Last year on our trip to Fort Lauderdale, we discovered an Italian confectionary tucked away amongst a row of shops that didn’t call for much attention. The shop is small and unpretentious. It boasts of little more than walls of empty racks where fresh bread had been, an antipasti selection, glass cases filled with carefully-assembled baked sweets, a few tables (four to be precise), some authentic Italian groceries neatly shelved for sale and a small selection of gelato. I fell in love. During our trip we made sure to get a taste of their beautiful variety of desserts. Their cannoli, tiramasu, baked ricotta cake and apple custard tart were my favourites.
This summer we found ourselves in Fort Lauderdale again. The day before we left for Newfoundland I wanted my last sweet treat fix from “Pan e Dolci”. We went earlier than usual and found their freshly-baked breakfast items sitting atop the glass cases. I spotted this beautiful pastry form that resembled a sea shell. I asked the girl behind the glass case about them. She said it was a traditional Italian breakfast pastry made with a ricotta filling.
Intrigued, I asked what it was called. Her response flew twelve feet above my head. Baffled, I responded with a “I beg your pardon?”. So, very politely in her heavy Italian accent she repeated once again. I smiled and thanked her. Meanwhile I was still trying to figure out if she said, “Fold your tail”. Did she just say “Fold your tail? Soldier’s tail? Soldiers’ tale?” Maybe? They looked like tails – some sort of a tail (I thought they looked more like clams). Perhaps these pastries have a deep-rooted history involving some handsome Italian soldier. I left the reasoning for a later time, picked up my boxes of pastry and said, “Thank you for letting me take pictures. I have always loved your store. We’ll see you next summer!” “See you then” she said and got busy tidying up the dessert trays. I was hoping she would mention the dessert one more time saying “I hope you enjoy your ….” but that moment was lost.
Back in our hotel room we tasted what was perhaps the most delectable pastry I’ve ever had. I knew I had to try make them sometime. This little crunchy pastry was one of the best things I had ever tasted. It was packed in layer upon layer of crisp pastry with a beautiful orange-scented soft ricotta filling in the centre – the perfect combination. I regretted not risking looking slightly unintelligent and shying away from asking what they were really called – but we were too late to go back.
Once home I started hunting for my ‘soldiers tale’ on Google. I was repenting my brashness for not getting the name right from the source. So there I was searching images on Google for an Italian pastry out of a trillion other pastries. After scrolling through page after page of images on Google I finally found my tale/tail! There they were: SFOGLIATALLE (pronounced sofol-j’ah-TEL-e). Sadly, they have no link to any Italian soldier, handsome or not.
*Note: Further research proved that the original recipe for this pastry was beyond my present capacity, so I opted for an easier version using pre-made phyllo pastry. The idea was adapted from here.The filling recipe was adapted from here. Larger size of this pastry is often called Sfogliatalle ricce which are sold as “lobster tails” in many American stores. This pastry can be as tricky to make as it is to pronounce. They are time consuming, requiring a bit of finesse, but good things never come easy, do they?
Here they are – every bit worth it, here to stay.
- Phyllo dough: 20 sheets
- Unsalted butter: 1 cup melted
- Egg white: 1
- Ricotta Cheese: 1 cup
- Sugar: 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp
- Semolina: 4 tbsp
- Water: 6 tbsp
- Orange zest: 1 tbsp
- Cinnamon: 1/8 tsp
- Strain the ricotta in a sieve over night in the refrigerator. Next morning discard all the liquid.
- Boil water and sugar in a saucepan. When sugar is dissolved take off heat and add the semolina. Let the semolina soak up all the water. Leave it to cool.
- Take ricotta, semolina, orange zest and cinnamon and mix with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy.
- Pour ricotta mixture in a piping bag and set aside.
- Melt the unsalted butter.
- Stack 2 phyllo sheets together and generously brush the entire surface of the dough with butter, then stack two more together. Repeat to get 10 layers.
- Once you have stacked the 20 sheets, roll the dough very tightly in a jelly roll fashion.
- Now cut the rolled dough approximately into 1 and half inch thick discs.
- Hold the disc with both thumbs, with the open edge down and gently push the centre of the dough out through the opposite end. They will resemble a cone or a clam shape. Fill the shells by piping the ricotta mixture leaving enough room to close the shells. Brush the open edges with egg white and press both ends to seal.
- Very lightly brush them with melted butter.
- Bake on parchment lined baking sheet for 15 mins or till they are slightly golden in color.
- Cool and dust with icing sugar and garnish with orange zest.