As I prepare to teach at my 3rd annual Italy Retreat in Cinque Terre, (2011) (I do hope you consider joining me next year), I visited my Italian American family back east, where I learned to make pita piata. I think the actual name is Pit’Impiglianta, a Christmas cake, made with nuts and raisins. However, it doesn’t look like a cake at all.
Even though I grew up eating this unique dessert, I had never made it. My mom and other women at her church make hundreds during the holiday season, and sell them. They are time consuming to make, but well worth the effort. You can see me making them on this YouTube video. My mom, Josephine, and her two sisters, Mary Jane and Angelina, were guiding me along the way.
I’m pretty sure this is a traditional dessert made in San Giovanni in Fiore in Calabria, Italy. I have not even seen it sold in other towns in Calabria. If you’ve seen it elsewhere, I would love to know.
Recipe Pita Piata (Pit’Impiglianta) traditional Christmas cake from San Giovanni in Fiore, region of Calabria, Italy.
- Pasta machine
- Pastry roller, yard stick, ruler
- 5 lbs. flour, all purpose
- 3 eggs
- 2 C sugar
- 2 oz. yeast or 3 dry packets
- 3 C white or red wine
- Whiskey (a jigger)
- ¾ C Crisco, butter, or oleo
- 1 stick oleo, butter or oleo
- Salt, pinch
Put Crisco, oleo, and wine in pot and heat until melted. Set aside and cool, then add whiskey. In a separate bowl, dissolve yeast in 1 ½ C warm water. Add 1 TBL sugar to the yeast mixture.
Whisk the eggs. Then add sugar to eggs. Add buttery mix to this. Pour yeast mix into the buttery mix.
Add flour to this.Mix dough and knead until smooth and elastic on lightly floured surface. Dough should not be sticky. Let sit about 5 minutes to rest.
- 4 ½ lbs raisins. Soak raisins a few minutes and drain well.
- 1 orange cut and put in processor, rind and all, until crushed fine. (Or zest orange peel, and chop orange and squeeze juice)
- 3 lbs walnuts (chopped coarse, not fine)
- 1 ¾ C sugar
- 1 Tbl cinnamon
- ½ C. honey
- 1 ½ C orange orange juice
Mix all ingredients to marinate for two hours or overnight for the filling.
Vegetable oil in small bowl, and sugar shaker needed as you roll the pitas.
Weigh dough 7 ¼ oz. for each pita piata. Pat into ball and then use a rolling pin slightly before using pasta machine. Make oblong pieces of dough so they are uniform to fit through the pasta machine. Start machine on #1, then 2,3,4 as you run the dough through pasta machine.Measure dough 27” by 3”.Use curly edged pastry cutter to cut edges. Yard stick to measure the 27”. (Or cut the dough in half to more easily use pasta machine.Then each piece will measure 13 ½”.You would join the two pieces together after they were filled.)
Brush vegetable oil along the strip of dough. (Have small bowl with oil and brush)
Sprinkle sugar generously on strip.(Extra sugar to shake or sprinkle)
Use 1 Cup filling along dough toward top edge of strip.
Fold dough over the filling.Press firmly to hold the filling in, but DO NOT seal edges. Start rolling at one end grabbing the dough with the one hand.Start by putting finger in and roll loosely so it will cook in center.Complete rolling like a snail in a circle (see photo), and put3-4 toothpicks on the outside to hold it together.Cook on parchment papered cookie sheets, about 45-60minutes till golden brown. Pitas should not touch the edges of the pans as they burn more easily.
325 degree oven.
Makes approx 17six inch pita piatas, rosettes.
Cool on racks, then lightly pour honey in circles over the tops of each pita.You can freeze these and they taste fresh when you take them out of the freezer.
Do you have any favorite Italian dessert recipes?
12/13/11: This is a photo that, Rosalie, one of my readers sent showing how her husband’s family makes the ‘Pita Piata’ in a pan:
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My neighbor tells the story of her mother-in-law, an excellent cook, making this but not allowing anyone to eat it for at least a year. She kept the Pita stored in the frig.
Anyone else heard this?
It does not need to be stored for a year, but I must say it stays fresh in the freezer for a very long time. Freeze it, then take it out, and it tastes fresh. Maybe the flavors get tastier with age!
I just received an email from Rosalie who wrote: "I saw your recipe online for the Calabrese Christmas Cake, I was surprised that you make individual ones. My husbands family makes these but they do it different, instead they line a 8 inch cake pan with thinly rolled dough, then they get another large piece of thinly rolled dough and put in the filling, then cut 1 1/4 inch spirels and set them in the pan and brush them with honey, and bake them, for about an hour and a half on 300 degrees, every half hour you take the cake out and brush it with a little more honey. Everyone in my husband's family that used to make this is gone or they're 95 so it falls on me the Sicilian!!
I have attached a picture to this message."
Note from Lenora: I will add Rosalie's photo into the blog post.
My nonna ( an emigrant from Sellia Marina, Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy) used the recipe similar,lining the pan with dough, soaking the nuts too, & adding wine to the dough, and making lattice strips with a curly cutting cookie wheel( I have the original brought from Italy) & placing the spiral filled dough in the dough lined pans. However, my mother modified the recipe. No wine to the dough, but 1 cup of OJ, 1 cup of milk & 1 1/2cups of oil, 6 tsps baking powder, 6 eggs & 8 – 9 cups of flour. She rolled out the dough ( we had no pasta machine), sprinkled nuts, raisins & candied fruit ( optional) onto the rolled dough, rolled up the dough as in making cinnamon rolls, then slicing the rolls into 1 inch wide pieces, & placing in oil lined pans. When baking is complete, pour honey all over pita, let sit for 2 minutes, drain back into the hot honey pan ( We use double boiler), do this proceduce 3 times ending with the draining. Cool completely, & store in double wrap foil in freezer for months. Can be taken out of the freezer & sliced frozen! Sounds like lots of work? It is, but well worth it. We sell these @ our Walla Walla Italian Festa in October for $25.00; there are about 19 to 21 pieces in an 8 inch cake pan. Lorrie of Walla Walla/College Place
Earlier, I posted a comment about my mother's modified recipe for "pita piata" and I omitted sprinkling cinnamon on the dough. Lorrie from WW
Hi Lorrie from Walla Walla (great name), Washington. Thanks for your recipe and description of your nonna's pita piata. Did she call it pita piata? We'll remember to add the cinnamon. Thanks for sharing! It's so great to keep these traditional recipes going.
My grandparents were from San Giovanni in Fiore and we made pita piata but much more of a peasant version. I wa so happy to see this post.
I think maybe the version evolved over the years in the US. It is interesting that pita piata doesn’t seem to be made in any other towns in Italy. Have you tried making it? It is very involved and time consuming, but so unique.
My grandmother (from Strongoli .. not far from San Giovanni in Fiori) made this every Christmas. I found that many of my Italian-American friends were not familiar with this Christmas dessert and I always wondered if the name “pita” was a transformation due to dialect — but apparently not. I never learned how to do it and was thrilled to find your recipe. She made it just the way you described.
I do hope you try making pita pita sometime! Maybe watching the video will help you. Merry Christmas.
my parents were from san giovanni in fiore they immigrated to america in 1929 and my mom isabella made pita piata there in san giovanni with all her friendss in the outside ovens and also here we love it and still make it as a tradition every christmas thanks for the recipe very similar to mine
Very cool. THanks for visiting my blog and glad you enjoyed the recipe. Where do you live now? I take a group of women to Italy every September. Have you been there?
I grew up having pita, as we called it, every Christmas. My Mom was only 9 months old when she came to America and she never told us the name of the town where she was born. My niece found a ship manifest online that appears to be my Mom’s family and they departed from Crotone, which is near San Giovanni in Fiore. The grandparents of my Mom’s family (Manfreda) and many of her aunts and uncles all came to America and settled in north central West Virginia. As much as I can remember, they all made “the pita” every Christmas and they all had variations on how it should be made. My Mom made it in one big roll about 12″ to 14″ in diameter. Unfortunately, only a few of my Mom’s grandchildren make it. I’ve had many Italian friends over the years, but none have ever heard of pita. So, my guess is that my Mom came from this region. Thanks for giving me some clue of my own heritage.
Wonderful! Yes, it seems that Pita pita is definitely a local creation of San Giovanni in Fiore, where I have visited. It’s not easy to make and I hope the tradition stays alive. I’ve traveled around Italy and have not seen it anywhere else either. I grew up in Clarksburg, Wva. Thanks for visiting my blog.
My grandfather Lustri came from Calabria, along with some of his friends, and settled in southern WV. I grew up eating Pita. I’m happy that some friends are continuing the tradition of making Pita Piata at their restaurant, La Famiglia in Huntington, WV. They had so many orders for Christmas, that I just received mine a couple of days ago. It was well worth the wait!!!
Yes, let the traditions continue! I grew up in Clarksburg, WVA, and every Christmas most of the people from San Giovanni, Calabria eat Pita piata. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
Our family still makes and mails authentic pita out from Kenosha, Wisconsin every year. The family is from Marano Principato, near Cozenza, in Calabria.
Yes, from what I can tell, Cosenza area in Calabria, Italy is the home of pita! My paternal grandparents are from San Giovanni in fiore, 30 minutes from Cosenza. Do you make the pita yourself? Thanks for visiting my blog.
Greetings Lenora. I too grew up in Clarksburg, WV. I’ve lived the past 8 years in NC and miss all the wonderful Italian food back home. Last week I visited my family and stocked up on italian bread, peppers, and sausage. I was fortunate enough to snag a pita piata out of my mom’s freezer. Although we are not italian, pita piata is made and enjoyed every Christmas. My mom got her recipe from her sister’s mother-in-law (Mrs. Guzzi from Rosemont, WV) who has since passed. I’m curious, do you have any good authentic Italian sausage recipes? Thank you and I enjoy reading your blog/reader comments as my childhood was spent with my italian friends.
I should clarify. Do you have any recipes to make my own homemade Italian sausage?
I have a well tested recipe for Italian Sausage made from my fathers recipe.he was born in Cenadi,Catanzaro. And came to Clarksburg ,WV. I will Post the full recipie tomorrow .
Here is the Recpie for Italian Sausage.
Thanks James. Not sure how we went from a Pita Piata recipe to italian sausage, but hey, we love authentic Italian recipes.
I was SO excited to see your post on pita piata. I grew up in Philadelphia where my mother and my aunt both made an incredibly delicious dessert at Christmas that they called Pinolotte. It looks very similar to your pita but our pinolotte does not have wine or whiskey, no orange juice or orange zest. Our pinolotte is filled with white raisins and walnuts, and the noodle is dusted with oil and cinnamon before winding into the bun shape like your pita. We even cut the edges of the noodle with the zig-zag roller cutter that you used on the pita! When they come out of the oven, we pour equal parts honey and Karo syrup over each one. I have NEVER seen pinolotte anywhere, and I have looked, so it’s interesting for me to hear you say that pita is such a locally specific treat. Unfortunately, I don’t know where exactly my Italian relatives originated.I make pinolotte every Christmas now and mail some to my brother who still lives near Philadelphia. It is a little complicated to make but SO soul-nourishing! Thanks for your post!
I would love to see a photo of your pinolotte! I’m guessing it is very regional from your family’s Italian hometown. It sounds like it looks similar but probably tastes differently. The dough is not noodle-like. Do you actually use pasta dough? Pita piata is a sweet dough. Also, I would like to encourage you to do research to find the town of your family origin! Buon appetito!