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Sweet Florence: schiacciata alla fiorentina and cantucci with almonds.
When we talk about the cuisine of Florence, people often mistakenly think only of the well-known Fiorentina steak, ribollita or pappa al pomodoro, but not many people know that, in addition to these excellent dishes, the culinary tradition of the city also has very strong roots in sweet dishes.
Frugal cakes have been made here since medieval times and are still served in Florence today. The most celebrated is without doubt schiacciata alla fiorentina: a light sponge cake decorated with Florence’s characteristic fleur-de-lis, symbol of the city, depicted in the centre of the cake in confectioner's sugar.
A typical sweet dish for carnival celebrations, it is normally prepared to celebrate Mardi Gras. In recent years, in addition to the traditional version, versions with fillings have started to become popular, with whipped cream, Chantilly or chocolate cream which, however, are frowned on by purists.
Every family has a recipe for schiacciata that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Another schiacciata typical of Florence is made with the addition of grapes: a sweet treat that was once prepared during the grape harvest for local festivals. Originally it was a dish for the poor, a fact reflected in the simplicity of its ingredients, leavened bread dough, olive oil, sugar and grapes, from which it is strictly forbidden to remove the pips.
But schiacciate is by no means Florence’s only sweet. Another speciality you will see in every trattoria and respectable home in Florence is cantucci with almonds, to be served with Tuscan Vin Santo, a sweet liqueur wine made from grape must.
Cantucci or cantuccini are simple, not particularly sweet biscuits, made by slicing strips of hot dough made with simple ingredients and almonds.
No guide to traditional sweet dishes would be complete without mentioning gelato. Its origins date to the era of the Medici, when chef Ruggieri took part in a competition for the best cooks of Tuscany, organized by the family. Ruggieri’s entry was an iced dessert, a sort of cold custard with cream, zabaione and fruit that won over the court and Caterina de’ Medici in particular.
The recipe was then taken up by Bernardo Buontalenti, a famous sculptor and painter in 16th century Florence, a cooking enthusiast who began to prepare his own creative versions of the iced desserts, made from zabaione and fruit, giving rise to the famous Florence custard Crema Buontalenti, which is still available in all the best gelaterias in Florence and elsewhere.