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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pita Piata, Pit’Impiglianta, Italian dessert

As I prepare to teach at my 3rd annual Italy Retreat in Cinque Terre, (I do hope you consider joining me next year), I visited my Italian American family back east, where I learned to make pita piata. I think the actual name is Pit’Impiglianta, a Christmas cake, made with nuts and raisins. However, it doesn't look like a cake at all.

Even though I grew up eating this unique dessert, I had never made it. My mom and other women at her church make hundreds during the holiday season, and sell them. They are time consuming to make, but well worth the effort. You can see me making them on this YouTube video. My mom, Josephine, and her two sisters, Mary Jane and Angelina, were guiding me along the way.

I'm pretty sure this is a traditional dessert made in San Giovanni in Fiore in Calabria, Italy. I have not even seen it sold in other towns in Calabria. If you've seen it elsewhere, I would love to know.
Buon Appetito!

Recipe Pita Piata (Pit’Impiglianta) traditional Christmas cake from San Giovanni in Fiore, region of Calabria, Italy.


Pasta machine

Pastry roller, yard stick, ruler


5 lbs. flour, all purpose

3 eggs

2 C sugar

2 oz. yeast or 3 dry packets

3 C white or red wine

Whiskey (a jigger)

¾ C Crisco, butter, or oleo

1 stick oleo, butter or oleo

Salt, pinch

Put Crisco, oleo, and wine in pot and heat until melted. Set aside and cool, then add whiskey.

In a separate bowl, dissolve yeast in 1 ½ C warm water. Add 1 TBL sugar to the yeast mixture.

Whisk the eggs. Then add sugar to eggs. Add buttery mix to this. Pour yeast mix into the buttery mix.

Add flour to this. Mix dough and knead until smooth and elastic on lightly floured surface. Dough should not be sticky. Let sit about 5 minutes to rest.

4 ½ lbs raisins. Soak raisins a few minutes and drain well.

1 orange cut and put in processor, rind and all, until crushed fine. (Or zest orange peel, and chop orange and squeeze juice)

3 lbs walnuts (chopped coarse, not fine)

1 ¾ C sugar

1 Tbl cinnamon

½ C. honey

1 ½ C orange orange juice

Mix all ingredients to marinate for two hours or overnight for the filling.

Vegetable oil in small bowl, and sugar shaker needed as you roll the pitas.


Weigh dough 7 ¼ oz. for each pita piata. Pat into ball and then use a rolling pin slightly before using pasta machine. Make oblong pieces of dough so they are uniform to fit through the pasta machine. Start machine on #1, then 2,3,4 as you run the dough through pasta machine. Measure dough 27” by 3”. Use curly edged pastry cutter to cut edges. Yard stick to measure the 27”. (Or cut the dough in half to more easily use pasta machine. Then each piece will measure 13 ½”. You would join the two pieces together after they were filled.)

Brush vegetable oil along the strip of dough. (Have small bowl with oil and brush)

Sprinkle sugar generously on strip. (Extra sugar to shake or sprinkle)

Use 1 Cup filling along dough toward top edge of strip.

Fold dough over the filling. Press firmly to hold the filling in, but DO NOT seal edges. Start rolling at one end grabbing the dough with the one hand. Start by putting finger in and roll loosely so it will cook in center. Complete rolling like a snail in a circle (see photo), and put 3-4 toothpicks on the outside to hold it together. Cook on parchment papered cookie sheets, about 45-60minutes till golden brown. Pitas should not touch the edges of the pans as they burn more easily.

325 degree oven.

Makes approx 17 six inch pita piatas, rosettes.

Cool on racks, then lightly pour honey in circles over the tops of each pita. You can freeze these and they taste fresh when you take them out of the freezer.

Buon appetito!

Do you have any favorite Italian dessert recipes?

12/13/11: This is the photo that Rosalie sent showing how her husband's family makes the 'Pita Piata' in a pan:


  1. My neighbor tells the story of her mother-in-law, an excellent cook, making this but not allowing anyone to eat it for at least a year. She kept the Pita stored in the frig.

    Anyone else heard this?

  2. It does not need to be stored for a year, but I must say it stays fresh in the freezer for a very long time. Freeze it, then take it out, and it tastes fresh. Maybe the flavors get tastier with age!

  3. I just received an email from Rosalie who wrote: "I saw your recipe online for the Calabrese Christmas Cake, I was surprised that you make individual ones. My husbands family makes these but they do it different, instead they line a 8 inch cake pan with thinly rolled dough, then they get another large piece of thinly rolled dough and put in the filling, then cut 1 1/4 inch spirels and set them in the pan and brush them with honey, and bake them, for about an hour and a half on 300 degrees, every half hour you take the cake out and brush it with a little more honey. Everyone in my husband's family that used to make this is gone or they're 95 so it falls on me the Sicilian!!
    I have attached a picture to this message."

    Note from Lenora: I will add Rosalie's photo into the blog post.

  4. My nonna ( an emigrant from Sellia Marina, Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy) used the recipe similar,lining the pan with dough, soaking the nuts too, & adding wine to the dough, and making lattice strips with a curly cutting cookie wheel( I have the original brought from Italy) & placing the spiral filled dough in the dough lined pans. However, my mother modified the recipe. No wine to the dough, but 1 cup of OJ, 1 cup of milk & 1 1/2cups of oil, 6 tsps baking powder, 6 eggs & 8 - 9 cups of flour. She rolled out the dough ( we had no pasta machine), sprinkled nuts, raisins & candied fruit ( optional) onto the rolled dough, rolled up the dough as in making cinnamon rolls, then slicing the rolls into 1 inch wide pieces, & placing in oil lined pans. When baking is complete, pour honey all over pita, let sit for 2 minutes, drain back into the hot honey pan ( We use double boiler), do this proceduce 3 times ending with the draining. Cool completely, & store in double wrap foil in freezer for months. Can be taken out of the freezer & sliced frozen! Sounds like lots of work? It is, but well worth it. We sell these @ our Walla Walla Italian Festa in October for $25.00; there are about 19 to 21 pieces in an 8 inch cake pan. Lorrie of Walla Walla/College Place

  5. Earlier, I posted a comment about my mother's modified recipe for "pita piata" and I omitted sprinkling cinnamon on the dough. Lorrie from WW

  6. Hi Lorrie from Walla Walla (great name), Washington. Thanks for your recipe and description of your nonna's pita piata. Did she call it pita piata? We'll remember to add the cinnamon. Thanks for sharing! It's so great to keep these traditional recipes going.