Easter is upon us and chocolate eggs and bunnies are popping up everywhere. Less represented in the Easter array is the spring lamb. The ubiquitous Colomba (a fluffy dove-shaped Easter cake flavoured with candied citron zest) may be the most popular Italian Easter cake.
However, there is another Easter cake which shares the same origin as the Colomba in Pavia, Lombardia. Sfoglia di agnello (meaning “puff pastry lamb”) is even more popular in Pavia than the Colomba and it is easy to understand why. Its crisp layers of puff pastry are slathered with creamy vanilla and chocolate custard and outlined with chantilly cream. The whole cake is made in the shape of a lamb, making it almost too cute to eat. Almost. This cake has never lasted more than a couple of hours in my house. I actually prefer for it to meld together a bit before cutting so that the puff pastry is slightly less crisp but that would be at the risk of not tasting it at all as it very quickly disappears.
Napoleons, mille-feuille or millefoglie were my favourite pastry growing up and my only decision when offered a treat from the pastry shop was whether I would have a chocolate or vanilla one. My son demands this cake for his birthday every year. Since it is not Easter, I don’t bother cutting the pastry into little lambs which makes more cake for everyone and less work for me. Win-win. I also add sliced strawberries to the layers and let him decorate the top with sprinkles. Everyone is happy. You could also add bananas, jam or raspberries or substitute whipped cream for one or both of the custards, the possibilities are endless.
Some may jibe at the fact that I recommend buying puff pastry rather than making your own at home. I find that a good quality, all-butter, store-bought puff pastry is just as good and much less work than making your own. Go ahead and judge me but that is what I think. I believe in making most food from scratch but if life offers suitable substitutes without the work, why create more work for yourself? I also don’t mill my own flour or extract my own oil. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere. Certainly no one will be thinking about that as they are eating it.
Agnello di sfoglia Pasquale (mille-feuille with chocolate and vanilla)- Lombardia
This is a typical Easter cake from the provinces of Pavia and Lodi in Lombardy. It is layers of puff pastry typically baked and then cut into three layers. Here I bake 3 separate layers to reduce the risk of breakage. Make the custards the day before to ensure they are more solid. For step-by-step illustrated instructions, click here.
- 3 sheets puff pastry
- ½ recipe crema pasticcera (custard), but increase the rice flour and cornflour to 25 grams each, chilled
- ½ recipe crema pasticcera al cioccolato (chocolate custard)but increase the rice flour and cornflour to 25 grams each, chilled
- 200 mls whipping cream
- 10 grams icing sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 220C. If you are making a lamb then draw the form of a lamb on a piece of parchment paper the same size as one of your pieces of puff pastry. If you are not making a lamb-shaped cake, you do not need to cut the pastry and can skip to step 3.
- Place the puff pastry on top of the parchment and cut it to the same form as the lamb.
- Place the cut sheet of puff pastry on top of an uncut sheet of puff pastry and cut out the form of the lamb. Repeat with the next sheet of puff pastry.
- Place all three sheets of pastry on separate parchment lined baking trays. Prick them each with a fork all over.
- Place the baking trays in the oven for 8 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 200 and bake for another 7 to 12 minutes until they have puffed and are golden.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
- While they are cooling, whip the cream with 10 grams of icing sugar until it forms soft peaks. Put it into an pastry bag with a fluted tip.
- Place one of the puff pastry sheets on the serving platter and cover it with chocolate custard.
- Pipe whipping cream around the edges.
- Top with another sheet of puff pastry and spread the vanilla custard evenly around.
- Pipe whipping cream around the edges.
- Top with the remaining sheet of puff pastry.
- Sprinkle a bit of icing sugar over the top and serve.