These seashell-shaped pastries from southern Italy are regarded as a challenge for every good pastry chef. A multi-layered roll of pastry is sliced, then opened out to make a clam shell and finally baked with a rich, sweet ricotta filling.
Makes: about 24
Hands-on time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes
Skill level: Up for a challenge
For the dough:
500g very strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
225ml water, at room temperature
About 125g lard, softened, for brushing
About 50g unsalted butter or vegetable fat, softened, for shaping
For the filling:
250g full-fat ricotta cheese
250ml whole milk
100g caster sugar
Couple good pinches salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
40g fine semolina
2 medium egg yolks
Finely grated zest 1 small orange
100g dark chocolate chunks/chips (about 70% cocoa solids)
4 pieces stem ginger, drained and finely chopped
Icing sugar, for dusting
You will also need:
Stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment
Small piece of cheesecloth/muslin
2 large baking sheets, lined with baking paper
Step 1 – To make the dough: sift the flour and salt into the bowl of the mixer. Make a well in the centre and (with the mixer on its slowest setting) pour in about ¾ of the water. As the dough starts to come together, gradually add more water to make a firm, pasta-like dough – not a soft, bread-like dough).
Step 2 – Turn out the dough onto your worktop (lightly dusted with flour) and knead for 3 minutes, then cover with the upturned mixer bowl and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Repeat the kneading and resting twice more to make a very smooth and pliable dough. After the last bout of kneading, divide the dough into 8, wrap each piece in cling film and chill for 2 hours.
Step 3 – Set up the pasta-rolling machine at one end of your worktop – you’ll need plenty of space for the dough. Take 1 portion of dough and knead it to a flat disc. Run it through the widest setting on the pasta roller then fold in 3, turn 90 degrees and run through the rollers again. Repeat until the dough has been rolled 5 times and is very smooth and pliable. If the dough starts to stick or tear, lightly dust the dough and rollers with flour. Then adjust the rollers to the second widest setting and run the dough through again. Keep feeding the dough through the rollers, slowly decreasing the width setting each time until you reach the narrowest setting.
Step 4 – Place the dough strip on the worktop and gently stretch and pull it out – first from the end furthest away from the pasta-rolling machine, then stretching out the centre portion so it is doubled in width, then the other end of dough. The dough will be an odd shape and may have a tear or hole to start with but (as with strudel dough) it will not affect the final result. Brush very lightly with the soft, almost melted, lard.
Step 5 – Tightly roll up the dough strip like a swiss roll, starting at the end furthest from the pasta-rolling machine, and slightly stretching the dough by pulling the roll towards you as go. Then place the roll at the far end of the worktop (it will have a thick middle portion and 2 straggly ends) and gently pull on the ends to make the roll a bit longer and thinner.
Step 6 – Roll out a second portion of dough, exactly as in steps 3 and 4, then place the swiss roll of dough at one end and overlap this new strip of dough around it to extend the roll, pulling and stretching as in Step 5. Repeat until all 8 portions have been rolled through the pasta machine, stretched out, brushed with lard and rolled up to make one big swiss roll. Now gently pull, squeeze and stretch the roll with your hands so it’s longer and thinner (about 36cm x 6cm), with straggly ends. Brush the whole roll with lard then wrap in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Step 7 – Meanwhile, make the filling: line a sieve with cheesecloth or muslin and set it over a bowl. Put the ricotta into the sieve, cover with the excess cheesecloth, set a small saucer on top of the ricotta and then a heavy weight. Chill for at least 1 hour, preferably 2, to thoroughly drain the cheese.
Step 8 – Pour the milk into a medium-sized pan, add the sugar, salt and cinnamon and bring to the boil. Sprinkle the semolina into the pan, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Stir over a medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is very thick and starting to leave the sides of the pan. Tip into a heatproof bowl, press a piece of cling film onto the surface (to prevent a skin forming) and leave until cold.
Step 9 – Tip the cooled semolina mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer and mix on a medium-high speed using the paddle attachment until very smooth. Add the egg yolks and the drained ricotta and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest, chocolate and ginger and mix in. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover and chill until ready to assemble.
Step 10 – To assemble: unwrap the dough and cut off the straggly ends with a sharp knife. Cut the roll into slices or discs about 1cm thick – they will look like cross-sections of a very old tree, with visible rings of dough and lard. Grease your fingers with a little soft butter or vegetable fat, hold the disc between your thumbs and forefingers, and gently start to massage and separate the dough layers – starting from the centre and working out to the edges – to form what looks like an ice-cream cone shape, with the centre of the disc forming the pointed tip at the base. The opening of the cone should be about 7cm wide.
Step 11 – Gently hold the shape like an ice-cream cone and spoon in a heaped teaspoon of filling – making sure the filling reaches right to the tip, but the cone is not so filled that it can’t be sealed. Gently pinch the mouth of the cone to seal it, taking care not to squash any of the layers in the process. The pastry should now resemble a seashell. Repeat with the rest of the slices (the shaping and filling will become easier and faster with each slice), then arrange them slightly apart on the lined baking sheets and chill for 20 minutes or until firm. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 230°C/210°C fan/450°F/Gas 8.
Step 12 – Bake the pastries in the heated oven for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets so they colour evenly. Reduce the temperature to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/Gas 7 and bake for a further 5-8 minutes until golden and crisp – watch carefully as you don’t want the edges to become dark. Transfer to a wire rack, dust with icing sugar and leave to cool. Serve just warm.