Sfratto di Pitigliano

Sfratti are a celebration of two cultures colliding, for better or worse. Persian-influenced ingredients from Israel like walnuts, orange zest and honey were mixed with Maremman dessert classics – olive oil and white wine – for a biscuit that’s crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey with every bite.

Today the biscuits remain a symbol of the local fusion cuisine known as Goym. It was a way for the Jewish bakers of the time to commemorate the harmony they once shared with their neighbours and maybe even remind their children that things weren’t always so bitter in Pitigliano.

Pitigliano’s ghetto had its own bakery, which they called the Azzime and where they prepared these biscuits along with their unleavened breads each morning. I decided to buy one and put my decidedly shaky Italian to the test. My language skills failed to impress, but the biscuit did not.
The honey in the filling is boiled before the other ingredients are added, so it takes on this incredible caramel, almost maple syrup like flavour. It’s the biscuit’s most defining characteristic, complemented by walnuts and breadcrumbs that give it texture and the orange zest that provides a final note of freshness. It reminded me of, and Pitigliano locals forgive me, a fig roll. It’s rich and chewy with a distinctive toffee flavour. The surrounding biscuit is thinly rolled and tastes like shortcrust pastry.

I’ve always thought Tuscany was one of the few places in the world able to transport you back hundreds of years in a mouthful. Pitigliano’s Jewish community dispersed during WWII, but the biscuit has survived as a reminder of their hardship, as well as a way for modern locals to remember everything the community contributed to their culture, cuisine and heritage.

For travellers, Pitigliano’s sfratto is a chance to not only learn about, but taste a part of Tuscany’s history, and it’s one of my most defining memories of the Maremma. The biscuit is a protected Slow Food product and I was lucky enough to learn the recipe from a Pitigliano local and expert on Jewish culture and history. I’d love to share it with you.

These biscuits are best enjoyed on the day they’re made… maybe with a glass (or three) of decadent vin santo.

Ingredients:

For the pastry:
300g flour
150g sugar
3 eggs
150g olive oil
7g baking powder
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons of finely grated lemon rind
salt

For the filling:
500g acacia honey
200g walnuts, finely chopped
50g breadcrumbs
pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of finely grated lemon rind, extra
1 egg yolk, for brushing the tops

Method:

To make the dough, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix to form a smooth dough. Knead very lightly then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by placing the honey in a saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until it begins to boil. Scatter over the walnuts, breadcrumbs, nutmeg and lemon zest. Mix well and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the mixture turns the colour of dark toffee.

Taking care not to burn yourself, pour the honey mixture onto a chopping board. Shape the mixture into balls using two spoons lightly coated in olive oil. Leave to cool on a sheet of baking paper and then roll into sausages about 25 centimetres long and 3-4 centimetres wide.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until 0.5mm thick and rectangular shaped. Cut into 5cm thick strips and place one of the filling ‘sausages’ in the middle of each. Brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg yolk and seal around the mixture.

Place the sfratti on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with more egg yolk. Bake for 15 minutes. Leave to cool and slice into rings.