Neapolitan Pastiera is the traditional cake eaten at Easter. The story of its origins have been lost. Some believe it was a cake used in pagan practices to celebrate the start of Spring.
Another theory for the origin of pastiera cake, was that it was an ancient ceremonial wedding cake served at wealthy Roman weddings.
The ‘modern’ pastiera was probably a Neapolitan convent creation in which the cake symbolised Christ’s Resurrection. Ingredients from the convent’s garden was used to create the pastiera: perfume of the flowers from the orange tree, wheat, ricotta cheese, eggs (symbol of new life), fragrant water, candied fruit and Far Eastern spices. Traditionally the pastiera is prepared no later than Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, to ensure that all the aromas are given time to blend to create a unique and unmistakable flavour to be enjoyed on Easter Sunday.
7oz/200g Wheat Grain
6 Cups of milk
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1-2 Teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
10oz/285g 00 Flour
5oz /140g Butter
4 Large eggs, separated, plus 3 extra yolks
7oz/200g Chopped candied peel
2 Tablespoons of Orange Flower Water
Soak the wheat grain in cold water for a couple of days, changing the water daily. Alternatively you can buy cooked wheat from your local deli. Transfer the cooked wheat into a deep pan, and over a low heat, add the milk, simmering gently for about 4 hours with the grated zest of 1 lemon, and a pinch of salt. Remove from the heat, and drain off the excess liquid. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, and the grated zest of an orange. Transfer into a sealed container, and put in the fridge overnight.
Make the shortcrust pastry by sifting flour and adding a pinch of salt into a bowl. Add the sugar and rub in the butter with your fingertips, until the the mixture looks like rough bread crumbs. Make a well in the centre, and add the 3 egg yolks. Form the dough into a flat disc, wrap it in cling film, and rest it in the fridge for about 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. Mix the ricotta in a bowl, with the remaining sugar, 4 egg yolks, the candied peel, orange flower water, and 4 beaten egg whites.
Roll out the pastry into a non stick 30cm/12″ baking tin, reserving some of the pastry to decorate. Add the soaked grain to the ricotta and fold carefully. Pour into the pastry case. Roll out the remaining pastry, into strips, and make a diamond pattern. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar before serving.