Naples’ sweet treats: Neapolitan pastries and desserts

Adam Jones | 21/01/2019
Crema pastiera. Pastries from Naples.
Pastiera

The tradition of Neapolitan pastry can’t be denied — hundreds of years of effort and craft have gone into the creation and evolution of fabulous Neapolitan desserts. Italian pastries aren’t the only thing you can find in Naples — there is a wide variety of tremendous Italian desserts to sample while you’re there.

Here are some of the sugary treats you can look forward to during your visit to Italy’s southern city:

Spumoni

Have you ever dug into a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream? That blend of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry can bring back many childhood memories. That ice cream is named after the traditional Italian treat of spumoni (‘foam’). Spumoni is a molded form of gelato of several flavors, often served with candied fruit or nuts. Spumoni is traditionally a combination of cherry and pistachio, with either chocolate or vanilla being the third flavor. These are sometimes mixed with whipped cream and a fruit or nut layer, making for varied textures and a completely decadent treat.

Graffa napoletana

If you’re a fan of the donut, you’ll likely swoon over a warm graffa napoletana. This is a sugar-coated fried donut, sometimes round but often in the shape of a hook. This treat is a reworking of an Austrian dessert called krapfen, originating from a time when the kingdom of Austria ruled over the area. Graffa sometimes contains an unusual ingredient that you might not associate with desserts — potatoes. They are sometimes cooked down and added to the dough, helping graffa attain their legendary softness.

Pastiera

Neapolitan cuisine is rich in its holiday baking traditions. Pastiera is one such holiday treat, usually served around Easter, though it can be found in Naples pastry shops year round. Pastiera is a type of tart made from eggs, cooked wheat, ricotta cheese and orange flower water. Though originally a dish to celebrate springtime pagan fertility ceremonies, the modern form of pastiera was likely developed in a convent. The nuns of San Gregorio Armeno were considered the traditional masters of the dish.

Sfogliatella

Last but not least is the pride of the pasticceria in Naples — sfogliatella. One of the oldest desserts of the Campania region it’s sometimes called a ‘lobster tail’ in English, though in Italy it’s said to resemble a monk’s cowl. In Naples you’ll find two kinds of the pastry — sfogliatella riccia, the ‘normal’ version, and sfogliatella frolla, which has a less labour intensive way of producing the dough. With a sfogliatella riccia, the dough is rolled out widely on the counter, brushed with fats, then rolled into a many-layered log that gives the finished product its characteristic layers of tender flaky goodness. 

You won’t be able to go wrong when sampling these wonderful treats in Naples. Pair them with an espresso and you’ll have all the energy to explore the city’s busy streets.