Christmas in the kitchen: Tuscan delicacies on the table
Tuscany's most traditional sweet treats
Christmas is coming, and as the most magical period of the year draws nearer, our desire grows to fill our houses with decorations, lights and delicious smells. For bringing out Christmas spirit, nothing is better than bringing typical Tuscan Christmas sweets to the table.
The Panforte or Panpepato is a typical Christmas sweet that has ancient origins: the first recorded mention dates back to the year 1000, when they were called Pane Natalizio or Pane Aromatico. They were prepared by apothecaries for nobility and clergy, because they contained fine ingredients such as orange peel, cedar and melon, almonds, aromatic herbs and spices. The Panforte remained the same until the year 1879 when the Queen Margherita visited the city of Siena: to honour the occasion, Panforte was cooked without the melon peels and with a layer of vanilla sugar instead of black pepper. The Sienese offered the queen what they called the “Panforte Margherita”—a name which this lighter, more delicate Panforte is still known as today.
Also originating from Siena are Ricciarelli cookies, with a base of almonds, sugar, and egg whites. According to legend, they were introduced to Tuscany by Ricciardetto della Gherardesca who, upon his return from the Crusades, brought them to his castle near Volterra. For the recipe: click here.
Other Sienese sweets are Cavallucci, ancient cookies that were already widespread by the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and made with blends of enriched spice nuts. Cavallucci are so-called because they were mainly offered in country inns and consumed by horsemen and passersby.
Hailing instead from Lucca are Befanini: colourful cookies found on the table of every Luccan home, from the area of Garfagnana to Versilia, around Christmastime but most of all around Epiphany. Though they’re “poor” food, they’re very delicious, simple to prepare, and ideal for cooking together with the whole family. Children too can delight in cutting the little shapes of the Befanini.
Meanwhile, Copate are among the least-known Sienese sweets baked around Christmastime, and yet because of their exquisiteness they are the most expensive to make. Also called “cupata” (from the Arabic word “qubbiat,” meaning almond), Copate are an extremely ancient, small, round Tuscan dessert, unique to the Siena region. Light or dark, Copate are crisps made with honey, nuts, and anise, and enclosed between two wafers.