A post inspired by a sweet-tooth. A bit new for this girl but considering I also grew up on animal crackers and old-fashioned iced oatmeal cookies in Texas, it doesn’t surprise anyone that these chocolate cookies are something I now adore.
As you can imagine Italy has a myriad of traditions surround every religious holiday and Easter is no exception. In Florence, domenica di pasqua or Easter Sunday is most famously marked by an annual “scoppio del carro” or exploding cart, an event that happens directly in front of the Duomo if you can believe it. It usually attracting thousands of revelers apt to see the tradition unfold.
Naturally, this year this enormously important event has been canceled due to the pandemic (yet again) but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the culinary traditions surrounding Easter whether you are religious or not.
You’ve probably heard of the dove-shaped Colomba cake (order yours from Donamalina in Piazza San Jacopo (trust me on this) but these cookies are a less well-known, but still really lovely, treat to make at home or buy from a local pasticceria along with pan di ramerino (a sticky, sweet rosemary and raisin sweet bread).
Despite the irony in associating abstaining from something to the exception of cookies, there’s something about the simplicity of Quaresimali that I absolutely adore.
Legend has it that they were invented by nuns in a convent between Florence and Prato in the 19th century in order to allow the nuns to enjoy a small amount of gluttony during the time of lent (my kind of ladies!). In order to help justify the guilt, the idea was to recreate letters of the gospel.
It makes sense since they are essentially meant to be pretty much “without fat”, made with egg whites, sugar, and cocoa powder (depending on who is making them) and eaten during the period of Lent, between Carnival and Easter.
They form the shape of letters from the alphabet, perhaps to represent something in the gospel or rather you can simply choose to spell out all kinds of fun things during a pandemic period when we’re all at our wit’s end. I love the ones at Pasticceria Gualtieri (home to the iconic Iris cake I can’t shut up about) on Via Senese, 18/red, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy
Speaking of this period of “giving up something” for the 40-day lent period, well personally, I like to choose something sensible to forget for 40 days, perhaps like broccoli.. ;-). After all, this year I think we all deserve to indulge more, not less, in everything we love.
In other areas of Italy, the Quaresimali are usually almond biscotti similar to cantucci but in Tuscany they take the shape of letters from the Alphabet. They are light, crispy, and pretty damn addictive. Part of the appeal is the fact that they aren’t too sweet so it feels like you’re not overindulging even with the cacao addition and kids love to make them too.
For recipes you might like to follow, Jul’s Kitchen, one of my favorite Tuscan food bloggers has a great one here otherwise you can read more on food writer Faith Willinger’s article for The Atlantic.
Other Spring/Easter Treats You Should Absolutely Try in Florence
- La colomba di Pasqua, or the “Easter dove” is a popular treat or rather the “panettone”. The traditional recipe uses the classic ingredients of sugar, yeast, flour, eggs, butter and topped with pearl sugar and almonds. Best to go artisanal if you can and I can honestly say that I was BLOWN away by the one we were gifted by friends from Donamalina in Piazza San Jacopo. I wish they delivered to Switzerland. I also highly recommend this Spring gourmet gift box organised by Curious Appetite. It includes an almond & orange zested colomba cake from an artisanal bakery in Italy, holiday confetti chocolate eggs, spring vegetable-based delicacies such as asparagus & spring white truffle spread!
- Pan di Ramerino – this sweet bread roll containing rosemary and raisins is typically prepared on Holy Thursday and traditionally blessed before having been consumed. They are rather delicious and I typically pick them up from Pasticceria Buonamici or Forno San Niccolò.
- Mimosa Cake is like the sweet cake explosion of yellow Mimosa flowers onto one spongy, soft, creamy lemon-scented cake and I actually quite love it while Nico is not a huge fan. That man is all about decadence. You’ll find it everywhere on the lead up to La Festa delle Donne aka Women’s day on March 8th.
- Dark horse – Hot Cross Buns! This has nothing really to do with any Italian tradition but they are sweet buns that you normally find during Easter and bakery Melaleuca makes a lovely version of hot cross buns made with sourdough and a hint of Earl grey. I ordered them last year and tried to hide them from Nico, they were that good.