I know it's a little late in the game to be posting Easter recipes, but I just left Anna's place an hour ago. My aunt does not normally make her "grain pie" four whole days before the holiday, but she did so this time so that her "rotten nephew" could "take his pictures" for "that meatball thing he does."
Careful readers of this blog will know that I would like nothing more than to go on and on about my dear (and colorful) aunt. But time is getting short for those who are planning to bake during these next couple days, and so I will (sadly) get right to the recipe portion of our program.
Easter grain pie is one of only two dessert items on my Top 10 Foods of All Time list (sfogliatelle being the other). The pie's proper name is, well, that depends on whom you ask. The three most common are Pizza di Grano, Torta di Grano or Pastiera di Grano. It is, as best I can determine, a Neopolitan specialty, a notion that bears some weight, as Naples is where my family's roots run.
Like Pizza Rustica (aka "Easter meat pie"), Pizza di Grano is almost never made any time but around Easter. Only twice have I had it outside of this window, both times because I begged and pleaded to my dear friend Beth, Queen of the Bakers, to please, please, please devote a few hours of her busy life to making me one. (That is a troubling pattern I just now noticed, me cajoling women into baking fine pastries for me I mean. Hm.)
Perhaps we ought get to the demonstration.
Anna's grain pie crust is among the thinnest I have witnessed. It is a fine crust, and here is its beginning. (The full recipe is below.) I asked her the reason behind her method of using room-temperature butter instead of ice cold butter and she smacked me across my head and told me to shut up. (Later she apologized and said that she just does, that's all. I made sure to be standing several feet away when broaching the subject this time.)
The only photograph of my aunt that she will allow me to use is this one. This is the finished dough she is caressing, in case you were wondering.
All rolled out and ready for the filling.
The filling, a mixture of cooked wheat berries, fresh ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, pastry cream and orange zest.
That's the grain you see poking out of the filling.
Before it goes into the oven the pie is topped with these cut strips of dough.
I've got prettier pictures of whole slices, but decided to go with this one instead.
A beautiful thing, no?
Easter Grain Pie (Pizza di Grano)
For the crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp sugar
1 stick sweet butter, softened
3 large eggs
Pour flour out onto a work surface and create a circle in the center. Beat the eggs and sugar together in the circle, then add the butter and begin working into the flour until a ball forms. Allow to rest a few minutes, covered.
Divide into three equal parts, leaving enough dough to form cross strips on top of the pie. Roll the three pieces of dough so that each fits a 9-inch pie dish.
For the grain
1 1/4 cup wheat berries
Peel from one orange
1/4 cup sugar
Soak the grain in water overnight, then drain. In a fresh pot of water add the wheat berries and the orange peel and bring to a boil. Cook 20 to 30 minutes then drain and discard peel. While still warm mix in the sugar.
For the pastry cream
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
Whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a bowl, then whisk in the flour and sugar. Add the milk and whisk together, then transfer to a saucepan. Cook at low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Allow to cool.
For the filling
1 dozen large eggs
1 cup sugar
3 lbs. fresh ricotta
Zest from 1 orange
Cooked wheat berries
Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixer, then add the ricotta, orange zest and pastry cream until well blended. Turn off the mixer and fold in the wheat berries.
Pour the mixture into three 9-inch baking dishes, top each pie with strips of pastry dough, then bake for about an hour at 375 F.
Allow to cool thoroughly before eating.