Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Aunt Anna's Easter grain pie

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
Pastry cream
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.


Unknown said...

There goes my ability to make it to dinner without a snack.

I remember this pie from times that I consumed it under the age of 10 and it was amazing. It absolutely deserves to be in the ranks of sfogliatelle, although I'd put Nana Mary's cream puffs and struffoli up there with them.

Claudia said...

We have pretty close to the same recipe - except that mine feeds Naples and I was told you cannot cut it down any further. I think I am related to Aunt Anna. I'm sure she's my mother's long-lost sister. And yes - it's a thing of beauty and wonder and always will be.

Proud Italian Cook said...

That's a total thing of beauty, Aunt Anna's got it going on!

Fred said...

In my family, we eat "pastiera"--one word is enough. In my family, we dust it with cinnamon as well as confectionary sugar. In my family, the top is a lattice of pastry. In my family, we eat pastiera at Christmas as well as Easter. My family must be Philistines. But they are Napoletani Philistiines! Buoua Pasqua a tutti.

Jeannie said...

Just so beautiful! I love the thinness of the crust, it's almost transparent!

Beth said...

I am honored to be mentioned in the same piece as Anna. I would sure like to try her pie--looks amazing!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I think I'm in love with your aunt -and her pastiera. does she ship?

lindaj said...

All I can say beyond my diet's ruined forever is ummm yummm.
Thanks for your blog, and thanks to newsletter for turning me on to it

The Glamorous Gourmet said...

Wow - does that look delicious & fabulous photos too! Hope you had a wonderful Easter and thanks for stopping by my blog - Cheers!

Kt said...

Wow, that looks fabulous!

La Buona Forchetta said...

When I first started dating MM, I attempted to find out from his Sainted Mother what exactly the grain was in the grain pie (this is a women who, like many instinctual cooks, gives answers such as "until it's done" to the question, "how long does it cook for"?). I tried evey possible way of asking the question--is it barley?, does it come in a box?-- since this was before the era of regional Italian cookbooks and the internet, and I honestly wanted to know; she kept saying "it's grain," as if I was daft.

I did know that around Easter time, you could buy it in all the Italian stores already soaked and ready to use, and that this was the only way she bought it.

Finally a lightbulb went off, and I said: "When you go to the store and you ask the man at the counter for it, what do you ask for?" Answer: "I tell him I'm gonna make three grain pies and he gives me what I need." God, I miss her.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Thanks for this wonderful recipe! My in laws never made grain pie. They were probably too poor when they were in Calabria to afford all the ingredients. My mother-in-law made a biscuit type cookies that were wrapped around eggs every Easter as her special treat.

Stacey Snacks said...

This is a labor of love. I have never made one, but am tempted to give it a try for next weekend for my husband's family. Stuff from my childhood in Jersey. Aunt Anna is queen!