“Between arrosticini and sise delle monache (typical sweet), greetings from Maiella.”
A postcard from friends is how I first heard about Sise delle Monache, or Tre Monti. This specialty from Guardiagrele (Chieti province) is basically a sponge cake with a thick pastry cream filling, and even if I didn’t care for it all that much, my husband thought it was pretty good. These must be made on the day that they are to be served and will stale after a day. Makes 12.
3 tablespoons potato flour
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, separated
a pinch of salt
5 tablespoons sugar
grated zest of ½ orange or 1 small lemon
about 1½ cup prepared vanilla pastry cream
Sift the flours together; set aside. In a deep bowl, add the salt to the egg whites and make a very stiff, but not overly dry meringue incorporating 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar just until thick and lemon-colored.
Gently fold the beaten yolks into the whites until partially incorporated. Sift the combined flours over the top and add the zest; continue to fold in gently until thoroughly combined.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Using a pastry bag with a large round tip or ziploc bag with a 3/4-inch snip at one corner, pipe groups of 3 mountains into 12 portions, leaving at least an inch of space in between. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown around the edges and tips.
They will eventually spread out and look much like this. Set aside until ready to use.
To assemble, split in half and fill with pastry cream. I’ve done my embellishing here with the addition of mandarin sections because the dessert itself is just too plain for my taste. Dust the tops with powdered sugar and serve, or take it a step further with a pool of sauce on the side. Cupcake liners can be used as a nifty solution for those who shy away from piping free form. See more baker’s notes at the very end of this post.
About the name
This isn’t the first time I’ve written on foods with a connection to a body part so it might be of interest to know what sise actually are and why they’re named so. If you haven’t already guessed, sise are boobs, a vernacular form of zizze or breasts. The following is a loose translation of 3 possible theories from pasticceria Lullo [www.pasticcerialullo.it].
The first says that the original name was “tre monti” (3 mountains), referring to the mountainous landscape. According to popular myth, it was mischievously changed to “sise delle monache” when upon seeing the pastries whiter than usual, Abruzzese poet Modesto della Porta said, “Madonna, how they are straight and pointy! They really look like the tits of nuns!”
The second supposedly stems from an actual event. A nun wanted to hide her female form in order to look more spiritual. She stuffed fabric between her bosom so that the bandage covering them would show a completely flat surface. Hence the popular fantasy of 3 tits.
The third guess is a no-brainer. The sise delle monache are named “of the nuns” because this type of brioche was invented by the nuns. Someone with a wicked sense of humor came up with “sise”.
For evenly spaced portions, trace 3-inch circles on a piece of baking parchment like shown below. Evenly place x’s to mark where to begin piping. Flip this template guide over so that the pencil markings are facing the baking sheet. I’ve also made this recipe with the intention of serving only 6, joining two sections like a sandwich. In the image notice that the piping on the right is flatter for the bottom half. A fingertip or palette knife does the job.