Pitta ‘nchiusa (Raisin, nuts, honey pastry from Calabria)

Pittanchiusa (or Pitta ‘mpigliata o pittacupassule) is a typical Christmas pastry from Calabria, the southernmost part of the country. Strips of an olive oil and white wine pastry are filled with walnuts, raisins, orange zest, clove, cinnamon and syrupy vincotto, rolled into coils (or rosette, as we say in Italian, meaning “little roses” – much more poetic), doused with honey and baked into a glistening, caramelized, bronze-coloured “flower”.

Pittanchiusa is crisp and deliciously gooey at the same time, sweet, spicy, and citrusy, the muted bitterness of the walnuts counterbalancing the overall sweetness. It would be a pity to limit this lovely pastry to Christmas only. 

In fact, it makes the perfect afternoon tea treat on winter days, but it is also an excellent pudding if served warm, with some creme fraiche perhaps – hardly traditional, of course, yet utterly delicious. In Italy this type of celebratory and rich pastry would be served at room temperature (never warm), at the end of a festive supper, alongside a spread of tangerines, oranges, dried figs stuffed with almonds and dipped in chocolate, mixed nuts, hard and soft nougat/torrone,  croccante (here you can see a traditional Sicilian croccante maker: amazing!). I have never been to such festive suppers without being offered in the end a strong moka coffee or some sort of home made (even stronger!) liqueur – Limoncello more often than not. Heaven. Going back to our pitta ‘nchiusa, it is worth noting that such a delicious pastry also happens to be vegan.

Pitta ‘nchiusa/raisin, nuts and honey pastry from Calabria
One disposable round alluminium tin, 25 cm in diameter and 4 cm high , butter/oiled
8-10 portions

The pastry
The pastry can be made using a food processor, or a food mixer or by hand: I prefer using the food processor.

125 g Italian 00 flour or plain flour
125 g fine Italian durum wheat flour called semola rimacinata
pinch of salt
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
30 ml neutral vegetable oil
60 ml white wine  or white vermouth
60 ml warm water, adding more if necessary to obtain a supple dough
1 tablespoon mild honey,

The filling:
Ideally it should be made at least one day before baking the pitta’ nchiusa to give the ingredients time to get to know each other well and thus deepen the final flavour. Then it is just a matter of mixing the following:

200 g toasted assorted nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts), chopped coarsely
a pinch of salt, 1/8 of a teaspoon approximately
a generous pinch of  ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon+ ¼ teaspoon approx
a smaller pinch of ground cloves, ¼  teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon approx
200 g sultanas or raisins
the juice of three mandarins or of one orange and their grated zest
2 tablespoons
of Strega liqueur (Marsala, Grappa, a mandarin liqueur or Brandy will work equally well)
1 tablespoon clear, mild, runny honey
2 tablespoon of vincotto. I also made pittanchiusa without and it was delicious;  I tried using pomegranate syrup and it was delicious… you get the message (
Vincotto: you can buy it from here and here)  See notes for my “almost vincotto”.

For assembling the pastry:
30ml extra virgin olive oil mixed with 30ml neutral vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon ground cloves+  1 teaspoon cinnamon+ pinch of salt
the grated zest of  the three mandarins or 1 orange (yes, this is correct – it is not a mistake: overall one needs either 6 mandarins or 2 oranges)
230 g mild honey

…and finally, let’s get started:

For the pastry, whizz together the flour and  salt.
Mix the liquid ingredients together and add them slowly to the flour mix, switching the processor ON and OFF with the pulse switch. At this stage you just want to fully hydrate the flour:  stop when the mix starts to resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes.
Now it is time to mix/knead by switching the motor ON and OFF using the pulse switch; carry on until soft, supple clumps of dough start forming, adding more warm water if the mix feels on the dry side. Do not let the dough mass around the blades. The dough should be soft, supple, but not sticky.
Transfer it onto a lightly floured working surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes. The dough should be malleable and easy to work with.
If your filling is ready and you want to roll the dough by machine, you can proceed straight away, otherwise, if rolling by hand, the dough must rest for 30 minutes, at room temperature, wrapped in cling film.

Preheat the oven to 180 C
To roll the pastry: I found that rolling the dough with a hand-cranked  pasta machine gives the best results; alternatively you can roll the dough by hand (see notes). The pictures show both methods.

If using a pasta machine, divide the dough into six equal pieces; work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered. Starting from the widest setting o the pasta machine, start thinning the dough, following these impeccable instructions from Marcella Hazan. Stop when the dough strips have gone through the one before the last notch. You should end up with long and rather thin (but not transparent) strips of dough, between 60 and 70 cm long and 8 to 10 cm wide. (update 2018: to the last notch – did I make a mistake before?) Update 2020: definitely , the pastry must pass through the last notch. It will be fragile, but better (because thinner) when you eat it. You will get long, thin strips. You might find useful (more manageble) to divide them in half. Place them horizontally on you counter.

From the “assembling the pastry” list:  mix the oils, the spices, the salt  with three tablespoons of honey. Warm this up just to make it easier to spread it. Brush this mixture over the strips of dough. Divide the nut filling equally between the 6 strips and spread it out as much as possible. Cut  each strip lengthwise so as to obtain two narrow and long strips.
Loosely roll up each tube onto itself, starting from the short side : some of the filling will escape and that is fine – you will put it back in at the end. The top edge must stay open.
Repeat with the other half. 

Start assembling the pitta ‘nchiusa by placing the largest rosetta (little rose/coil) in the middle of the tin; place all the others around it. You might have to nudge them a little in order to fit all of them in the tin, but try hard not to seal the top when you handle them: you must be able to see the filling. Put back any filling that has escaped during shaping.

Mix four tablespoons of honey with two tablespoon of Strega liqueur (or Marsala/Brandy) and pour over the cake. bake in the middle of the oven for approximately one hour, checking after the initial 30 minutes. It must be gloriously golden in the end (the top edge will be darker). Remove from the oven and pour the remaining honey all over.

Let it rest until warm and enjoy it. The pitta ‘chiusa keeps for up a week, at room temperature, loosely covered with foil. I love the soft gooey feel it has as the days pass. It is at its best in the first few days.

Notes
The Italian durum wheat flour labelled semola rimacinata is the finest durum wheat flour one can buy and it is generally used for cakes such as this one, pizzas and breads. There is also a type of durum wheat flour which is a little coarser and it is called semola, generally used to make dry pasta. If you cannot find semola rimacinata, do not worry:  I have also made pitta ‘nchiusa using semola (easier to find in Italian delis) and English plain flour only and it was always nothing short of scrumptious.

My homemade imitation vincotto: ALMOST VINCOTTO: just for fun I tried to see what happened if… I boiled down one litre of  bottled grape juice (not from concentrated) to half its original volume and I then added 1 tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar: very good indeed. It is definitely not in the same league as original vincotto (which is generally made with wine grapes, more sour) but it is still pretty good (drizzled over vanilla ice cream or even roasted fruit).

If you want to roll the dough by hand, watch this video by legendary pasta makers, bakers and teachers Simili sisters, who even Mrs Hazan regarded as the real deal when it comes to all things Italian food. You are aiming at a circle of dough which is approximately 50 cm in diameter. This is another excellent (American) video specifically about hand-rolled pittanchiusa (their version is slightly different but it looks really good too). Main points: the dough must be thin; spread the rolled pastry with the wet mixture and distribute the dry mix all over it. Starting from the bottom edge, fold the pastry over to create a long tube, 4 to 5 cm high. Do not press the top edge. Cut it with a pasta cutter and divide it into two. Roll up each tube into a coil. Proceed as per main recipe. Of course, one could also roll bu hand each single piece of dough (easier than roll the dough out into a large round, the way you can see in the pics).

To make the dough with a food mixer: first combine all the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients and knead the dough with the dough hook, on low, until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured surface and knead it by hand for few minutes to make it cohesive.  To  make the dough by hand: combine all the dry ingredients into a roomy bowl, then add the wet ingredients and knead until the the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured surface and knead it by hand for a good five to ten minutes to make it cohesive. Bisogna usare olio di gomito,  “elbow grease is needed here”.

12 thoughts on “Pitta ‘nchiusa (Raisin, nuts, honey pastry from Calabria)

  1. Am not normally a baker but have read and reread this to find it both pretty easy to make and most appetizing. Shall most certainly try ! Probably with cognac and orange at this time of the year . . .

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    1. do try it and let me know. I am still re-writing this recipe, because I feel it is not clear. I have seen neater way to assemble this pastry, but my method, messy, guarantees a very single layer of dough wrapped around the filling (often the dough is doubled – I find that too thick).

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  2. Love all your updates on this. When I saw it on IG, I knew it was going to be amazing. I might have to wait until quarantine is over — I can’t have something this tempting in the house when I am the only dessert eater! Really lovely, Stef! Thanks!

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    1. ciao david, this recipe is driving me mad, I must say. I am tweaking it – this description is pretty close to my latest version. Should u try it, tell me before attempting it and I will guide u – few points that might not stil be clear here. s

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      1. Thanks! For something like this, I want to have guests at the table. I can’t just make this for Mark and me. That would be silly… Once we are having guests for dinner again, I’ll be in touch!

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  3. You know, this is so good that a commercial replication can only be months away. Except of course it will be like commercial versions of all those baking favorites (Madeira cake comes to mind), just the faintest memory of the real thing.
    It is exceptionally practical picnic food as you need no knife but can simply break off the portions. It is though scrumptiously gooey so you will need to take along extra napkins…

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  4. What a beautiful and delicious bread that is similar to my family’s recipe from Italy. We prepare it for Christmas because it is so special to us. It is very nice to meet you!
    Roz
    La Bella Vita Cucina

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    1. Ciao Roz
      thanks and welcome here. How lucky of me that the very first comment on this newly born blog comes from a fellow home-cook, second generation Italian American with a strong and clear sense of food as culture/identity/roots/sharing/ove. I can see from your blog that your family comes from the North of Italy, when did they migrate to the States? and what is the name of your family Christmas cake? Ciao, stefano

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