A PASTRY FROM SICILY NAMED ELENA
Elena's sweet and tasty name derives from the dedication that the pastry chefs Butticé and Albergamo wanted to reserve for the visit to the Agrigento area of the then queen of Italy, Elena of Savoy.
Photographs viaFornelli di Sicilia
Sugar makes up the heart of Sicily, and it's evident in the vast array of sweets produced on the island. Every time I get a chance to get there, I find discoveries. The Elena sweets are the latest of the long and endless list. During my travels, I stumbled upon the town of Favara, not far from Agrigento in south-central Sicily. The name of the city is of Arabic origin. It is a late 13th-century castle, built by the Chiaramonte family, Sicilian nobles from the 11th–15th centuries. In a sulfur-mining and marble-quarrying district, its chief industry is the production of tanning extracts and sweets.
Elena's sweet and tasty name derives from the dedication that the pastry chefs Butticé and Albergamo wanted to reserve for the visit to the Agrigento area of the then queen of Italy, Elena of Savoy, consort of Vittorio Emanuele III. Simple to prepare, it comprises two discs of sponge cake soaked in sugar syrup and filled with a generous layer of ricotta cream. Next, a dip of honey diluted in water and covered with a grain of toasted almonds brushed on the sides.
In some ways, similar to Elena's, a dessert is the classic Diplomatic from Puglia with the difference that it replaces the sponge cake with two layers of puff pastry. The steps are very similar. After my visit to Favara, I came across a beautiful site that offered a tested and accurate recipe through some research. Fornelli di Sicilia "Sicily's stovetop," by Rosaria Polizzotti, affectionately known by her friends as "RO." Rosaria, as the name implies, is strictly Sicilian but with some Apulian traces. She is a professional teacher and a prolific food blogger, but incredibly talented behind her Fornelli. She's been baking since the tender age of 7 and now shares her knowledge with the world.
I have not met Rosaria, which I will do once I can return there, but I am convinced that she has a solar, outgoing, and curious personality. Her photograph offers a glimpse of a lady who enjoys life, loves to laugh, and adores sharing what she loves. To better understand Rosaria's philosophy, read the statement below:
"I am convinced that the number one ingredient to make a good kitchen is the love we take care of every dish, from the most elaborate to the simplest. I don't know how to describe it, but I feel like I'm doing something important when I'm in the kitchen. It is a gesture of love towards the one you love. Through my recipes, I declare: "look what I have done for you, what I have done for you." Capers, fennel, ricotta, and aubergines and bottles of tomatoes, tuna in oil, capers, and oranges are my arrows with which to hit the heart. My idea is that "we cook what we are."
Well, Rosaria, it seems like you have it all in place, and the recipe for Elena's sweets is a tribute to you and to all of those who follow your enchanting and talented journey! I am confident that my followers will share your passion.
Rosaria Polizzotti's Elena's Sweets
Ingredients for six Elenas
For the bread of Spain, aka as sponge cake
Six large organic eggs
Six ounces of granulated sugar
Six-1/2 ounces of 00 Flour
Two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
For the ricotta cream filling
One pound of fresh cow's milk whole ricotta
Five ounces of confectioner's sugar
For the basting liquid
Five ounces of water
Two ounces of granulated sugar
For the garnish
Four ounces of whole almonds, peeled
Three tablespoons of organic honey
Two tablespoons of water
Confectioner's sugar to taste
Make the ricotta cream:
Make the ricotta cream first. As usual, the day before, drain the ricotta to release all the whey. Then, transfer it to a colander and leave it in the fridge overnight until fully dry. It would be best if you had ricotta that's dry and not watery.
The next day, push ricotta through a sieve. Mix it with the sugar until it has dissolved entirely and lump-free. Cover the bowl with cling film and place it in the fridge until it's time to use it.
Make the syrup:
Pour the water into a saucepan with the sugar and bring to a boil. Let the syrup boil for a minute, turn it off, and allow it to cool.
Make the sponge cake:
Break the eggs into the mixer bowl, mounted with a whisk, and add the sugar and vanillin. Run the machine at low speed first to avoid splashing and then move to high speed. Beat the eggs for at least 10 minutes until the mixture is light and has tripled in volume.
With a spatula, incorporate the sifted flour into the whipped eggs a little at a time. Then, combine the flour in delicate strokes. You don't want to deflate the egg's airy texture.
Grease a 12 inches square baking pan, sprinkle with 00 flour, making it adhere to all sides and eliminate the excess. Pour the mixture into the pan, level it with a spatula, and bake at 350 F.degrees for 30/40 minutes.
During the cooking time, avoid opening the oven. Instead, after the time has elapsed, partially open the door leaving the sponge cake inside until it has cooled almost completely.
Transfer it to a grid to disperse some of the moisture.
Use a serrated knife to peel off the top layer of the sponge cake. Then, with a pastry cutter of 3-4 inches in diameter, make disks from the sponge cake (if you want, you can use a smaller knife and make more Elena). With the pan used, you will get six discs that you will cut entirely in half.
Assembly of Elena pastry:
With a brush, moisten the inside of the two halves of sponge cake with water and sugar syrup. Adjust the quantity by the consistency of the sponge cake.
Spread a few spoonfuls of ricotta cream on the lower disc until you get a layer of about 1/2 inches. Cover with the other disc of sponge cake and press lightly. Continue until you have used up all the ingredients.
Put a saucepan on the stove and dissolve the three tablespoons of honey in 2 tablespoons of water.
Toast the almonds and coarsely chop them with a knife until you get a uniform consistency in a separate skillet.
Brush the entire edge of each Elena pastry with honey and sprinkle with the chopped almond, trying to make it adhere as much as possible.
Thoroughly dust the surface of each single Elenas and let it rest in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.
Photographs via Fornelli di Sicilia
Thanks for reading. Eat safe! Ciao Chef W
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