The second edition of San Gennà, un dolce per San Gennaro, held yesterday at the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo, was both a great skill test in the use of Made in Italy ingredients, and a great performance of decorative and packaging mastery. Sticking to the subject of Saint Januarius, we asked our seven skill masters to reveal the tricks of trade used to turn their sweets in true small 'miracles'. Come with us to the Paradise of the White Art.
Choux pastry, shortcrust pastry, puff pastry, fruitcakes, brioches, and sponge cake: these are the bases of the masterpieces of San Gennà… un dolce per San Gennaro. So we asked to each one of the competing pastry chefs to reveal one of the secrets that make prodigious these classics. Take note!
Angelo Mattia Tramontano of Gran Caffè Napoli 1850 conceived a Saint Januarius made of shortcrust pastry: his 'Anima' is a reinterpretation of the classic Neapolitan pasticciotto in an ice-cream version, matched by a puff pastry-made Saint Januarius' crosier. We asked him to reveal his tricks of trade for these two basic pastries. "In addition to the choice of ingredients, which is always the first step for the success of a cake, the shortcrust pastry's secret is to pay attention to the temperature - in other words, working as little as possible the product to minimize contact with the heat of the hands - and using strictly cold butter. For the puff pastry, instead, I give a couple of four-turns while mixing the butter in order to make the product more crumbly and more alveolated."
Le Monzù Cake is instead the cake of Antonio Costagliola of Restaurant Le Monzù. A fruitcake of Ligurian basil with candied lemons and raspberry jelly, accompanied by raspberry cocked cream, Sorrento IGP lemon gel, lemon sorbet, and basil distillate.
But how we can make the recipe for a fruitcake unforgettable? "The secret is the flour - tells us our young pastry chef - Too much strong flours should be avoided as too much gluten makes the dough soft. Above all, fruitcakes require a lot of attention when you whip the eggs. Too much whipping and the dough tends to break."
A brioche pasta made with the Mulino Caputo's Manitoba flour and letting the dough rest overnight is the secret of Michael Roper's Caciocavallo Cheesecake: a sweet brioche filled with ricotta cheese, caciocavallo cheese, and Vesuvius tomato jam.
"A perfect almond shortcrust pastry requires that the ingredients are placed in the right order - says Giuseppe Esposito of the Roxy bar in Sant'Agata sui due Golfi - first you work butter and sugar as little as possible, then slowly mix the eggs, and only at the end you add the powders, that is Mulino Caputo's Superiore flour and almond powder." It is no coincidence that his Januarius Fede e Miracoli, a pastry with almond shortcrust and lemon cream inspired by the mitre of San Gennaro, has a wrapping of shortcrust pastry as precious as the jewels of the treasure of the Patron Saint of Naples.
"San Gennà Fottetenne" is the cake showed by Mario di Costanzo of Pasticceria Di Costanzo and conceived in team with the journalist Francesco Andoli, expert in Neapolitan anthropology and owner of Januarius, a gastronomic landmark for all the fans of Saint Januarius (but not only for them!) just near the Cathedral. The base of this cake is the pellecchiella, a typical apricot from the lands around the Vesuvius chosen because - according to popular worship - Saint Januarius is the only one who can stop the fury of the volcano. Then Calabrian licorice, because the Saint was born in Calabria, and raspberry, to recall the Blood Miracle. The secret tip that Mario di Costanzo gives us is about the preparation of the sponge cake. "For a top product, attention should be given to the processing of eggs and sugar. The sponge cake's softness is in fact directly proportional to the amount of air absorbed by these two ingredients during the mixing!"
And here's the trick of trade of Ciro Scognamillo of Pasticceria Poppella. His dedication to the Patron Saint of Naples is called "Cupola di San Gennaro" and has something miraculous in itself, thanks to the simultaneous baking of choux pastry and puff pastry stuffed with fresh cream and ricotta and enriched with cherry jelly. For Ciro, puff pastry is one of the most difficult basic pastries in pastry making. His tip is to pay close attention to the handling of the butter inside. "If you are able to turn the butter well, the result is almost yet assured!"
Let's close the roundup of tips with that of the winner of the contest, Raffaele Barresi of the Capparelli pastry shop, who created 'Stai Sciolto', a sponge cake log (in cake and single-portion versions) stuffed with strawberry jam and glazed with strawberry chocolate. "To make a sponge cake that remains soft for a long time, the secret lies in the doses of flour - explains us the champion - the right proportion is 30 grams of flour per egg."
In short, quality ingredients and artisan experience are always the true allies for a prodigious result. But for other miraculous secrets we will have to wait for the third edition of the contest, to be held in July 2020.