Maritozzi

Frankdessert, Lazio, snack38 Comments

Maritozzi

Roman cookery is probably best known for its world famous pastas like the iconic carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe. But Rome has also made its mark in the world of sweets. While less well known than say Naples’ sfogiatelle or Sicily’s cannoli, Rome’s most iconic pastry called maritozzi is definitely world class.

In essence, maritozzi are brioche buns filled with whipped cream. But that summary description doesn’t really do them justice. As with a classic brioche, the dough is enriched with egg and sugar, but this being Rome, rather than softened butter the dough is enriched with oil—traditionally olive oil—then scented with honey, orange zest and vanilla, and often (but not always) studded with raisins. The most elaborate versions include pinoli nuts and/or candied fruits, too. Maritozzi can be small or large, round or oval, filled right down the middle or slightly off center.

I doubt many Romans make maritozzi at home. After all, they can always enjoy one at their local bar with their morning cappuccino or grab one at a pastry shop. We non-Romans aren’t so lucky. Hence this recipe…

Admittedly, making maritozzi is a lengthy affair, involving several steps, including at least two rises—preferably three if you make a lievitino or poolish to start. But it isn’t difficult. If even a non-baker like me can pull it off, so can you.

So why not just arm yourself with patience and give it a go? You’ll be glad you did. It’s the cheapest way I know of traveling to Rome. And you won’t have to deal with tourist crowds or jet lag either…

Ingredients

Makes about 6-10 maritozzi, depending on size

For the lievitino:

  • 50g (2 oz) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 50ml (2 fl oz) water

For the dough:

  • 200g (7 oz) all purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 25g (1 oz) sugar
  • finely grated zest of one orange
  • 1 Tb honey
  • The seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 75ml (2-1/2 fl oz) milk, or as much as you need to form the dough
  • 45ml (1-1/2 fl oz) olive oil (or vegetable oil)

Optional (to taste):

  • raisins
  • pinoli nuts
  • candied fruit

To glaze the maritozzi:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbs heavy cream

For filling and serving:

  • 500ml (2 cups) heavy cream
  • confectioner’s sugar, to taste

Directions

Making the lievitino (poolish)

Start by making the lievitino aka poolish. Whisk together the flour, yeast and water in a small bowl into a thickish paste.

Cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place such as an unlit oven. After an hour, the lievitino should have turned foamy, at which point it is ready to use.

Making the dough

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a standing mixer). Add the additional yeast, egg, sugar, honey, vanilla and orange zest. Then add the lievitino and mix until it is completely incorporated. Add milk gradually until you have a rather soft dough that clings to the dough hook. (You may need a bit more or less than listed above.) Now add the oil a bit a few drops at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. Fold in the optional ingredients if using.

Transfer the dough to a well floured pastry board. Dust with additional flour on top. Stretch the dough out and fold in onto itself, then turn it 90 degrees and fold again. Turning the dough clockwise with a cupping motion with your hands, shape the dough into a ball. The dough should be soft and pliable but not tacky at all.

The first rise

Place the dough ball in a well greased bowl, then cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place (again an unlit oven is ideal) and let it rise for at least three hours, by which time it should have at least doubled in volume.

Even better, if you have the time, let it rise for an hour or two in a warm place, then store in overnight in the fridge. (In this case, make sure that the plastic wrap touches the dough to avoid it forming a skin.)

Forming your maritozzi and the second rise

Divide the risen dough into even pieces, anywhere from 50g to 80g (2 to 3 oz) each depending on your preference. Form the dough into balls, repeating the same folding technique you used before, then rolling each piece of dough between your palms in a vigorous circular motion, making sure to smooth out any eventual creases in the dough.

If you want to give your maritozzi an oval shape, gently roll these balls back and forth between your palms. Place the balls/ovals on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as you form them.

Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap then let the now formed but unbaked maritozzi rise for an hour or so in a warm place. (If your oven has a proofing function, this is a good time to use it.) They should nearly double in size.

Glazing and baking your maritozzi

Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheet. Whisk the egg yolk and cream together in a small bowl, then brush each maritozzo very generously with the resulting glaze. Try to make sure they are completely covered with the glaze.

Place in a pre-heated moderate (180C/350F) oven and bake your maritozzi for 15-20 minutes, depending on size, until puffed up considerably and golden brown all over.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a baking rack.

Filling and serving

Meanwhile whip the heavy cream together with confectioner’s sugar to taste (start with 2 heaping Tbs and add more if you want) until it forms stiff peaks.

When the maritozzi have cooled off completely, slit them across, either right down the middle or, for a more traditional look, on a slight angle off center (as pictured). Do not cut all the way through but leave a “hinge”on one side. Open the slit to allow for the filling; just how wide is up to you, but take care not to split the bun in half.

Fill the slits with the whipped cream. (This is best done with a pastry bag if you have one.) Smooth out the whipped cream with a blunt knife so it is flush with the outside of the maritozzi.

Dust the maritozzi with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

Maritozzi

Notes

As I said at the top, you don’t need any special skills to make maritozzi, but you do need time. It’s basically a six hour project, even if you don’t let the dough rise overnight: one hour for the poolish, then another 3 hours for the initial rise, then another hour, plus another hour or so for kneading and forming the dough, baking and finally cooling. The good news is that most of this will be downtime as the dough rises, bakes or cools. You just need to plan accordingly.

A few tips

A few tips for success:

  • The hydration and texture of the dough are both crucial. It should be quite soft and pliable but not wet or sticky. It can be a bit tricky to find the sweet spot. The first time I attempted maritozzo-making, the dough was a bit too stiff and dry, resulting in an overly dense crumb that, while quite edible, didn’t have that characteristic fluffiness that makes them so appealing. On the other hand, the dough should hold together without being sticky or tacky like focaccia dough, either. The measurements indicated here worked for me but, if need be, add more milk if the dough seems to stiff or, if it looks a bit too liquid, add a spoonful of two of flour until you get it right.
  • You will have noticed the use of plastic wrap to cover the dough during its various rises. This is to keep in moisture to avoid the dough developing a skin. That’s especially important if you leave the dough overnight in the dry atmosphere of a refrigerator. In that case, don’t just cover the bowl, but lay some wrap over the surface of the dough itself.
  • If you ask me, a maritozzo of about 50-60g is the best option. They are actually plenty big once they rise and bake but not so big they’re awkward to bite into. If you want to go bigger you can, but then you should shape them into ovals rather than rounds.
  • The whipped cream should be very stiff so it doesn’t ooze out too easily.
  • Finally, be patient. Each step in the process has its purpose and if you rush things, especially the rises, then your end result will suffer. And bear in mind that the times given here are guidelines. If you see the dough hasn’t risen enough after the given time for a rise, for example, give it more time.
Variations in technique

Making maritozzi is an exercise in patience, but here are ways to save yourself some time. You can save an hour or so by eliminating the poolish and just mixing all the ingredients for poolish and dough together and take it from there. But as in bread making, the poolish does provide a richer, almost nutty flavor and a fluffier crumb. Ditto for the overnight rise, which isn’t an absolute necessity but does make for maritozzi with more character.

On the other hand, if you have an extra day and want to take your maritozzi to the ultimate level, you can steep the vanilla bean seeds and grated orange zest (and here I note that some recipes call for a mix of orange and lemon zest) in the honey for a day. This is supposed to let the flavors of the citrus zest bloom and infuse your maritozzi with their aroma. (Full disclosure: I haven’t tried this variation so I can’t vouch that it works.)

Some recipes (notably renowned pastry chef Fabrizio Foriani‘s) call for baking the maritozzi at a higher temperature (190C/375F) to a shorter period (7-8 minutes) than called for here. Personally, I found this leaves the maritozzi undercooked inside. Baking at a slightly lower temperature for a longer time allows the insides cook before the outside gets too brown. But results will, as always, depend on your oven.

Variations in Measurements and ingredients

The amount of oil can vary, the recipe here is on the low side of the range for a lighter (but hardly dietetic) bun. You can add more if you want a richer result. And while the most traditional recipes call for olive oil, modern recipes call more often than not for vegetable oil. And some even Frenchify the dish by calling for softened butter! I’m sure it’s delicious but in my humble opinion at that point your maritozzo will have lost its romanità.

You can also vary the amount of sugar to suit your taste. The amount provided here results in a brioche bun with just a hint of sweetness. That’s the way I like it and, I’d venture, most typical. But you have a sweet tooth, you can up the sugar. I’ve seen recipes with as much as twice the sugar called for here.

As mentioned above, you can further enrich your dough with raisins (the most common option) as well as pinoli (as Foriani does) and, in old timey recipes, candied fruit, too.

Old Time maritozzi

Inspired by a reader question, I just recently found out about an old timey version of maritozzi where you glaze the already baked maritozzo with sugar. In these versions, you fold raisins, pine nuts and candied fruits into the dough, but omit the whipped cream filling. I’ve only found this version in the über-traditional sources, including Ada Boni’s Talismano, so I’m guessing this (or something like it) must be the original recipe.

Definitely worth a try, though I can attest that in today’s Rome the version provided in the main recipe above is the one you’re going to find in today’s Rome. It seems the recipe must have evolved over time into something a bit less sweet but, with its whipped cream filling, rather richer.

Quick “cheater” maritozzi

I hesitate to even mention it, but if you’re really pressed for time, the cookbook Le specialità della cucina romana suggests you buy 500g (1 lb) of bread dough from your local bakery, then work into the dough a few spoonfuls of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 50g (1 oz) each of raisins, pinoli and candied fruit. You then form your maritozzi as usual and let them rise for a good hour before baking.

Of course, this assumes you know a local baker and you’re on such good terms they’ll sell you some of their bread dough. If you don’t have a local baker “di fiducia” as the Italians say, then I’m guessing the next best thing might be store-bought pizza dough? I haven’t tested it, but it might just work. I may try it out at some point, but in the meanwhile, proceed at your own risk!

Making maritozzi ahead

You can make maritozzi ahead of time. The brioche buns l keep at least a day or two in a bread box. Beyond that, you can freeze maritozzi as you might bread. You can also make the whipped cream as much as a day ahead. But a bit like cannoli, you shouldn’t fill your maritozzi until shortly before you’re ready to serve them, however, or they’ll become soggy. It need not be at the very last minute. An hour or even two before serving should be fine.

Why “maritozzo”?

According to Roman lore, the name maritozzo comes from an ancient tradition whereby prospective husbands (“maritozzo” being a playful romanesco riff on the standard Italian word marito or husband) would present their fiancées with this sweet treat as a Saint Valentine’s Day gift. According to some, the would-be husband would hide an engagement ring or some other token of their affection inside the filling.

I understand that other regions, in particular Abruzzo and Le Marche, also make their own version of maritozzi, but for today’s purposes I’m sticking with the Roman version I know and love…

Maritozzi

Roman style brioche bun filled with whipped cream
Total Time6 hours
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Lazio
Keyword: baked, sweet

Ingredients

For the lievitino (aka poolish)

  • 50g 2 oz all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp dry yeast 
  • 50ml 2 oz water 

For the dough

  • 200g 7 oz all purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp dry yeast 
  • 25g 1 oz sugar
  • 1 orange finely grated zest of
  • 1 Tb honey
  • 1 vanilla bean seeds of, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 75ml 2-1/2 fl oz whole milk or as much as you need to form the dough
  • 45ml 1-1/2 fl oz olive oil or vegetable oil

Optional (to taste)

  • raisins
  • pinoli
  • candied fruit

To glaze the maritozzi

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbs heavy cream

For filling and serving

  • 500ml 2 cups heavy cream
  • confectioner's sugar to taste 

Instructions

Making the lievitino (aka poolish)

  • Start by making the lievitino aka poolish. Whisk together the flour, yeast and water in a small bowl into a thickish paste. 
  • Cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place such as an unlit oven. After an hour, the lievitino should have turned foamy, at which point it is ready to use. 

Making the dough

  • Place the flour in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a standing mixer). Add the additional yeast, egg, sugar, honey, vanilla and orange zest. Then add the lievitino and mix until it is completely incorporated. Add milk gradually until you have a rather soft dough that clings to the dough hook. (You may need a bit more or less than listed above.) Now add the oil a bit a few drops at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. Fold in the optional ingredients if using. 
  • Transfer the dough to a well floured pastry board. Dust with additional flour on top. Stretch the dough out and fold in onto itself, then turn it 90 degrees and fold again. Turning the dough clockwise with a cupping motion with your hands, shape the dough into a ball. The dough should be soft and pliable but not tacky at all. 

The first rise

  • Place the dough ball in a well greased bowl, then cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place (again an unlit oven is ideal) and let it rise for at least three hours, by which time it should have at least doubled in volume.
    Even better, if you have the time, let it rise for an hour or two in a warm place, then store in overnight in the fridge. (In this case, make sure that the plastic wrap touches the dough to avoid it forming a skin.)

Forming the maritozzi and the second rise

  • Divide the risen dough into even pieces, anywhere from 50g to 80g (2 to 3 oz) each depending on your preference. Form the dough into balls, repeating the same folding technique you used before, then rolling each piece of dough between your palms in a vigorous circular motion, making sure to smooth out any eventual creases in the dough.
    If you want to give your maritozzi an oval shape, gently roll these balls back and forth between your palms. Place the balls/ovals on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as you form them. 
  • Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap then let the now formed but unbaked maritozzi rise for an hour in a warm place. They should have nearly doubled in size. (If your oven has a proofing function, this is a good time to use it.)

Glazing and baking your maritozzi

  • Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheet. Whisk the egg yolk and cream together in a small bowl, then brush each maritozzo very generously with the resulting glaze. Try to make sure they are completely covered with the glaze. 
  • Place in a pre-heated moderate (180C/350F) oven and bake your maritozzi for 15-20 minutes, depending on size, until puffed up considerably and golden brown all over. 
  • Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a baking rack. 

Filling and serving

  • While the maritozzi and cooling, whip the heavy cream together with confectioner's sugar to taste (start with 2 heaping Tbs and add more if you want) until it forms stiff peaks. 
  • When the maritozzi have cooled off completely, slit them across, either right down the middle or, for a more traditional look, on a slight angle off center (as pictured). Do not cut all the way through but leave a "hinge"on one side. Open the slit to allow for the filling; just how wide is up to you, but take care not to split the bun in half. 
  • Fill the slits with the whipped cream. (This is best done with a pastry bag if you have one.) Smooth out the whipped cream with a blunt knife so it is flush with the outside of the maritozzi
  • Dust the maritozzi with confectioner's sugar and serve. 

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38 Comments on “Maritozzi”

  1. Hi Frank, thank you for posting this recipe! It looks amazing and it is a ‘must-try’ for me. I’ve been in Rome but sadly, have never tried these delicious-looking Maritozzi!! Wish me luck!

    1. I do hope you like them! A little tip: they’re not quite as ubiquitous as the cornetto. On my last trip to Rome, I had to ask for one since it wasn’t on display, but they did have them in the end.

  2. Dear Frank,
    I wonder when would be better to add honey vanilla and orange zest.
    Thanks a lot and thank you for such a detailed recipe

    1. I find it doesn’t much matter with this dough. But of course you could start with the dry ingredients then add the wet if you like.

    2. Dear Frank,
      I had a Maritozzi when I was in Rome in June – absolute heaven. I followed your recipe step by step and did it over 2 days (leaving in fridge overnight). They have come out beautifully. Thank you so much.

  3. Boy was I surprised to read that this is a baked treat! It looks like a doughnut with very delicate stuffing. I will be inclined to try this because we totally missed the boat when we were in Rome in March and it looks like something both JT and I would love. Thank you for sharing these delicacies.

  4. Ah, this recipe and post took me back to my days in Rome. I miss being able to grab maritozzi and espresso at any time of the day! I’ve never attempted making these at home (and truthfully I had forgotten about them), but now I need to try…

    And based on the history, they sound a bit like a Roman version of King Cake with the baby hiding inside…

    1. I can certainly understand why you miss Rome! So do I… Anyway, the recipe is long but not difficult. And certainly a lot cheaper than a plane ticket! 😉

  5. You baked, yay! They look perfect, Frank! I say you should do more baking! Funny that maritozzi are so similar to Scottish cream buns! I LOVE them both! I’ve had these on my list for ages, but then again, so many other recipes as well!

  6. These certainly look fabulous Frank! I’m just not a yeast baker :). It scares me off tho I love to bake. How very delicious these must be.

  7. The rise and rise of maritozzi.
    I prefer them old-style, without cream, especially in Italy where cream is not exciting, but I can see why many folks like them stuffed. I do not remember them being so popular when I was growing up, in the early 1980s, outside Rome that is. Boni’s “maritozzi di quaresima” have been on my list for months, as a coincidence (even if I generally succumb to the appeal of British spiced buns / but I will definitely try)

    1. Interesting. I don’t recall that maritozzi were such a big thing back when I was in Rome in the 90s, either. Funny how things go in and out of fashion over time…

  8. Oh my goodness, this recipe for Maritozzi is absolutely mouthwatering! I’ve always been a fan of Roman pastas, but I had no idea that Rome had such delightful pastries too. The description of these brioche buns filled with whipped cream, enriched with olive oil, honey, orange zest, and vanilla sounds like pure heaven.

  9. I may not be a baker or oft a baked goods eater . . . but these look so elegantly moreish and desirable! I just may achieve wonders and try copy 🙂 !!!

  10. The maritozzi look great. I usually glaze mine with a liquid sugar glaze based on many recipes I’ve read. Is the egg yolk and cream glaze also traditional?

    1. Interesting question! TIL about sugar glazed maritozzi…

      Yes, the egg and cream glaze is almost universal these days among contemporary Italian sourced recipes. Some people sub milk for the cream, or just use egg. And before your question, I’d actually never heard of putting sugar glaze on them. A sugar glaze would make them sticky, and I can’t recall having a sticky maritozzo in Rome.

      That said, your question got me curious and I did some research and, indeed, I found some old-time recipes, including in Il Talismano where you glaze the maritozzi with sugar after baking but before serving. All of these, however had one thing in common: No whipped cream filling. So I’m guessing the dessert must have evolved over time. What I can say is the this recipe will produce the kind of maritozzi you’re most likely to find in today’s Rome.

  11. Wow. These are amazing. So pretty. You’re very patient. And I imagine they’re not too sweet. By the way, I’m finally getting to Sicily in 2024! We can’t wait.

    1. No, if you use the amounts of sugar mentioned here, they won’t be overly sweet, which is the way I like them. And congrats on your trip to Sicily. I’m sure you’ll love it. It’s a magical place.

  12. Wow, how did I miss these while in Rome for months! With the raisins and cream remind me a bit of the Lenten hot cross buns of the anglophyllic home I grew up in.

    1. You know in some bars they’re not on display you have to ask for them so they’re easy to miss unless you already know about them. And who knows there might be connection with hot cross buns. They say that back in the day maritozzi were the only sweets you were allowed to eat during Lent.

  13. They look delicious! I don’t eat many sweet things, but your Maritozzi remind me of cream filled buns my grandmother used to buy me. I’m sure these are far superior to English ones, though I wonder if the wave of Italian migrants to the UK in the early 20th Century brought them, along with pasta and iced cream.

    1. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, either, but I have a weakness for these things. Interesting your conjecture about Italian immigrants in the UK maybe brining the idea with them. Sounds quite possible.

  14. I have never eaten a maritozzo — I always wanted to, though. There is something so alluring about them. Since we are in our indoor season now in Tucson, this might be a nice day-long project for me. I just need to figure out to whom I should give most of them. I certainly cannot afford to eat them all myself!l if you go with 50g per maritozzo, approximately how many will you have? Yours are so beautifully done!

    1. You’d get about 10 from this recipe, then. They do also freeze (without the whipped cream, of course) so that’s also an option. If you do make them do let us know how it goes!

  15. Frank I find this fascinating, as your maritozzi closely resembles our Swedish Easter delight, the semla bun. I always enjoy finding recipes that are similar from one country to the other. This will be tried at Easter time to see if my friends think it’s a semla bun.

    1. That is fascinating, Ron! I just Googled semla buns and it’s amazing how similar they are. Only the flavorings (cardamom vs orange zest, etc) seem to differ. That and the way the bun is cut to accomdate the whipped cream. Otherwise, pretty much the same idea. Amazing.

We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts! And if you tried the recipe, we'd love to hear how it went!

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