La Pasticceria - Italian pastry shop

taormina_pastriesA shop window in Taormina, Sicily

Pastry shop. What an innocent-sounding name for a place of so many irresistible temptations!

Pasticcerie are found in every Italian town, their curved glass fronted display cabinets sparkling and filled with pastic

cini (small cakes), crostate or tartelette (jam or fruit-filled tartlets), and heaps of biscotti. A tall cabinet may hold a multi-tiered wedding cake, or some other celebration cake; another will have shelves, revolving sometimes, for greater effect, on which are placed larger crostate, torte and large creations that you may be tempted to take as a gift when visiting a friend - or simply purchase just to take home for your own furtive enjoyment.

Pastries, cakes, sweetmeats, they are all here, varying only as the regions change. In Sicily, the pasticcerie shelves are filled with meticulously executed marzipan fruit, or maybe cannoli, those deep-fried pastry tubes filled with ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate, or an over-the-top decorated cassata (or its small cousin cassatina) both more appropriate to take home than to eat on the spot.

pastriesNeapolitan pastries on Capri

The flakiest pastries are Neapolitan sfogliatelle, filled with ricotta and candied peel, often displayed beside baba, round cakes oozing rum. In Piedmont shoppers come for torrone (nougat), bignole, tiny bite-sized choux pastry balls filled with cream or zabaglione, or ladies' kisses baco di dama, which are almond shortbread discs sandwiched together with chocolate icing. Deep-fried pastry strips called crostoli will be often found in Trentino-Alto Aldige

In many parts of the country a healthy early morning walk can be so easily hijacked by the sight of one of these places, especially if it is a Bar-Pasticceria where you can stand at the bar or sit at a table with your coffee and something tiny and crunchily sweet to accompany it. At lunch time, the pasticceria is the place to come for a quick lunch of something savoury as well. Most serve tartine and little salatini, canapé-sized bites of pastries topped with cheese or other tiny tastes.

And as far as gifts go, no dinner hostess ever minds if she receives a carefully packed box of assorted pastries and biscotti, selected just an hour or so before from the local pasticceria. Although the contents will vary enormously, the price is cleverly calculated by weight, per etto (100 grams).

Amaretto biscuits are tiny almond-flavoured macaroons, first made in Saronno near Milan. Biscotti is the generic name for all the little crispy biscuits which Italian pastry chefs do so well. The regulars love them hard and sweet to dip into their coffees as they stand and chat to each other.

Wafer biscuits are made with flat irons impressed with decorative images and shapes, and cooked on top of the stove, rather like waffles. With their high sugar content and crispness , they are perfect for serving with gelato.

mostacolliMostaccioli in a market in Palermo, Sicily

The recipe for firm finger-shaped mostacciolo goes back to Roman times when it was the sensible (and pleasant) way to use up sweet must, the by-product of wine. These biscuits are brushed with a sweet glaze after baking, then left to dry, and are one of the biscuits most favoured for dipping into a glass of vin santo (a sweet dessert wine) at the end of a meal.

A few encounters with a pasticceria will confirm forever how important a part sugar (and indeed all sweet things) plays in the Italian daily life. As the local saying goes: Si pigliano pia mosche in una gocciola di miele che in un barile d'aceto which translates as "you can catch more flies with honey than a barrel of vinegar".

enna_pastriesIn a small cafe in Enna, Sicily


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