Angela Pia (Pious Angel): a Vintage Dessert

After making a Grasshopper Pie from a family recipe for a vintage affair a few weeks back, I was inspired to pull out my Grandmother’s recipe box which is filled with her hand written recipes, and those from her friends as well as my Great Grandmother.  It was a time before canned soup casseroles with three ingredients were in vogue and everything was a whole food for the most part.
I was thumbing through the dessert sections and landed on a few that felt unique or seasonal I wanted to try and pass along.  My first choice proved that in the ‘60’s (my guess at the recipe vintage) cocktail hour was clearly NOT just for before dinner.   The dessert named ‘Angela Pia’ or translated from Italian to be ‘Pious Angel’ was not something I could pass up.  I had scanned the ingredients before making but it was not until I was putting it together that the strong waft of the liquor gave way to suggestions on serving sizes!  It was the name that caught my attention but I won’t be ‘desserting and driving’ (actually in the tasting it was much more mild, really producing flavor from the brandy and rum but no teetering!)
My grandparents would have lived in San Francisco at the time.  Anyone who has lived in Northern California in the last century would have heard of famous newspaper columnist Herb Caen.  His columns in the San Francisco chronicle began in the late 1930’s and spanned almost 60 years, always the talk of the breakfast or dinner table in my grandparents’ household.  When I saw his recommendation on this recipe slip I was sure it must have been a hit at the time.
I did some sleuthing on the pre-printed recipe I found that had seemingly been torn from a larger document.  What I pieced together with some internet help is that the original dessert was served at a restaurant named Pietro 311 on Washington Street in San Francisco.  At the time this would have been in the Produce District, I suspect leaving the clearly adored restaurant a surprise due to its unlikely location combined with its quality cuisine.  The area where it stood is now the Embarcadero Center for those knowledgeable to the Bay Area.
I found a few references to the restaurant in chat sessions from the past decade.  They all shared a common palpable nostalgia and fondness for how ‘special’ the restaurant and its cuisine were.  This dessert was always mentioned so must have really something in the era (before Jello Pudding Parfaits hit the shelves!).
ANGELA PIA (Pious Angel)
I moved the preparation steps around from the original recipe not wanting the whipped egg whites or cream to sit and deflate.  This all came together easily though I’d suggest reading all instructions and preparing every step ready before beginning.
Serves: 6-8
·         3 eggs, separated
·         ½ cup granulated sugar
·         1 ounce brandy
·         1 ounce rum
·         1 cup whipping cream
·         1 package Knox gelatin
·         1 teaspoon vanilla
1.      Set a saucepan filled with water over medium high heat on the stove to come to a low boil.
2.      Add the packet of gelatin to ¼ cup of water in a metal bowl (which will go over the saucepan of hot water) for 5 minutes.
3.      While the water is coming to a low boil and gelatin is soaking, add egg yolks to a different bowl and whisk or beat with a mixer until fully mixed.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until fully mixed into a light yellow, thick mixture.  Add the brandy and rum and mix thoroughly.
4.      If 5 minutes has elapsed, place the bowl with gelatin over the hot water and whisk until it is fully dissolved.  Remove from heat to cool for a few minutes.  Pour into yolk mixture and stir to fully combine.
5.      Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Note:  I did this step during the time the gelatin was processing.
6.      Beat whipping cream until it forms peaks and add the vanilla.
7.      Fold together the egg whites and whipping cream mixture.  Fold those into the yolk mixture until all are fully combined.  Put into small cocktail glasses or sherbet cups to chill or freeze at least two hours before serving (I froze mine longer and they were light and easy to eat).
This dessert is light with a texture of frozen whipped topping and a lovely flavor of the vanilla and brandy.  To me it looked ‘naked’ in the freezer and I thought about adding a sour cherry sauce or something to it but in the tasting it does not require a thing; it is angelic on its own.  Maybe a garnish…..!
Another thing of the time that jumped out at me is that this recipe uses raw eggs.  Salmonella was present in the 1960’s and I did NOT get the impression that dessert was made famous by causing deaths.  However we live in a more cautious time so I also did research about using the raw eggs, contacting farmers and chefs I know as well.  To be the most cautious I would recommend using pasteurized eggs which should remove any risk from eating raw eggs.  The statistics on contracting Salmonella are pretty slight but of course follow your own judgment.
Post Script.  Following the posting of this article I received two emails that I could not resist sharing.  After my research travels on the internet and encountering many misty nostalgic references to Pietro 311, I felt there are others who would relish this background history as I do.  My great thanks to Francis for taking the time to write….
 “Hello. My cousin, Stephanie Alioto, was married to Pietro Pinoni, who owned and operated Pietro’s 311 restaurant at 311 Washington Street in San Francisco, where I was a frequent diner. I loved the Angela Pia desert, which means “pious angel” but which was named after his sister-in-law, Angelina Alioto Figone. And the reason the restaurant was in the produce district at the time was because Pietro’s father-in-law, my Grand Uncle Ignatius Alioto’s fish processing plant, Consolidated Fish Co., was just up the street, and my Grandfather’s plant, San Francisco International Fish Co., was a couple of blocks away where what is now the redwood grove of the Transamerica building at the corner of Washington and Montgomery Streets.
Pietro started his restaurant in the late 50s at 311 Washington St., then when that lease was not renewed, he moved up a block, but kept the 311 name until redevelopment took that building for the new apartments and high-rise buildings sometime in the mid- to late ’60s. Pietro then moved the restaurant across to Marin County, but that was short-lived. He “retired” to make wine, write a book on wine making, and travel.
How long did you all live in SF? Do you remember the Tortola on Polk Street? The predecessor, Garabaldi’s Tamale Parlor, was started by my Great-grandfather; operated by my grandparents, and then by my father until about 1978, when it closed, as none of us wanted to go into the restaurant business.
At one time, a group of us made a list of t he old SF restaurants (and businesses) that were such a part of the city and are now gone – e.g., Maye’s Oyster House, The Old Poodle Dog, Jack’s, Paoli’s, The Temple Bar, El Matador, Original Joe’s on Broadway, Vanessi’s, Veneto’s, The White House, J. Magnin, Roos Brothers, etc. I am sure you remember all of them.
Francis Scarpulla”


  1. says

    My mom has that exact recipe card in her stash of recipes and got it when she used to frequent Pietro’s 311 back in the day!
    I am going to make this for Christmas dinner…delicioso!

  2. Suzanne says

    I, too, have this recipe handed down from my mother, probably originally from her mother – both San Francisco women. It is always a hit when I make it. I use less whipped cream. Make it in a tart pan with a light crushed almond crust. After it chills a bit, I add raspberries and blueberries or thinly sliced strawberries and blueberries on top in whatever pattern strikes me at the moment.

    Your link was among others that appeared when I was searching for something else. Thanks for the reminder – must make angela Pia again soon.

    • says

      Suzanne this has been one of my favorite posts I’ve done I think. Somehow taking the trip down SF memory lane was so fun. Out of this post I have had a number of relatives internationally of Pietro email me about their memories having not stayed connected with the family. It’s been fascinating and it seems most everyone who lived in the City at that time remembers the restaurant and dessert. Thank YOU for your commment as you are reminding me I need to make Angela Pia myself!

  3. Rita Lugo Sokolowski says

    Wow! Just wax me notalgic!
    Herb Caen, San Francisco, Alioto, and that beautiful vintage napkin. Homesick!

    Especially made me miss my uncle Jess Gonzales who ran a trucking company in San Francisco. He loved good food and especially Italian food, and he loved Herb Caen. I wish he were still around to tell me if he ever took my Aunt there.

    Thanks for the memories and for a new recipe that I will remember them by.

    • says

      I felt the same way in writing this Rita. Especially with the outpouring of letters from their family, some which I appended the post with and others that I did not. It feels like the recipe really has a history and a soul, doesn’t it?

  4. NancyB says

    Absolutely loved this story! I had an aunt and uncle who lived in San francisco that we visited several times. They had an Italian daughter in law, so I’m sure we ate there at least once! 😉 I enjoy reading about the connections that appear afterwards from these online postings that stir memories and bring together people who otherwise would remain unknown to each other. Another fabulous recipe to try, too!

  5. Reina Michelle says

    My mom was a gourmet cook and did quite a bit of experimentation of her own. My brother is coming to Santa Cruz from Los Angeles to visit me around his birthday and I am going to surprise him with his favorite dessert from the 60’s, Angela Pia. I also have Mom’s recipe card but wondered if anyone else knew about the dessert and stumbled onto this website. Thanks for the memories from Southern California!

    • says

      This really has been one of my favorite posts over the year really for all the commenters! You’ll see the family from the original restaurant, now spread around the world, have all commented. And other who remember it. I never experienced it myself but writing about it brought such fond memories from my childhood time in San Francisco with my grandparents. I hope your brother is thrilled! Incidentally I went to college in Santa Cruz!


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