Sweets and cakes
The art of sweets and cakes in the Abruzzi region is as varied as the region itself. Almonds are very important, being present in a good number of the recipes either in their whole form or reduced to a flour; but above all, they are the main ingredient of the famous sugared almonds (‘confetti’) from Sulmona. Cooked grape must, honey and chocolate are all just as important. Grape jam is much appreciated, an irreplaceable ingredient of a long series of ciambelle (ring-shaped cakes) and taralli (small biscuits) which are a must for occasions such as weddings, baptisms, graduations and celebratory events in general. The so-called «cielli pieni» or «cellitti» are common to many places of the region, which are vaguely similar in shape to birds (‘uccelli’ or, hence ‘cielli’) and whose flavour comes mostly from their jam filling. Tied more than other places to respecting its customs, the Abruzzi region, still today, respects the ancient connections between the calendar and cakes and sweets. This means that there is no Carnival without the presence on the table of the «zeppole» or the «cicerchiata» (a ring-shaped cake of little balls stuck together with honey and enriched with candied fruit: the same cake which, in the Campania region, is called «struffolo»); there is no Easter without the presence in shop windows and shelves of the «fiadoni», which are small, cheese-based pies, excellent both in the savoury and in the sweet version.
A typical artisan-prepared recipe, little cups of pastry made from flour, sugar, butter and eggs, filled with a mixture made from ground almonds, sugar, cocoa, biscuit crumbs, grated lemon rind and cinnamon, with the addition of cooked grape must to give the consistency of a jam. These are then covered with a layer of pastry and are baked in the oven.
This is the Sulmona version of the «pizza dolce» (‘sweet pizza’): the cream which it is made from is enriched with finely broken up torrone (a kind of nougat) and croccante (almond-caramel crunch), whereas the trifle sponge is soaked with centerbe liqueur.
CONFETTI (SUGARED ALMONDS) FROM SULMONA
An ancient glory of the region and of the town: every year, five hundred tons of sugared almonds of every shape and colour are exported all around the world – linked together into wreaths, collected into bunches or into imaginative floral-shapes, linked together by shape and colour.
Sulmona has supplied the sugared almonds for the most important and celebrated weddings of the century.
The history of these sugared almonds is recorded by a large documentation held in the rooms of the small museum adjacent to the Pelino establishment, on the road which leads to Introdacqua. The sugared almonds are older than sweets and chocolates: the original recipe, still used in their manufacture, goes back to the fourteen hundreds. The confetti are made from just sugar and almonds, with the complete exclusion of the flour and starch habitually used by other confectioners. This company lays claim to the authenticity of the formula and fights, as Mario Pelino wrote in an article in 1935, so that “the concoctions of flour and starch mixed up with sugar and made who knows where do not pass as confetti from Sulmona”.
This is a cake which is typical of Carnival time, made with small cubes of sweet pastry which are fried in oil and mixed with honey. It is usually made heart or ring-shaped and is decorated with coloured sugar strands.
Essential in wedding banquets and similar, the ferratele or pizzelle are characteristic wafers prepared with the help of a device which is traditionally engraved with the initials of the family and the date (it is made up of two metal straps with long rotating handles): it is possible to find ones which are centuries old, but the younger generations are tending to substitute them with a lighter-weight utensil which is easier to handle and which can be used over the gas flame rather than over the more vigorous flame of the log fire. These cakes are prepared using white flour of the “00” type, eggs, olive oil, a drop of aniseed flavoured liqueur and some pork rind.
Usually used as a wedding cake, this cake is made with trifle sponge cut crossways into four discs soaked in rum or alchermes liqueur. It is composed of three layers of different creams, a chocolate one, an almond one and ,the last, an egg one. The surface is spread with a white sugar icing which is then decorated with silver and coloured sugar strands arranged as writing and in motifs of best wishes.
SISE DELLE MONACHE/NUN’S BREASTS
This is a special cake which is only produced in Guardiagrele. It is in the shape of three domes which bring to mind three breasts, made from trifle sponge and filled with creme patissiere. In the small town between the hills behind Lanciano, two century-old confectioners in particular are famous for having made the «sise delle monache» cakes their number one product, using a strictly artisan procedure.
CHOCOLATE TORRONE (nougat)
A recognised speciality of Aquila, the torrone is made of hazelnuts, sugar, honey, egg whites and chocolate coating.
It is an absolutely unique product with the characteristic of remaining soft even if taken to the equator or the North Pole, on the beach in the summer or a ski slope in the winter. The secret is in the measurement of the ingredients and in the workmanship. The most well known holders of the secrets of the recipe in Aquila are the Nunzia brothers, who have a shop and a laboratory in the Cathedral square, just next door to their classic café in Liberty style.
DRIED FIG TORRONE (nougat)
A characteristic production of the province of Chieti, this type of torrone is a real bomb of calories: it was once prepared at home by housewives, whereas nowadays it is produced by some laboratories and industries which work at a semi-artisan level. It is composed of an abundant quantity of honey combined with the same weight of walnuts and dried figs, then granulated sugar, powdered cinnamon, stiffly whisked egg whites, and grated lemon rind.
After having been cooked at length, the mixture is spread out onto a surface of marble greased with sunflower seed oil, cut into rhombus or diamond shapes while it is warm; finally, it is left to harden and can be preserved for a long time.