Friday, July 26, 2013

Sise Delle Monache

To regular readers of this blog, sorry for the long gap between posts, but a nasty bout with bronchitis kept me down and out for a while after my return from Italy. I'm back now, hopefully on a more regular basis, starting with this dessert that I'll bet very few of you have eaten, or even heard of unless you're from Abruzzo, or more specifically, a small town in that region of Italy. They're called "sise delle monache" and you'll find them only in Guardiagrele.
They kind of resemble three perky breasts sitting upright on a plate. In fact, the name translates to "the nun's breasts" because the word sise is slang for zizze, which is one way of saying "boobs" (although no one I know refers to them with that word). 
"Wait a minute," you're thinking. "What nun has three boobs?" Good question. I'll get to that. 
But first other stories about the pastry's name, according to Mario Palmerio, of the eponymous pastry shop where they are made (as well as Lullo's on the same street - Via Roma). The pastry was originally named "three mountains" for obvious reasons, if you've ever seen this mountainous region. But the name apparently got changed to "sise delle monache" after the Guardiagrele poet Modesto della Porta (who died in 1938) remarked upon seeing them, "Madonna, they're so white, straight and pointy they seem like nun's boobs."  
Another legend is that a nun, upon trying to hide her ample bosom to appear more spiritual, stuffed some fabric between her breasts so that they would appear less prominent when she wrapped herself with bandage, and in doing so, she created a "third" breast.
More likely is the third explanation, that the pastry was simply a creation of nuns and someone with a mischievous sense of humor added the sise part.

They're really nothing more than sponge cake layered between pastry cream (occasionally a chocolate pastry cream) and dusted heavily with confectioner's sugar. They're made and consumed on the same day, since they get stale quite quickly. But I can tell you firsthand, that even waiting one day to eat them didn't diminish the delightful taste of my breakfast in Guardiagrele one morning.
Since we're already in Guardiagrele, let me show you around town. It's also known for its craftsmanship of hand-wrought iron and copper. Shops selling it are all around town:
And if you're looking for a pizzelle iron (called ferratelle here), this is the place to come.
The town has an inviting entry arch through which you can see some of the surrounding Maiella mountains:

Along one street is this salmon-colored building I couldn't resist photographing, decorated with flowers:
The short tour ends with the emblem of medieval Guardiagrele, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, whose primitive foundation dates to the beginning of 1200, although its interior was completely rebuilt following an earthquake in the 18th century.

Sise Delle Monache

From a recipe on the website of the Abruzzo region. Click here to view the page

Printable Recipe here:

Ingredients for the dough:

12 eggs

300 grams (1 1/2 cups) of sugar, 

100 gr (1/2 cup) of (sifted) potato starch 

200 gr of (sifted) flour (2 cups minus 1 T) 

After preparing your own recipe for pastry custard (or use the one below), start to make the dough of the dessert.

 Beat the egg whites until stiff with 200 gr (1 cup) of sugar and then beat the
yolks with 100 gr (1/2 cup) of sugar. Mix the two mixtures very slowly and add the
sifted flour and the potato starch, until this mixture is soft. On a
baking tray form three little pyramids with the mixture. Put in the oven
for 10 – 15 minutes at 210° Celsius (410 degrees Fahrenheit). When everything is ready, wait until it
cools down, cut in the middle to fill with the custard and then cover
everything with custard... don't forget to sprinkle with icing sugar!

Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
zest of one lemon (if you prefer not to use lemon, scrape the seeds from one vanilla bean into the milk or add 1/4 t. almond extract)
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Put the lemon zest and the milk into a large, heavy saucepan and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl or mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the flour and whisk until well combined.
Remove the lemon zest from the saucepan and slowly add the hot milk into the egg mixture, a tiny bit at a time. If you add them too quickly, you'll scramble the eggs. Then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and starts to boil. If it gets lumpy, use a whisk, or even a hand-held stick blender to smooth it out.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, against the surface of the pastry cream, so it doesn't develop a "skin."Cool in refrigerator.

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  1. What a gorgeous pastry! I bet it tastes amazing.



  2. Un post stupendo e un dolce vermante invitante! Che luoghi magnifici, Linda.. profumo e sapore d'Italia! Non preoccuparti, ti aspettiamo, intanto riprenditi dalla bronchite..poverina! Un abbraccio grande e un bacione! <3

  3. Always happy to see you back posting.............Henry also had a strange summer cough, nasty stuff.
    Hope you are feeling 100%.

  4. Great post Linda...they look delicious. Thanks also for the tour. Glad to hear that you are feeling were missed.

  5. Hi Linda,

    I am so pleased to see that you are well enough to have returned to writing! Overall I missed your posts, and specifically I was feeling especially denied as I am dying to hear all about your trip. You've been holding out on us!

    Guardiagrele - home town of Anna Teresa Callen - the late, great and pre-eminent authority on Anruzzese cuisine. It is gorgeous. The tour was a joy.

    This pastry is a very pleasing thing indeed. Cake and pastry cream is a truly divine combo. This was heretofore completely unknown to me. Thanks for righting that wrong.

    What is this with the Italians and their fascination with nuns and their breasts anyway? There are several treats with the name and much boob lore attached. It's the stuff of childhood tittering, that's for certain.

    Again, I am thrilled that you are better. Stay well, and I look forward to some great shaggy sheep stories.

  6. I'm glad you are feeling better, Linda! I thought perhaps you were on another trip when you were so quiet.

    These look like my kind of breakfast treat! I have such a sweet tooth ;)

    I;m glad Bob's Red Mill sells potato starch, as i know I'd otherwise have trouble finding it here!

  7. Guarisci presto Linda; ti abbraccio ! Ho anche io l'attrezzo per fare le ferratelle, me l'ha regalato un'amica abruzzese. sai che quel dolce nn l'ho mai assaggiato, ha una forma deliziosa ! buon we , a presto !

  8. How many does this make? The recipe isn't specific, and I can't imagine the whole amount of batter formed into just three peaks would bake in 10 minutes. Thanks! -jodi

  9. Glad your feeling better Linda, I just thought you were traveling again. The pastry, of course was something new to me, what's not to like! Love the wrought iron all over, I've always been a big fan of it, and did you buy one of those beautiful pizzelle irons? I hope you stuck one in your suitcase!

  10. Avevo sentito parlare di questo dolce ma non conoscevo la bella ricetta!!
    Complimenti per tutto il post!!

  11. It does look amazing Linda, I am used to a savoury brekfast but can easily transform when I am in Italy.

  12. Anonymous- i wish I could tell you how many it makes but the recipe didn't include it. I imagine with 12 eggs it makes a lot. You may have to finish it in two batches of cookie sheets, with each one needing 10 minutes or so. Let me know if you decide to make them.

  13. Such a cute post Linda.
    Love your images of the city and the boobs.

  14. I have seen a few recipes for "nun's breasts/boobs" but not quite as delectable. The tales behind Italian food always leave me dreaming of plays. I am noting all - when I have a crowd! Otherwise, the chances of Paul and I consuming all - are pretty good. Never did a town look more inviting. I hope just remembering your time there helped to speed the healing process.

  15. These are quite charming, and evocative! Glad you're feeling better :)

  16. These pastries look delicious, Linda! Even more so eaten in such beautiful surroundings. I love that salmon building too! What a humorous background story :)

    I think this bronchitis thing is runny rampant right now. I have two friends with the same thing - one in New York and one here in Wisconsin. Glad you're feeling better!

  17. The town looks lovely and these pastries look delicious! But I'm having a hard time getting the imagery of three nun's breasts out of my mind...

    By the way, I noticed that this recipe calls for 2 parts regular flour and one part potato starch. I've seen that combination in recipes before, most recently in researching my latest post, but I've never tried it. How do you find adding potato starch affects the pastry?

  18. Glad you're feeling better, Linda! I was in Guardiagrele last weekend and enjoyed these provocative little pastries at Emo Lullo. It is a charming town and I loved this traditional dolce. Thank you for the recipe! A presto, Michelle

  19. I went to a Catholic school most of my life and really had to chuckle at the photo of the nun's breasts pastry. I don't think any of us really believed the nuns had breasts. They always seemed so much bigger than ordinary life. Your photos are wonderful, Linda.

  20. I love each of the explanations of the three boobs! But I like the third reason the best -- someone has a great sense of humor! Love the photo of the peach building; isn't it beautiful how Italians decorate their window sills with gorgeous fresh flowers? Lastly, I sure hope you picked up one of those pizelle items! I have GOT to get to this region to experience and enjoy! Thanks Linda for all of your incredible insight and experiences that you share!


  21. PS: I am sorry that I forgot to mention that I hope that you're feeling better. Nothing worse than getting sick in the summer!

    Be well,

  22. I just returned from a stay in Orsogna and traveled to Guardiagrele and ate these delicious pastries. Thank you for providing the authentic recipe. I will be making them soon for my travel companions who also loved them