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:
You are welcome to reprint, copy, or distribute Lenora Boyle’s article, provided author credit is included.