I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Sfratti, a cookie originating in the picturesque hilltop top of Pitigliano traditionally prepared by Italian Jews to celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah (yes, it is months away). With Purim quickly approaching, many of us are baking in anticipation; in past years I have used the intoxicating spicy Sfratti filling for Purim treats, so why not just bake some Sfratti?
The English translation for sfratto is eviction and refers to a time when landlords would employ a stick to evict unwanted Jewish tenants. The cookie’s shape mimics the shape of the stick to serve as a reminder of an unhappy time in history. Symbolic sweets to commemorate the struggles of a people is a recurring theme in Jewish life, and the Italian Jewish community has quite an extensive repertoire of symbolic sweets weaving together their Italian and Jewish heritages.
Years ago Edda Servi Machlin documented the culinary history of her family in Pitigliano with two volumes; The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews I & II . Her documentation of a way of life long gone is fascinating from a historical prospective. A second excellent resource of Italian Jewish Cuisine, in Italian only I’m afraid, La Cucina della Tradition Ebraica (the kitchen in the Jewish tradition) recounts the traditions of the melting pot that has been the Italian Jewish community through holiday celebrations.
The Sfratti are formed in log shapes resembling crude sticks and at first glance may not seem terribly appealing; don’t be fooled. The pastry is a mixture of flour bound with white wine and olive oil, readily available ingredients without using any dairy making the little pastries suitable for a meat meal for those observing Kosher laws. It can be quickly made in the work bowl of a food processor and finished with a bit of hand kneading. The dough is especially easy to work with once it has rested in the refrigerator, making rolling out the pieces a snap.
Select the honey carefully as this is the fragrant binding agent for the filling; I often like to combine different honey such as a floral one from Italy along with a bitter local artichoke honey to create a more complex flavor profile. As you heat the honey along with the orange rind, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper the aroma redolent of the once powerful spice trade in Italy fills the room. Once the lightly toasted walnuts have been added it is difficult to resist sampling the hot concoction straight from the pan.
Sfratti are so easy to make and can be frozen in stick form until ready to use. Traditionally the sticks are cut on a diagonal into diamond like shapes, but I prefer to cut them in to 3/4” slices when ready to serve.
- 3 cups of AP or 00 flour
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- Large pinch of kosher salt
- ⅔ cup of dry white wine
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- Grated zest of one lemon
- 1 cup of flavorful honey, I combined a floral honey and artichoke honey
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- Grated rind of 2 oranges
- 4 cups of walnuts, lightly toasted and hand chopped
- Flour for rolling the pastry
- Combine the white wine and olive oil in a pitcher. Place the flour, sugar, salt, and grated lemon peel into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixed thoroughly. With the processor running, pour the wine and oil mixture into the processor and run until a soft dough begins to form, do not over-process. Remove the loosely formed dough to a work surface and knead for for a few minutes until the dough comes together and is smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
- Have two heavy duty baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
- Assemble the ingredients for the filling, having a medium sized saucepan on the stove. Place the honey, spices and orange rind in the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, watch the pot carefully, you do not want the honey to boil over. Reduce the flame if necessary and gently boil for about 3 minutes, stirring to be sure that the spices and orange rind are well combined. The room will fill with the most wonderful aroma. Add the nuts and give the pot a good stir to be sure that they are evenly coated with the perfumed honey mixture. Continue to stir for an additional 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove from the stove and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, giving the walnut filling a good stir every so often; you do not want it to get completely cold and solidify.
- In the meantime, remove the pastry from the refrigerator and divide into 6 even pieces, forming each into a ball which you will hand stretch into a small rectangle of about 2 inches by 4 inches. Lightly flour the work surface and roll the dough into a 10 X 4 inch rectangle; arrange the finished rectangles on the work surface to be filled.
- Preheat the oven to 375º.
- Using a large spoon place a row of filling down the center of each of the pieces of rolled pastry, dividing the filling equally among the 6 pieces of pastry. Roll the pastry dough around the filling, turning the “sticks” so the seam is at the bottom. Pinch together both ends of each of the logs and place 3 on each of the baking sheets.
- Place in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is light golden. Halfway during the baking process reverse the position and shelf of the trays. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Once the Sfratti are completely cool, you may cut them into slices or on the diagonal. The “sticks” may also be wrapped in foil for several weeks or frozen. Slice when you are ready to serve.
Madelyn Isaacs says
Wow! What a special recipe – I remember buying this stick in Pitigliano. Your photos and writing are especially descriptive today. Thanks for the memories and a doable recipe.
They are quite a treat with a very special history. Thank you so much for your lovely comment Madelyn, give them a try (or perhaps a family member will).
Craig Sawyer says
I can’t wait to try this recipe! I have seen it offered as dolce at a few Italian restaurants, but never knew what it was. I did a Google Maps search for Pitigliano only to find there’s more than one in Italy. I’m guessing it’s the one in the province of Grosseto, not the one in Perugia, right?
You are correct Craig, it is in Tuscany in the province of Grosseto. Actually, I have a blog post about Pitigliano dated December 1, 2014 in which I discuss the history of the town as well as mention a fine restaurant located there. Thank you for you comment and I look forward to hearing how you like the Sfratti.
Ciao Chow Linda says
I’ve always wanted to see Pitigliano, but haven’t managed to stop there yet. next time…. But I have made sfratti, and love them. Yours look wonderful.
You must visit Linda, a wonderful blend of culture reflected in the history. The town is picturesque and quite charming.
I’ve never heard of these and they look so delectable I will have to try them.
Janie they really are delectable – the aroma that fills the room when preparing the filling is truly intoxicating.
Love the cookies. I have to believe they go back a long way, probably to the Middle Ages, I’d say, judging from the free use of spices. And the recipe looks easy enough that even a non-baker like myself could do it…
Thank you so much Frank. I would have to agree given the spice trade of that particular period. Sfratti could not be simpler, virtually effortless as far as a baking project goes, give them a try.
I think I could pull this off, they sound wonderful, anything filled with nuts and I’m in!
Don’t be silly, of course you could Marie. The aroma, the flavor…you will love them!
Lisa DiVittori says
My Nona made these and they are my 90-year-old father’s favorite. We could never find the origin of the cookie! I may have to blend your dough recipe with my Nona’s as her dough is dry when baked and tends to crumble when it is cut. Your dough looks as if it is a little lighter. Thanks for this! <3
I am so glad I brought back some special memories Lisa. Strata certainly has an interesting history and I have only actually seen them in Pitigliano, I would be interested in knowing where your Nonna was from. All the best with the recipe and a wonderful Thanksgiving to you and you family.
Lynnette Pellegrini says
My grandparents are from there. My Nonna used to make these. Yummmmm