This is a dark and sinful breakfast. This is not your hearty eggs and toast or healthy yogurt and fresh fruit. This is sugar and creamy, cheesy filling with a flaky, pastry crust. Then sometimes there are those subtle flecks of citron. There's the satisfying crunch as you break through the layers (le sfoglie) to the sweet creamy center. Now there are flecks of sfogliatella crumbs all over your cheeks and down the front of your shirt. This is where I start bargaining with myself. Just one more and I will start running every morning before work. Two and I will take the forty-five minute walk home this week. I have no will power. I crumble and sip my cappuccino knowing full well that I won't even so much as double my yoga classes.
The first time I can remember appreciating a sfogliatella was in in Naples. I had had them before but never did they stand out as memorable as this one time. It was many years ago and I was visiting relatives and friends in Italy during my August vacation. I met up with my cousin, Livia and we took the train from my father's hometown in Frosinone south to Naples, where she was living and going to school. She was opening up her world to me, I got to see her apartment, her city. I was so eager I had my bag packed within the hour. Livia was a native Italian, raised in southern Lazio. Our father's were brothers. Mine came to live in the US, hers stayed in Italy. There had always been so much geographical distance between us that I was curious about her daily life, her friends, her routine, her home.
Livia spoke no English but was remarkably patient with my Italian. I marveled at how easy it was to understand her but I realize she must have made a real effort to speak slowly and simple for her American cousin, who talked way too much in a language that had not been mastered. We talked about art, food and agriculture. We giggled about things I don't remember in between.
Livia promised to introduce me to her favorite Neapolitan foods and the best places to get them. The first place we went to was a coffee bar right outside the train station. It was a small bar with a long counter and we ordered two espressos and two sfoglietelle. The bar was full of stocky middle-aged men smoking and talking loudly with snapping hand movements. Clearly this place had never had an interior designer, or even a picture on the wall, but still it had an atmosphere simple because it had absorbed Naples, its people, its sounds, smells and tastes. As I sipped my coffee and bit into what I will forever consider my first real Napoletano pastry, everything around me seemed to drop away from the pleasure of that moment. Livia squeezed her coffee colored eyes in a blink and a nod to say "you are very welcome."
This is me in front of Egidio's off Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. I have had this sweet in many a pastry shop in NY but this was my first time at Egidio's. It was light on the cream filling (which was nice actually), minus the citron and had a wonderful light, flaky crust. Another place in NY with a killing sfogliatella is Paneantico in Bay Ridge. What can I say? For good sfogliatella you have got to travel.