A quick guide to Neapolitan pastry

Adam Jones | 23/11/2018
Napolitan desserts. Sfogliatella, Italian pasteries.

Just over an hour from Rome by train, Naples sits under the rumbling watch of Mount Vesuvius, a city steeped in history. A rich agricultural zone due to its volcanic soil, Naples food is famous the world over. Most well-known for pizza, the city also has a reputation for amazing Italian desserts, including the famous Neapolitan pastries.

Neapolitan bakeries have been making Italian pastries for centuries, some of which originated from the kitchens of the Carmelite convents that dotted the Neapolitan landscape for centuries. We’ll cover the rich tradition of these Neapolitan desserts and give you some Italian pastry names so you know which tasty bites to look for when you’re in the city. So hop on the train and head to Naples Centrale Train Station, trust us, you're stomach will thank you. 

We begin with the mother of all Italian pasticceria - the sfogliatella.

Neapolitan pastry - Sfogliatella

The oldest dessert of the Campania region, sfogliatella dates back to the 17th Century and the convent of Santa Rosa on the Amalfi Coast.  Sfogliatella, or “little leaves”, is a flaky pastry in a clam-like shape filled with a mixture of ricotta, semolina, milk, candied eggs and sugar. This custard-esque filling may also include almond paste or bits of candied citron peel. Throughout time many different variants of sfogliatelle have emerged. In these cases you’ll find a second word after sfogliatelle to indicate which variant it might be.

Neapolitan pastry - Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Traditionally baked for St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), you can find these classic pastries any time of the year. The dough is a choux paste baked or fried in the shape of a ring. On top you’ll find a delightful swirl of lemon paste and some macerated Amarena cherries. You can try the baked version, but consensus around Naples is that the fried zeppole is the only way to go.

Neapolitan pastry - Babà

Though most famously associated with Naples, this dessert comes from France, making it a sort of Italian pattiserie. This yeast-leavened cake is cooked in a very hot oven, which gives it its characteristic “mushroom” shape and amber crust. It’s then soaked in syrup, traditionally rum, but sometimes a variation like limoncello. It can also sometimes be filled with fruit, a pastry cream, or even Nutella. You’ll find babà served in bakeries all over Naples.

Neapolitan pastry - Torta caprese

Originating from the island of Capri, this flourless chocolate cake’s delicate flavor comes from the almond flour with which it’s made. Usually topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, this moist cake will vary in texture depending on how coarsely the almonds have been prepared. Sometimes it’s steeped in liqueur for extra moisture and a little kick.

Neapolitan pastry - Ricotta e Pera 

A bit like an ice cream sandwich, this dessert consists of two thin hazelnut biscotti sandwiched around a filling of whipping cream, ricotta, and poached pears. For a cake-style version, a sponge cake is used instead of the biscotti. Simple yet decadent and rich, this treat will leave you craving more.

That’s a quick walk down the bakery aisle in Naples. Make sure to indulge at least once on your next visit. Buon appetito! 

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