With the heat of summer, there is more desire for something sweet but fresh. In this respect, Italy has a record for sweets and ice creams for every season, and among the most classic sweets of the Italian and Neapolitan tradition to eat at temperature, we also find specialties that have a dough as simple as tasty. We are talking about the Polacca (literally “the Polish cake”), a typical cake of the city of Aversa that, although little known outside the territory of Caserta, has conquered anyone who has tasted it for the first time.
Often the origins of a dessert are shrouded in legend, probably because the recipe has only been transmitted orally over the years or perhaps because of the inspiration produced by the pleasant sensations that only desserts can give. The first legend tells that during the Middle Ages a nun from Poland, who lived in a convent in Aversa, gave the recipe for a cake, a typical sweet of her homeland, to a confectioner from Aversa and it was he who reworked it, creating two different cakes: a brioche (now known as a polacchina, literally “the little Pole”) and a cake; the second legend, however, tells of a visit to Aversa by a Polish queen, who was hosted in one of the convents of the city. The nuns made a cake with ingredients similar to the Central European taste, from which it seems that the “Polishness” came out. However, the most widespread of the legends tells us this cake owes its name to a Polish nun that in 1926 suggested the recipe to pastry chef Nicola Mungiguerra, who then reworked it and called it so.
The Polacca Aversana is made of a thin shell of dough, brioche-like, stuffed with plenty of custard studded with sour cherries in syrup. Simple ingredients and delicate flavours melt and enhance each other, thus conquering everyone. Some people appreciate the Polacca for the crunchiness of the sugar on the surface, for the softness of the dough, the silkiness of the cream, and the acidity of the sour cherries. The fact is that it is difficult to resist it. The list of admirers of this cake is long and varied. It is said that among the most famous lovers of this cake were the former President of the Italian Republic, Giovanni Leone, and Pope John Paul II, who tasted and appreciated it because it reminded him of the flavours of his land. In Aversa it is customary to eat it for breakfast or on Sundays, both in the form of a cake and as smaller single-portions called polacchine.
The recipe of Polacca is really easy and simple to prepare.
Ingredients for the dough
- 300 g Manitoba (strong) flour
- 230-250 g flour 00
- 3-4 g dry brewer’s yeast
- 200 ml whole milk
- 120 g butter
- 2 medium eggs
- 100 g caster sugar
- grated lemon peel
- 10 g salt
Ingredients for the custard cream
- 500 ml whole milk
- 30 g flour 00
- 4 egg yolks
- 100 g granulated sugar
- vanilla or lemon peel for flavouring
- sour cherries in syrup as required
Preparation of Polacca Aversana
Prepare the dough by kneading (by hand or in the mixer) the flour with the sugar, the lemon rind, and the eggs. Gradually add the yeast dissolved in warm milk and incorporate the soft butter one piece at a time. When the dough becomes elastic and well strung, add the salt. Transfer the dough into a floured bowl for about 2 hours or until the volume doubles.
Divide the leavened dough into two pieces, roll out the first one in a sheet a few mm thick giving it a circular shape. Prepare the custard. Stuff with the custard and sour cherries leaving the edges free. Close with a second disc of dough by sealing the edges well with the cake ring. If you prefer you can vary the recipe by adding chocolate chips or by replacing cherries with chocolate chips for the cream. Finally, bake the polacca in a static preheated oven at 180° for about 30 minutes, until the surface is golden brown. Once cooked, take the cake out of the oven and let it cool; if you wish, you can sprinkle it with icing sugar, and… enjoy!
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Written by Vincenzo Addio, PhD student in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope” (Italy).