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Everywhere you go in Naples there are photos of sfogliatelle ricce the way that everywhere near Naples, Florida, on the Gulf Coast, there are photos of manatees. (I bring this up because a few times while traveling in Naples (Italy) the internet, believing me to be in Naples, Florida, would ask me if I wanted to go on a manatee tour. Yes, certainly I do, I thought, but at the moment all I want to do is eat sfogliatelle frolle.)
Now sfogliatelle ricce, which are the Neapolitan pastries made with the flaky pastry, are wonderful. The point of this post is in no way to detract from this excellent pastry which looks like this and which you have probably seen:
But I am getting ahead of myself.
It was Monday morning, my first morning in Naples. I woke up at the crack of dawn and didn’t know what to do with myself so I took a commuter train to the Portici-Ercolano stop, south of the city, on the water. I’d done this because my friend Pete told me to and because when I go to foreign cities i mainly just eat things and take local trains.
I got off this train and had no idea what to do with myself. Behind the train was a harbor, with boats and everything. On some of the boats were dogs. Residents exercised in nylon jogging suits. A metal garbage can was so full of wine bottles that the top layer was like wine bottle flowers in a giant vase.
I was hungry but I didn’t want to just hurriedly eat something and have it be not so good. In a small cafe right near the Portici-Ercolano station people stood up and drank coffee. Pastries were in evidence but the place did not seem to specialize in them. I searched for “cafe” in my map function and walked inland, past a travel agent and a park and a high school. I arrived at a roundabout whose centerpiece was a bizarre very conceptual fountain that I would like to know more about. And about a block from the fountain was a café, brightly lit, with a counter where people stood up to drink coffee but a proper bakery as well, with a case of fresh-looking exciting treats.
I actually picked out the sfogliatella frolla because I I thought it might have ham or cheese in it. Then I ordered a cappuccino which came with a web of chocolate across the top.
I went for the pastry before taking a sip of coffee. It was so soft and dense. I love dense cakes so much. There was the scent of orange, made soft by the cream and ricotta the orange was mixed into. This mixture was encased in a dough that subsequent recipe research says is shortcrust pastry but it seems a bit softer than this to me, because the singular trait of this creation is how the inside and the outside are almost the same texture, even though one of them is filling and the other is dough. I have never before experienced this relationship between dough and filling quite like this.
I drank my coffee, giggling to myself about the AT LEAST THREE friends I have who would have a heart attack if someone put chocolate syrup on their cappuccino.
When I got back to my hotel, I sent my friend Pete, who has been to Naples many times, the photo of the pastry. “I don’t know what it is but it looks amazing,” he said.
I googled and googled. “Soft orange pastry Naples.” “Pastry like a soft little pie Naples.” “Round pastry glossy top orange Napoli.” No. No. No.
The next day I switched hotels, just to mix it up. The first one had been dingy and organized. This one was nicer but chilly and unorganized. A card in my room said breakfast started at seven. I had been up since four, watching Inventing Anna and feeling lost.
I showed up for breakfast at 7:05. “Breakfast starts at seven thirty,” a lone waiter said.
“In my room it says 7:00. On that little card they give you.”
He told me that card was old. I said they should get new cards in a way I hoped wasn’t rude but was encouraging about the getting of new cards. He took pity on me and brought me coffee. I put sugar and milk in the coffee to make it food. Presently breakfast was announced. The eggs were fake. But there was a platter of pastries, and there, among other, lesser ones, imho, was my mystery pastry. “Oh my God,” I exclaimed. “What is this?”
The waiter said something I didn’t understand. I asked him to write it down. He wrote sfogliatelle ricce e frolla. We both smiled broadly while we talked about how great these things were. He said he had always loved them. I said I had just started but would never stop.
I wrapped one up in a napkin and an hour later as my train rolled out of Garibaldi Station — I was going to Rome, a minor disaster, more about that later — I ate it with a sense of ceremony.
So later I figured out (I think?) that he was telling me that there were two types of sfogliatella and one was the riccia and one the frolla. According to most recipes they are “medium” difficult to make, which means impossible.
They are absolutely, 100% the best pastries in the world. You can make them with lard! They are so medieval. And even if you squish them in your bag, they are still good three days later. God I miss Naples.
I love your writing style.