Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November Daring Bakers' Challenge - Sfogliatelle

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge was a real challenge. Despite the relatively simple ingredients and well written instructions, this was a true challenge from start to finish!

Sandie of the lovely blog, Crumbs of Love, was our November hostess. Sandie challenged us to make a traditional Italian dessert, along with its American version – Sfogliatelle (or better known in the US – lobster tails!) The flakey, 1000 layers of super thin dough, shaped into a horn and filled with a scrumptious filling. Così buono!

I'd seen these flaky, layered cookies in my favorite Italian bakery, but, to the best of my memory, I really don't think I'd ever tasted it before.  But just looking at the photo... it was daunting! It looked so complicated and difficult!

Reading the recipe and directions, the first thing that jumped out at me is that the whole process "requires" a pasta roller - it's how the initial dough is kneaded, and how the final dough is rolled out to form the thin, flaky layers.

I don't have a pasta roller.  

No problem. Other members were having luck without one, so I hoped I would do just as well. 

The dough is actually incredibly simple. Flour, a touch of salt, and water.

The problem is the proportions.  The dough is, by design, very, very dry.

Very. Very. Dry.

According to the instructions, this very rough, very dry dough should be brought together and worked through a pasta roller many times, which works to hydrate the dough enough to make it cohesive and smooth.

I tried kneading the dough. It did not work well at all.

So I used my counter, rolling pin and body weight to create my own pata roller.

Pushing with all my weight, I was able to work the dough enough that it finally, actually, came together!

Now, it was still VERY tough, but at least it was smooth, and looked kind of right.  The dough then rested for a few hours in the fridge, then at room temperature for a few more hours (totalling overnight resting for this dough. Trust me - the time helps hydrate the dough. Don't rush it!)

I was then ready to proceed with the next daunting part - rolling out the dough.

In order to work the dough as thin as it needs to be, the dough is divided into four sections.

Each section is then rolled as thin as possible (if you have a pasta roller, use it!!) into a long, four inch wide rectangle. The rectangle is then coated with a mixture of butter and shortening (well, the recipe calls for lard... I used shortening...)...

...and then stretched even thinner and rolled up. This process is repeated with each of the four sections of dough, with each section being rolled up around the previous sections, until you are left with one greased up dough log.

This is then wrapped in plastic wrap and put back in the fridge. Overnight. Again. (yes, this took  me three days!)

And now came the fun part. Actually making the cookies!

It starts with cuttting the dough log into half-inch sections.

Then you take a few photos with some jokesters photo-bombing the whole thing...

Then I handed the camera over to daddy because I knew my hands were about to be greasy.

Each of those half inch sections is pressed, using the heal of your hand... create a cone-type shape.

Now, let me step back  here for one second. The next step is to pipe in filling.  The filling is supposed to be a ricotta-semolina filling. Which sounds amazing.  With little man's dairy allergy, I skipped that part. I made a filling using vegan cream cheese.  So what you see here is that vegan no-bake-cheesecake-style filling being piped into the dough cone.

Then just press the open end together and they're ready for the oven!

And that is where the magic happens. The layers open up, all that butter and shortening crisps everything to a nice goldenn brown, and you are left with these cool looking cookies!

A sprinkling of powdered sugar...

...and they were finally done!

I have to say - while they weren't all picture perfect, and while I know that there were a few technical errors in there (hello, gaping holes!), I was really proud of myself after making these. They were a lot of effort, but were well worth it. My in-laws told me that they were just like what they remember from fancy Italian bakeries, in looks, taste and texture. How cool is that??

Sandie, I can't thank you enough for this awesome challenge. Truly challenge, truly rewarding, this was a great challenge and you were a lovely, encouraging and enthusiastic hostess!!

And a special shout-out to my baking buddy this month, Korena! She and I spent the whole weekend messaging each other back and forth with questions and tips and progress reports - it made the whole thing so much fun. Couldn't have done it with out you, Korena!!

To see the other amazing sfogliatelle baked in the kitchen this month, check them out here.

And to see the full recipes as provided by Sandie this month, check out the full challenge here.

Sfogliatelle Ricci 
Servings: 14-18 pastries

For the Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water (about 100°F)
4 oz lard (I used vegetable shortening)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
filling of your choice (recipe for what I used below)

Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir in the water, or use your standing mixer with the paddle attachment. The dough will be very dry. If you feel absolutely compelled, add an extra teaspoon of water but it is supposed to be very dry. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead it together, bringing in all the dry bits as best as you can. At this point get your pasta roller out and ready. Roll out the dough to about 1/3 inch (10 mm) and pass through your pasta machine at the widest setting. Fold the dough in half after each pass also change the direction of the dough occasionally. After about 15 passes the dough should be very smooth. 
If you don't have a pasta roller, this will take a lot of muscle, time and determination, but I promise, you can do it. Letting the dough stand for a few minutes after every few minutes of kneading will help the dough to hydrate a bit better, which will make it a bit easier to knead. I promise, the dough will become smooth.
Knead the dough back into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate and rest the dough for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to proceed, beat the lard/shortening and butter together in your mixing bowl (I used my stand mixer) until very fluffy. Make sure it is thoroughly combined. Set this aside, you will need it in easy reaching distance once you start rolling.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time (cover the other pieces with a towel or plastic wrap), lightly flour a piece pass it through the pasta roller set at the widest setting. Try to get the dough as even as possible, your goal is an even rectangle strip, about 4 inches (10 cm) in width. If needed, fold it over on itself a few times until you get an even strip. Once even, pass the dough through every setting, ending with the highest.
If you don't have a pasta roller, you will need to roll the dough by hand. A little bit of warmth is a big help in rolling the dough by hand. You can either create a heat tent by heating a pot and placing it over the dough or by gently microwaving each section as you begin to work with it. Be patient with it and roll carefully.
Whichever way you roll out the dough, you should end up with a long 4 inch wide strip. Repeat with the other three remaining pieces of dough.
Place one piece of a strip on you clean work surface and paint (or smear) it liberally with the lard/butter mixture. It might be easier to spread only section at a time rather than the whole thing at once, but you will find what works for you. Gently pull the sides of the dough and stretch it, starting from the middle and going out, until it is about 8 or 9 inches in width. Again, do this slowly and carefully. Begin from the short end and start rolling the dough into a very tight roll. When you start to reach the end of your stretched section, stop and liberally grease up another section, stretching and rolling until all the dough is finished. When one strip of dough is finished, overlap the end of one to the beginning of the other; continue to pull, stretch and roll up until all of the dough is in one rolled-up log.
Spread the lard/butter mixture over the entire finished log and starting in the middle gently run the hands down the length to extend the length another inch or so. This will release any air pockets and tighten the roll. Your finished roll should be approximately 10 or 11 inches long.
Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. The dough may be frozen for up to 3 months at this time. Once frozen, simply defrost it in the refrigerator overnight before using.

When you are reaady to bake, preheat your oven to moderately hot 400°F, line 2 baking sheets with parchment, remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place on a cutting board. This is also when you need your filling ready, so be sure that you have it made and in a piping bag (or plastic bag with the corner cut - whatever works!). 
Slice off about an inch from each end of the dough log so that the ends are straight and even. Cut the roll into 1/2 inch slices. 
Take one slice of dough and place it on your workplace. With the heel of your hand, push out from the center in one direction. Rotate the dough and do this in all four directions. This forms the dough and opens up the layers. Pick up the piece and insert your thumbs on the inside with your forefingers on the outside meanwhile gently stretch the center to make it more into the shape of a cone. You don't want the layers to actually separate. Holding the cone in one hand, squeeze some of the filling into the cavity so it is full. Lightly push the opening closed. 
Place the closed dough triangle onto the prepared baking sheet and very lightly brush the outside of each completed pastry with the lard/butter mixture (I skipped that part - there was plenty of the butter/shortening mixture on my dough so I didn't feel the need to add more.) 
Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.
Remove the trays from the oven and cool the cookies on a rack. These are best served warm with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar on the day they are made. To reheat them, just place them in a moderate 350°F oven for about 5 minutes.


The filling that I made was a vegan no-bake cheesecake filling:
8 ounce container of vegan cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until it is soft and fluffy.
Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until well incorporated and very fluffy.
Transfer the filling to a piping bag or plastic bag from which you can cut the corner to create your own piping tool.
Simple and delicious! 


  1. I totally thought those were oysters in the last picture, which is what posted to FB. But this all sounds amazingly delicious!

  2. Shelley they look GORGEOUS. I love that big pile of them, all dusted with icing sugar. It was my absolute pleasure to be your baking buddy this month - let's do it again sometime, shall we? :)

  3. What beautiful treats! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  4. Wow you did these with a rolling pin? You're amazing! :o I found them challenging enough with a pasta roller :P

  5. They look gorgeous, I admire your courage and I'm more and more decided to try to make them this week-end!

  6. Awesome work! We should all we proud of ourselves after making it through this challenge, especially those like you who rolled the dough by hand!

  7. They look so beautiful! Lovely layers and kudos to you for doing this by hand too.

  8. I love these Italian pastries! Yours look so delicious :)
    Beautiful job!

  9. Oh my goodness, I am so impressed that you rolled these out by hand. Amazing!

  10. Shelly, these are amazing looking - and without a pasta roller!! You are strong :) So glad you liked the challenge, thanks for the kind words
    Best, Sandie


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