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, walnut and honey pastry from Calabria
One disposable round alluminium tin, 25 cm in diameter and 4 cm high , well buttered (oiled, if you want the pastry to be 100% vegan)
The pastry can be made using a food processor, or a food mixer or by hand: I prefer using the food processor.
Italian 00 flour or plain flour – 125g
fine Italian durum wheat flour called semola rimacinata – 125g (see notes)
pinch of salt
grated zest of half an orange
extra virgin olive oil – 30ml, a light one
neutral vegetable oil – 30ml
white wine or white vermouth – 60ml
warm water – 60ml (adding more if necessary to obtain a supple dough)
orange flower honey or other mild honey, 1 tablespoon
Whizz together the flour, salt and orange zest.
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 (or couscous, actually). 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.
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:
toasted assorted nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts), 200g. A mix of almonds+walnuts only is fine. They must then be chopped coarsely.
a pinch of salt
cinnamon, ½ teaspoon
ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon
grated zest of 1 orange
raisins – 200g soaked in the juice of one orange and 2 tablespoons of Strega liqueur, available from Waitrose or online (Marsala, Grappa or Brandy or will do).
orange flower honey or other mild honey, 1 tablespoon
If you want to be really traditional, you should also add a couple of tablespoons of vincotto, pretty expensive stuff – you can buy it from here and here. I made pittanchiusa without and it was delicious; I then tried using pomegranate syrup and it was delicious; I also made my homemade imitation vin cotto (see notes) and it was delicious… You get the message…
For assembling the pastry you will need:
30ml extra virgin olive oil mixed with 30ml neutral vegetable oil
orange flower honey or other mild honey, 230g
ground cloves ¼ teaspoon + cinnamon ½ teaspoon + pinch of salt
…and finally, let’s get started:
preheat the oven to 160 ° C/320° F
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 of 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?)
Whisk the oils, mix with 3 tablespoons of honey and brush this onto each strip of dough. Add a little spice mixture to each strip. Divide the 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
Fold the bottom of each strip over, without sealing at the top: you should get a sort of tube with the filling showing through. Cut each tube into two and roll it up, to make a coil (have a look at the pictures, it is pretty easy), leaving the top as open as possible.
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.
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.
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: 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 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.
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”.