Buckle up, guys — this pastry is definitely a project. But trust me, it's a super fun, satisfying, and delicious one. There's nothing like a batch of still-warm sfogliatelle (or if you're just referring to one, sfogliatella), an especially beautiful Italian pastry. Multiple layers of gorgeously thin dough (rolled using a pasta machine) encase a creamy filling made with a base of semolina "pudding" and ricotta cheese. The pastry, sometimes referred to as "lobster claws" (not"lobster tails," that's something else) here in the States, bake up gorgeously golden and crisp. The result is a seriously impressive pastry that's time-consuming, but totally doable at home, and worth it. Ahead, I'll walk you through exactly how to make sfogliatelle at home using my go-to recipe and you'll be folding and shaping dough in no time.
But first . . . How do you pronounce sfogliatelle?
Let me take a stab at this one — ss-fog-lee-uh-tell-ee.
Sfogliatelle dough is simple to make; it's the handling that gets tricky. To make the dough, combine all-purpose flour, fine sea salt, room temperature unsalted butter, and room temperature water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes — the dough should start to come together, but will still look pretty rough. Raise to medium speed and mix for 3 minutes more; the dough may not look super smooth, but it should have formed a ball around the mixer attachment. A longer mixing time like this is what helps give the dough its structure, enabling it to undergo many, many manipulations to create the paper-thin layers of pastry that make this recipe so dang good.
Enlist some helping hands
What makes this pastry special is the paper-thin dough that creates layer after layer of flaky dough. To achieve this, the dough is rolled thin using a pasta machine. While there are multiple stages of rolling, at its longest, the dough will stretch to about 4 feet long. For this reason, it's ideal to have a couple of sets of hands on deck to help handle the dough. It is also totally possible to do it alone, but you need a nice, long piece of kitchen counter (or a table) to make sure you have room to gently lay the pastry dough down as it comes out of the machine. Before you start rolling the dough, grab yourself a small bowl of flour, in case you ever need a dusting. This will help prevent the dough from sticking or tearing, which it's especially at risk of because it will be so thin and delicate. Clear off as big of a space on your counter as possible, or opt for a table instead! The more room you have, the easier some of the more detailed steps will be.
Right away, the dough needs to undergo some folds, so break out your pasta maker. It can be a hand-crank variety, but I'm a fan of the attachment for my electric mixer: it frees both of my hands for working with the dough. Divide the dough into two even pieces. Wrap one piece tightly in plastic wrap while you work with the other (always keep any dough that's not in use wrapped up — it can dry out easily, especially as it starts to get rolled thinner).
This is how it gets paper-thin. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
You shouldn't need to use much flour to work with this dough, only a light dusting, and only whenever it feels a little tacky to the touch. Roll out the first piece of dough into a rectangle of about 5x10 inches. Set your pasta machine or rollers to the widest setting. Run the dough through the pasta machine, then fold it in half to make a small rectangular package of dough. Repeat this process 4 more times (a total of 5), continuing to run the folded dough through at the widest setting. Unwrap the second piece of dough, and use the plastic wrap to tightly wrap up the first piece. The dough will dry out if exposed too long to air in these early stages and become harder to work with.
Fold it in half. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Repeat this process with the second piece of dough. When it's ready, unwrap the first piece of dough and place it on top of the second. Use a rolling pin to press the dough together, and roll it gently until it's about 1/2-inch thick.
Run the dough through the pasta machine (still set to the widest setting), then fold it in half. Repeat a total of 10 times. After the final pass, fold the dough in half horizontally (from one long side to the other), then fold in half from one short side to the other.
Let's roll. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Run through the machine, fold it in half, and do this 10 times. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Fold in half horizontally. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
And then fold the short side across. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
This process of rolling starts to form the layers in the dough. After these stages of rolling, it's important to let the dough rest and chill. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours, and up to overnight.
Quarter the dough, and wrap all but one piece tightly in plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 4 x 7 inches. Set your pasta machine or rollers to the widest setting. Run the dough through the pasta machine. Flour the dough lightly, as needed (though I will note that I did not need to use flour at all for my dough). Continue passing the dough through the machine, making the setting smaller/narrower each time, until the dough is almost thin enough to see through; it will be about 4 feet long at this point.
Yes, your dough will be the height of a small child. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Forming the dough log
Gently lay the long strip of dough down on the counter. Working the length of the dough, gently stretch it to make it slightly wider and thinner. Don't worry, it's very sturdy, but if you get a small rip or two, you won't be able to tell.
That's some elasticity. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
At this stage, soft butter is spread into a thin, even layer, all the way across the dough. Starting from one of the short ends, roll the dough up into a tight spiral, leaving about 1 inch of dough unrolled. Set aside, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Repeat the rolling process with another piece of the remaining dough. When it's rolled out, repeat the stretching and buttering processes.
Spread soft butter with an offset spatula. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Don't forget to leave an inch. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Unwrap the first dough spiral that you rolled, and place the excess 1 inch of dough at the end of the new piece of dough, overlapping by about 1/4 inch. Roll the spiral with the new dough, now making the log even thicker and larger by rolling the whole length of the second piece of dough. The log should be about 2 inches thick and about 8 inches long. Wrap the log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Repeat the process with the two remaining pieces of dough to make a second dough log.
The traditional filling for sfogliatelle is a semolina-ricotta mixture. First, sugar and milk are brought to a simmer. Semolina flour (yes, like the kind used to make pasta) is added and whisked until it thickens, creating a thick sort of pudding. After it cools, the mixture is mixed in an electric mixer with the whip attachment. Egg yolks are added, and I also add vanilla for flavor. I personally like to add the zest of a lemon or orange and a pinch of ground cardamom, but both are optional. These are the most traditional flavors for sfogliatelle fillings, but have fun with different variations, like pistachio or fruit jam. Finally, the ricotta is whipped in. The final filling is smooth, creamy, and thick. Keep it covered and chilled until ready to use.
Shaping the pastries
When they've thoroughly chilled, remove the dough logs from the refrigerator and unwrap. Cut each log into 8 even pieces — each piece should be about 1-inch wide.
Home stretch — you got this. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Working with one piece at a time, use your fingers (pressing to flatten the dough between your fingers) to work your way around the edge of the dough, making it thinner. The idea is not to make the whole piece of dough thinner, but make it kind of cone shaped.
Soon to be filled with ricotta and semolina goodness. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
I press the dough between my thumb on one side, and my first and middle finger on the other. As you work, you'll start to feel it flattening out. What's really happening is the butter between the layers of the dough makes it easy to sort of fan the layers out, creating a thinner look to the dough, though it's all still one piece. Continue the same motion, but work inward toward the center of the round. Once you've achieved the conical shape, spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of the cone, fold it over so the ends meet, encasing the filling. Gently pinch the ends to seal.
Ah, there are the lobster claws. (Photo by Ren Fuller)
Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
OK, you've done it! All that's left now is to brush the surface of each pastry with melted butter, and bake the pastries at 400° F until they are very golden brown and crisp (about 23-26 minutes). I like to rotate the trays front to back and between their racks halfway through baking, and brush them with butter again, for good measure! This also helps to ensure that the sfogliatelle cooks evenly in the oven, so that they come out golden brown all over.
Once the pastries come out of the oven, transfer them to a cooling rack to cool for about 10 minutes. I like these best served still slightly warm (but of course even a room temperature Italian sfogliatelle will still be delicious). Just before serving, dust them generously with powdered sugar using a fine mesh sieve. Then, sit back and enjoy the fruits (erm . . . pastries) of your labor!
Other Italian pastries!
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