Crescia sfogliata is a flaky, slightly addictive flatbread from the town of Urbino in Le Marche. The recipe dates back to medieval times. Crescia sfogliata are related to neighbouring Romagna’s piadina (a flatbread) and are a variation on the paratha from India and the shou zhua bing from China. Eating one for the first time is a bit like discovering the croissant. You will want to eat one everyday and won’t remember how you lived life without knowing about them. The possibilities for the fillings include wild greens, vegetables, salumi, sausage and/or cheese.
The fable accompanying the origin of the crescia sfogliata goes like this: the sun fell in love with the beauty of Urbino so he flew so low that he was entangled with one of the towers of Palazzo Ducale. The sun tried to break free, creating sparks in the struggle. This inspired a young baker to make a pastry into a golden disc which would rise and desire to fly high, called a crescia.
The recipe for the crescia sfogliata looks complicated but once you have done the first one, it is really straight forward. These breads make a great starter or wrap them up to keep them warm and take on a picnic. Children adore them.
The key to these breads is to make a nice even layer of lard across the bread, which is not too thin. This layer keeps the bread moist and will help the bread to puff up and create the desirable flaky pastry inside. This recipe is based off a recipe from the Italian Academy for Historical Cooking’s website.
500 gms “0” flour (can use strong bread flour), sifted
1 egg (50 grams)
100 g lard, room temperature
80 g milk, tepid
120 grams water
7 grams (1 heaped teaspoon) salt
Freshly ground black pepper
60 grams of lard to create the layers
Mix together the flour, egg, lard, salt, pepper, milk and water to form a dough. Let the dough sit for 20 minutes covered. Pull one side of the dough and fold it into the middle. Pull the opposite side and pull it into the middle to overlap the first one. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat the pulling. Roll dough over with the folded side downwards and cover. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into balls of 140 grams each. For each ball, pull one side of the dough and fold it into the middle. Pull the opposite side and pull it into the middle to overlap the first one. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat the pulling. Roll dough over with the folded side downwards and cover. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Cover the balls with cling film and allow them to rest for half an hour. Spray the worktop with oil. Use a rolling pin to roll each ball to form a sheet of dough 2-3 millimetres thick. Brush on 10 grams of lard to form a thin, even layer of lard on the top of the dough.
Starting at one end, begin to roll the dough up to form a tube. Turn the end of the roll inwards and roll the rest of it around to form a snail-like disc. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Cover with cling film and place in the refrigerator for one hour.
Heat a cast iron frying pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Be sure the pan is hot so that the bread cooks quickly otherwise it will become dry and hard. Ensure it is not too hot otherwise it will burn.
Spray the work surface with oil. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough until it is 3 mm thick. Place one disc of dough at a time in the hot pan, rotating it continually until it browns, puffs and has bubbles. Turn it over and repeat on the other side. Repeat with the remaining discs of dough until finished.
Place one crescia on a cutting board, fill with your filling of choice. Top it with another crescia and and cut into slices.