Wheat Berry Pie

This rustic looking pie, distantly reminiscent to a cheesecake, is an Italian specialty and usually served on Easter. Don’t try to substitute orange-flower water for anything else. There’s no such substitution. And in my opinion, this aromatic fluid is what makes this cake so special. Most likely you will find the orange-flower water in the Ethnic food section in any supermarket.

There are a lot of recipe variations of this pie. This one is Michele Scicolone’s, published two years ago in the Easter issue of “Gourmet”. I followed the recipe almost to a letter. I just boiled the wheat-berries in milk instead of water as it was suggested. It didn’t look like a bright idea when my milk boiled over (what it always does) and made a terrible mess on the stove. So, the moral is – follow the recipe… I added a bit more zest though…

Makes one 9-inch cake, serves 8 to 10

For the filling:

  • ½ cup hulled soft wheat berries (1/4 lb)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 lb ricotta (preferably fresh; 2 cups), put through a sieve
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp orange-flower water
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup finely chopped candied citron (3 oz)
  • ½ cup finely chopped candied orange peel (3 oz)

For the pastry dough:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp orange-flower water
  • Zest of ½ orange

Soak the wheat berries for the filling:

Cover the wheat berries with cold water in a bowl, then soak, covered and chilled, at least 8 hours. Drain in a sieve and rinse.

Make the dough while the wheat berries soak:

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Beat in the whole egg, yolks, orange-flower water, and zest until smooth. Reduce the speed to low, then add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Gather the dough into a ball (it will be soft) and quarter. Form the one quarter of the dough into a 3-inch disk, then form the remaining three quarters into a 6-inch disk. Chill the disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

The dough can be chilled up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before rolling out.

Finish making the filling:

Cover the soaked berries with cold water by 2 inches in a 2-quart saucepan and simmer, covered, until the wheat berries are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve, then transfer to a bowl and stir in the butter and zest. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Stir together the ricotta, eggs, sugar, orange-flower water, cinnamon, candied citron, and candied orange peel in a large bowl, then stir in the wheat-berry mixture.

Assemble and bake the cake:

Put the oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.

Roll out the larger disk of the dough into a 14-inch round on a well-floured surface or on parchment paper (the way I always do) with a floured rolling pin. Fit the dough into the springform pan, pressing the dough all the way up side to the rim of the pan (the dough might crack; patch any cracks). Chill until cold, about 20 minutes.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 10-inch round. Cut the dough into ½-inch-wide strips (pizza wheel works great). Refrigerate.

Spoon the filling into the chilled pie crust (filling will not reach the top).

Arrange the dough strips parallel to each other on the filling (1 inch apart), pressing the ends of the strips into the crust. If the dough becomes too soft to handle, chill until firmer.
Arrange other strips diagonally over the first ones to form a lattice. Fold the edge of the crust over the ends of the lattice strips, pressing to seal.

Bake until the pastry is golden and the filling is puffed and set, about 1 ¼ hours.
Transfer in the pan to a rack to cool 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the cake and remove the side of the pan. Cool the cake completely on the rack, about 2 hours.

The cake can be baked 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving if desired.

Wheat-Berry Pie Slice