My parents have been making this Italian pastry for Christmas for as long as I can remember. It's almost unbelievable and I'm embarrassed to say that I have only just recently (in Christmas 2016) made this recipe for the first time. Luckily, my parents and my aunt and uncle were all available to help me out this year and to impart their wisdom on the proper technique and traditional way our family makes them.
In addition to making them the traditional way, this year, we made a couple of 21st century changes to the recipe. First, my uncle suggested that we add a layer of grated milk chocolate on top of the raisin and nut filling. In my opinion this was an excellent suggestion because the chocolate added a nice depth of flavor to the pastry. I liked it so much that I plan to intensify the chocolate flavor the next time I make them by bumping it up to a semisweet instead of a milk chocolate. The second change we made was in how we traditionally roll, bake, cut, and serve the pittas. There are many ways to roll and assemble the pastry. My parents traditionally roll the pitta 'mpigliata into a log, bake the log, and then cut the log into slices and serve. For some, we decided to slice the unbaked logs and then bake the slices. For others, we rolled each little pitta individually into rosettes. I think my preference is slicing the unbaked log first, then baking the individual slices, rather than rolling each pitta individually or baking the logs first and then slicing before serving. My only caution with slicing first before baking is that you should make sure that you roll the pittas tightly and seal the ends and bottom of the pitta logs so your slices will stay round and pretty while they bake. Regardless of how you do it, I promise you, they will be delicious. As we say in Italy, "meglio di nostri!"
Learning to make pita 'impigliata has been on my bucket list for quite some time and now I can happily cross it off. So here is our family recipe for the famous pastry that hails from the small village of San Giovanni in Fiore in the Sila. Also, on your way to San Giovanni in Fiore, you won't want to miss a stay at the fabulous Hotel Grandinetti, nestled in the Sila mountains, and only a few minutes by car away from San Giovanni in Fiore.
Step 1: Mix walnuts, raisins, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon, amaretto or orange-flavored liquor, honey, and orange zest together in a large bowl and let set overnight.
Step 2: Melt shortening. Add oil, wine, and brandy or amaretto to the melted shortening.
Step 3: In stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat eggs, then add oil mixture to eggs and beat until incorporated.
Step 4: Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Add dissolved yeast to the egg mixture and beat on low speed.
Step 5: Sift dry ingredients together. Gradually add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
Step 6: Divide dough into 9 equal parts. Let dough rest for about 30 minutes.
Step 7: While dough is resting, finely grate chocolate, if using. Set aside. Mix together 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
Step 8: To roll out in logs -- roll out each piece of dough and brush lightly with melted butter.
Step 9: Spread honey over dough. Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Step 10: Spread raisin and nut filling over dough. Sprinkle with chocolate (if using). Top with a small amount of honey. Roll as desired.
To roll out individually into rosettes:
Step 11: Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes or until light brown. Do not over bake. Slice cooled rolls and serve.