The laminating technique that produces the dough for sfogliate riccia may be the world’s oldest. As you may have noted from the posts below, the method involves stretching a rich, flexible dough to paper-thinness, rolling it up into a log that’s about two inches across, then cutting it into slices. This method predates folding-style lamination by a minimum of 50 years, having been documented by the Belgian master chef Lancelot de Casteau in his book Ouverture de cuisine in 1603 (folded laminated dough was first mentioned in Le Pâtissier françois written by François Pierre de la Varenne in 1653). However it’s probable that roll-style lamination is much older than that.
For the interesting thing about Casteau’s recipe isn’t so much that it’s a rolled-up dough, but that he calls it “leaf” pastry “in the Spanish style”. This suggests that his roll-style lamination was an adaptation of a much older technique, one that was common in the courts of Renaissance Italy and Spain, that likewise involved rolling thin sheets of dough with fat or oil, then slicing it.
But the Italians and Spanish didn’t invent the method, they learned it from the Arabs who occupied Spain from 711 A.D. until 1492, and Sicily from 831 to 1072. The Arabs had been preparing dough in this way for who-knows-how-long, though it seems likely that the technique was refined over the centuries in Europe, with the layers getting thinner and thinner. The documentation for this theory isn’t impeccable, though it does explain, as I mentioned in an earlier post, why you still find this roll-lamination being used here and there in both Italy and Spain.
Why not anymore? Because folding really is a better method for making laminated dough. Not only can you produce thinner layers with it with less effort, it only takes one operator to do the job. As I’m discovering experimenting with this dough, roll-style lamination takes two people: one to stretch, one to roll. So folding has several major advantages over rolling. For those who prize ultra-thin and flaky dough, it’s more pleasing aesthetically. It’s more versatile in terms of the shapes and sizes of pastries you can create with it, and as I mentioned it’s also more efficient. No wonder pastry makers prefer it to this day.
Still it’s well worth making I think, if only to get a sense for how laminating was first performed way back when, before the technique was improved upon and roll-lamination faded into obsolescence.