh fruit over or just dust with some icing sugar.

authentic gelatin-free panna cotta italian best

Ooops! Sorry, I couldn’t wait! 😉

authentic gelatin-free panna cotta eat best

And now you have your creamy, hearty, authentic Panna Cotta! Yes, it’s a bit long recipe but really worth the results!

Authentic Gelatin-Free Panna Cotta
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Creamy, hearty, authentic Panna Cotta!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500 ml double / heavy cream (2+1/3 cup)
  • 150 gr egg whites (about 5 medium eggs, but try to be precise) *
  • 80/100 gr granulated white sugar (I use 80 gr / 3 oz) *
  • ½ empty vanilla pod or ¼ vanilla pod with seeds
Instructions
  1. Place the cream, sugar and vanilla pod in a pan and bring to the simmer.
  2. Remove from heat, remove the vanilla pod and let cool.
  3. Preheat oven to 300°F - 150°C - gas mark 2.
  4. In a bowl beat the egg whites with a fork, paying attention to not create foam or bubbles or your Panna Cotta will come out with holes, until the whites are become liquid quite like water and have lost elasticity.
  5. Add egg whites to the cream mixture..
  6. Mix well with a fork and divide the mixture among buttered non-stick moulds.
  7. Immediately, pour boiling water into a baking pan until the water level reach ¾ of the moulds.
  8. Place the moulds into the pan (bain-marie method).
  9. Bake at 300°F - 150°C - gas mark 2 for 1½ hour (90 minutes) or until the surface is golden brown. If you bake Panna Cotta at 275°F - 140°C - gas mark 1 you would need about 2 hours and the surface will be less coloured.
  10. Turn off the oven and let cool Panna Cotta completely inside it before covering the moulds with plastic wrap.
  11. Refrigerate several hours (at least 4).
  12. To serve, unmould the Panna Cotta by passing a thin knife, or a long needle, heated in boiling water around the inside of each one. Turn each Panna Cotta out onto a dessert plate holding the base with a warm cloth to help the release.
  13. If you don't like the soft brown crust at the end of Panna Cotta, remove it before serving.
  14. Spoon your favourite sauce or fresh fruit over or just dust with some icing sugar.