Could these be Italy's sweetest of sweets?
Si certo, we all know Italy does incredible food - pasta, lasagna, prosciutto, gelato, risotto... ever heard of pasticcini?
Pasto is a simple Italian word meaning 'meal', un pasto - a meal.
But pasta has more than one meaning. It's pasta like spaghetti, 'paste' like toothpaste, and it's also una pasta - a sweet pastry. Add a couple of suffixes and we dive into a sea of derivatives.
pasticceria - bakery selling pastries and cakes
pasticciare - to make a mess
pasticciere - pastry chef
pasticcino - little pastry
pasticcio - pie/mess/predicament
pasticcione - clumsy person
Panificio or pasticceria? One deals in bread and the other in pastries. They're often interchangeable but if you're looking for the real deal, you know where to go - it's in the name.
Pasticcini are tiny morsels of assorted cakes, pastries and desserts, a mouthful, maybe two, of a very specific dolcetto, to savour for a while and then move on. Sold on trays, you can ask for misto (an assortment) or go ahead and select every individual pasticcino, no one's judging. You see, certain families prefer certain types and everyone has their favourite. After choosing (or not) your tray of delights is wrapped in pretty pastry-shop paper and tied with a ribbon, ready to be taken away.
Certain pasticcerie (like pizzerie) become known for being the best and will pack out quickly with queues but the wait is worth it, especially if you intend to impress because pasticcini do just that. You may be rubbing your bursting tummy after a long meal, muttering, "Basta basta", but when a tray of these colourful delicacies appears on the table, miraculously, you're not THAT full, and they're only tiny...
Expect certain pasticcini to always feature on the vassoio (tray). A few versions are regional but fortunately, the classics are a sure thing.
Now, which do we pick first?
Cestini di Frutta - Baskets of fruit
One-bite shortcrust fruit tarts, with a layer of custard or Chantilly cream, decorated in strawberry slices, berries, or kiwi and glazed in gelatine.
Babà au rum - Babà soaked in rum
Mini cone-shaped sponge cakes soaked in citrusy rum and glazed in apricot jam. Associated with the city of Naples, this boozy dessert was brought to Southern Italy in the 19th Century by French-trained chefs working in upper-class households.
Cone-shaped sugared puff pastries filled with Chantilly cream.
A mini version of the classic Viennese Sacher - layers of chocolate sponge and apricot, glazed in rich, dark icing.
Expect the mini-est version ever of this classic Treviso dolce.
More and more popular with an array of flavours from fruits to coffee.
Beloved Sicilian tubes of ricotta, chocolate and candied orange peel.
Tiny choux-pastry balls filled with Chantilly, chocolate or hazelnut, coffee, zabaione or pistacchio creams and topped with chocolate, hazelnut or coffee icing or simply dusted in cocoa.
Neat cubes of layered puff pastry, Chantilly cream and sponge cake soaked in Marsala liqueur.
Similar to Diplomatiche with additional layers of cream, covered in chocolate icing instead of confectioner's sugar.
Aren't they gorgeous? Which is your favourite? Our family fave is bignè a zabaione 💛