Pastiera Napoletana

I am a self-confessed dessert addict. If anything rich, creamy and sweet comes my way, I have to have it.  Since the Tuscan idea of dessert mostly tends to be healthy fresh fruit or biscotti, and doesn’t fully satisfy the dessert addict within, this Easter I’m turning to Southern Italy for some inspiration and tradition – the Pastiera Napoletana.

It’s rather like a cheesecake (of sorts) but with a pastry base and lattice top. When I first made one I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and thought it was probably one of the most mad desserts I’d ever come across – whole cooked grains, candied citrus, cinnamon, vanilla and orange blossom water flavour a sweet ricotta and egg base – it sounds intense but the combination is to die for. This bomb of a dessert has a texture that seems actually lighter and fluffier than a cheesecake and is surprisingly delicate.

The tradition of the Pastiera goes back to ancient times when it was a Spring time ritual and over the centuries, like many pagan rituals, it became a part of religious events and is now an Easter classic. Each individual ingredient is said to be symbolic, the most important one being the whole cooked grains, so try not to skip out on anything in this recipe!

Pastiera is an easy dessert but it takes time and planning and you cannot be in a rush to make this. These days it’s traditionally made for Easter Sunday lunch, which means that housewives all over Naples begin making this on the Thursday or at least the Friday before Easter – and this is for those using pre-cooked grains (grano cotto) that you can buy in a jar in Italian supermarkets. For those cooking their own grains, you need to begin that at least three days earlier. The grains are soaked in water, which is changed often over three days, and is then boiled in milk.

Ingredients for pastry:

  • 125 grams unsalted cold butter
  • 250 grams of flour
  • 1 whole egg, plus one yolk
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 100 grams of icing sugar

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 250 grams of cooked wheat berries (whole grains)*
  • 200 ml milk
  • 30 grams of butter
  • 350 grams of fresh ricotta (from sheep and cow’s milk, if you can get a mixture of both)
  • 350 grams of caster sugar
  • 2 whole eggs, plus two yolks
  • 100 grams of mixed candied citrus fruit (such as citron or orange), finely chopped
  • grated rind of one organic lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence (or 1 vanilla bean pod)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water

* If you cannot get your hands on whole cooked wheat berries, you can substitute with cooked barley or farro, though it’s unorthodox and would be slightly different.

For the pastry:

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Chop the cold butter into small pieces and rub into the dry ingredients (if you have a food processor, you can pulse this all together). When you get a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs, add the egg and lemon zest and knead until the mixture comes together. Don’t over do it. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:

Start on Thursday night. Heat the wheat berries in a saucepan over medium heat with the butter, milk and lemon rind. Bring it to a boil gently and stir for about ten minutes or until it becomes thick like porridge. Turn into a large bowl and let cool. If you are using uncooked grains, you will need to cook them first in water before doing this step.

On Friday, you can make the pastry and the rest of the filling. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the ricotta, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and orange blossom water. It should be creamy but liquid, with no lumps. If you can, leave this mixture overnight to rest – the reason for this is that the freshly beaten mixture put straight into the oven often creates a “soufflé effect” where the filling rises, then once cooled sinks in the middle. To create the perfect looking Pastiera, Neapolitan housewives in the know, leave their mixture to rest for a night. It also allows the mixture’s many flavours and spices to mingle nicely.

Roll out about two thirds of the pastry and place in a greased springform tin (about 28cm diameter). Cut off any overhang and add to the remaining pastry, roll out again and with a pastry wheel (a crimper, the one that makes ruffled edges is best), cut long strips about an inch or 2cm wide.

Once the grain mixture is cooled and the ricotta mixture is rested, fold these together with the finely chopped candied citrus. Fill the pastry base with this mixture and even out the borders of the pastry to the level of the mixture. Now add your lattice top – it’s really important that the criss-cross of your lattice creates a diamond shape, not a square – it just won’t look right! Press the lattice strips to the edge of the pastry very gentle, they will be floating delicately on top of the filling at this stage. You can brush the lattice gently with some egg to make it shiny.

Ideally it should now be the night before you need the Pastiera and you’re ready to bake. Pop the whole thing into a pre-heated oven of 200 degrees Celcius and bake for about 50-60 minutes. You are looking for perfectly done, crispy pastry and a beautiful amber-brown top. The whole house will smell amazing at this point.

Allow to cool completely inside the springform pan. By now it should be Sunday morning. Before serving, some like to sift icing sugar over the top but others like the pastry lattice top to be more evident. Once cooked, the Pastiera can be stored in the fridge for 4-5 days, if the entire household doesn’t eat it all well before that!

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15 Responses to “Pastiera Napoletana”
  1. Valeria says:

    I wanted to make pastiera for my newly-acquired American family that I am going to visit for the first time this week and this recipe is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks –especially for suggesting to use barley in case I cannot find wheat. Hope to find it at whole foods, though. Will see :) I brought the orange blossom essence and candied citrus from home –Italy.

    • Emiko says:

      Valeria, farro/barley is I think the closest substitute that may be easier to find, though it may be a bit denser and have a bit more bite to it. I also just saw today a pastiera made with bulgur instead of cooked wheat – it may be worth a try! Good luck!

  2. Sissy says:

    Does this have to be refrigerated. If it’s left out, is it still safe to eat?

    • Sissy says:

      Oops, forgot the question mark…does it have to be refrigerated?

    • Emiko says:

      Hi Sissy! It’s best conserved (and eaten!) at room temperature in a cool, dry place and don’t wrap it in plastic – something loose like tin foil is better to allow it to “breathe” a bit and keep the pastry short and crisp. If you think it’s going to last a lot longer than several days, you can also cut it into slices and freeze the slices – bring to room temperature to serve.

  3. Regula says:

    Hello Emiko,
    I just found this recipe browsing in your ‘baking’ category. It’s my favourite Italian dessert and I am now very happy to have found this recipe!
    Now finding all the ingredients… cooked whole grains might be hard to find and I want to use just what you used to have the exact flavour.
    Thanks for sharing this x

    • Emiko says:

      Hi Regula, this is such a great dessert, isn’t it? The cooked grain might be difficult to find, maybe you can try farro or barley instead? They also cook a lot quicker if you are doing them from dried grains!

  4. austendw says:

    What are “whole cooked grains” that come in jars??? What sort of grains are they?

    • Emiko says:

      They are whole wheat grains that are almost exclusively sold/prepared for making pastiera napoletana! As mentioned, if you can’t get these, you can subsitute whole cooked barley, which would be the next best thing, or even short grain rice (although this will result in a bit of a different consistency).

  5. Tanusree says:

    Hi Emiko, found your blog while searching for a recipe for Pastiera. yours looks gorgeous and i wanted to follow your recipe. but i do not have whole grains, barley or farro. can i substitute it with arborio ?

    • Emiko says:

      Hi! You could try it, though you’ll end up with quite a different result as rice is so much softer and starchier (and I tend to think you could risk a ‘gluey’ problem) than the grains. Health food stores for raw form that you cook yourself or Italian delis/supermarkets for the jars of ‘grano cotto’ would be the place to look for the whole grains that you need, but if you absolutely have to go for the last option, give the rice a try! I’d love to hear how it works out!

  6. Ori says:

    The recipe looks delicious – im going to try it this week!

    Do you think i can use candied pineapple instead of citrus ones as i prefer them?

    Thanks formthe blog,


    • Emiko says:

      Great! I’ve never tried this with any other candied fruit but why not give it a go, even if the flavour profile will be quite different – just keep in mind that candied pineapple will be much sweeter too than candied orange so you may want to scale back the sugar a little bit. Good luck!

  7. Riiick says:

    I’m not clear about your suggestions to leave the filling overnight to rest and let the Pastiera to cool in the pan until Sunday morning. Do you mean without refrigeration? Is it safe to leave these out for so many hours?

    Thanks for the recipe and for the great tips and advice.

    • Emiko says:

      This suggestion is of course the traditional way to make Pastiera, you can by all means adapt to easier, modern timing, but it’s just a matter of a little common sense! The filling in the first step before cooking rests in the fridge, of course. After cooking, when you are waiting for the Pastiera to cool, I have left it out of the fridge overnight (because it’s usually too hot to put directly in fridge), covered with tin foil and in the morning put it in the fridge. It’s been done this way for centuries and no one’s worried about it not being safe! ;) It is made around Easter time when temperatures are still fairly cool at night but maybe if you’ve decided to make this in the middle of a scorching hot summer night, you might want to put it in the fridge overnight. Also if you’ve made it at a convenient time of the day/evening (and not right before going to bed like I do!) you can of course put it in the fridge when it’s cooled down. Note that it does take a while to cool as it’s a very dense, heavy cake. Hope that helps!

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