Friday, October 21, 2011

The First Day of Fall in Florence--Schiacciata all'Uva

   Yesterday morning, I stopped at a shop near the Duomo to buy a spotlight for the office where the owner asked me to translate for the tall American tourist in front of me.  After I helped him buy an adapter, he inquired if it would still be raining in the evening.  Without thinking, I answered "it hasn't rained in Florence for six months."  Today, the weather is sunny, cool and crisp, and could be considered the first true day of fall.

     Fall in Florence is signaled by the arrival of schiacciata all'uva, a sort of grape cake.  I say "sort of" because traditionally the base is slightly sweetened bread dough.  I tried schiacciata all'uva at four different places:  two cafés serving made-on-the-premises pastries, a deli and a bakery, all of which provided variations on a theme.

This very grape-y schiacciata all'uva comes from Bar/Pasticceria La Loggia close to the office on Borgo degli Albizi.  Sweet, but not too sweet, the flavor of anise was evident.  The owner and pastry chef Walter confided how the recipe came from his late co-pastry chef Franco Iandelli.

"When Franco was nine years old, he went to learn the trade at the Crociani pasticceria in piazza Dalmazia (which still exists today), and didn't see his parents again until he was 15.  This took place during the 1940s and I still make schiacciata the way
Franco was taught then."

Walter adds a little butter to the bread dough, which is layered with grapes, a particular type called uva fragolina.  "It gives a slightly sweet aftertaste," he says.

The next stop was Bar/Pasticceria Cosi on Borgo degli Albizi, which, unfortunately, is no longer owned by master pastry chef Patrizio Cosi although many of his recipes still are used.  I can hardly believe that Patrizio would have made the schiacciata all'uva that I tried there--it was dense, and too sweet.

The current owner of Cosi, a native of Greve in Chianti, told me that it was important to use Chianti wine grapes--Canaiolo or Sangiovese--in making schiacciata all'uva as well to add sugar on the top before baking so that "it will carmelize in the oven."  Maybe that's why I found his version cloying.

Across from Cosi, at the corner of the Arco di San Pierino at a deli Carly and I found the real deal.  Owner Antonio Porrati told us that this was the true schiacciata all'uva, which he has delivered from Montespertoli, a Chianti wine producing area.

"This was customarily made by the wives of local farmers--contadini-- using extra homemade bread dough and grapes from the harvest while adding a touch of anise.  The bread dough would be rolled out, the grapes layered, and more bread dough added on top," as he demonstrated with his hands.

Well, the schiacciata was tasty, not overpoweringly grape-y nor overly sweet.

Walking down from my home outside Porta Romana, with this fall dessert on my mind, my eye was caught by the following sign displayed on the door of the Sarti bakery,
via Senese at the Due Strade.
Literally, it publicizes that Sarti makes GOOD schiacciata all'uva.

It was true.  The baker told me that no, this wasn't exactly bread dough, but a secret recipe using a little butter.  "The grape variety is not Chianti but rather moscato d'Amburgo which comes from the south of Italy, or, at this moment, from France.  The sweetness is just right."

I tasted a piece, and I agreed.  Squisito.   The top of Sarti's schiacciata all'uva is sprinkled with a little sugar when it comes out the the oven, not before.
 A nice baked dough, a touch of anice, a good all around choice.  I translated this for the baker in Italian and he answered "equilibrato" "balanced."  

Tuscans are known for not wasting anything, so from the origin of creating a dessert from leftover harvest grapes and bread dough, 
an autumn tradition was born.

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