Napolitain: Delicious, sweet shortbread
This is the story of a happy encounter between two crumbly shortbread biscuits and a layer of berry jam, all covered in a light coating of pink fondant icing. The Mauritian napolitain – an absolutely unique pastry – is just as satisfying a dessert as it is a sweet, anytime snack.
Although these delicate little cakes are traditionally handed out to schoolchildren on Independence Day every year, their exact origin is unknown. All we know is that they are definitely not a treat from Naples, that their name occasionally takes an “e” at the end, and their sugary pink icing often raises eyebrows among weight watchers. But a napolitain without its sugary crust is as pointless as Tintin without Milou or Laurel without Hardy: simply unimaginable!
The napolitain is an inherent part of what the Mauritians call “French pastries”. These include hybridised local treats, ranging from the classic croissant to crispy puff pastry, raisin cake or cream puffs.
The napolitain has long kept its classical round, pink format, though the past few years have seen some changes to its look. Some bakers have replaced the very sweet jam between the shortbreads with a tangy, more refined guava jelly. And today, you’ll commonly find smaller versions of the pastry in the shape of hearts or flowers, in white, yellow or even light green sugar coats.
But purists will be glad to know the napolitain’s taste has not changed. Accompanied by your afternoon cup of tea, the napolitain is best savoured slowly, allowing the delicious trio of its key flavours to sink in: shortbread, jam and icing, all together. Mischievous tasters, on the other hand, might “open” their napolitain in two and lick the jam off first, before devouring the biscuit afterwards. But it’s ok. When it comes to eating the napolitain, there are no rules.
Photos: My Sweet Mauritius