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Live & learn Italian at Eataly
Today I will take you to see a variety of fine Italian sweets at Eataly in London. For those of you who don’t know, Eataly is a huge delicatessen store where you can find quality Italian products; from sweets to prosciutto. You can also eat pasta or pizza freshly made on their lovely terrace whilst sipping Italian’s favorite cocktail; Aperol spritz.
Eataly was founded in Italy in 2007 by Oscar Farinetti. Farinetti’s business mission is to gather high-quality food at sustainable and reasonable prices for everyone, celebrate Italian biodiversity, create an informal, natural and simple place to eat, shop, learn, all under one roof.
We at Languages Alive, share the same passion and therefore, we decided to take you around this wonderful deli. You will some learn Italian through getting to know some of the most popular Italian desserts. Are you ready? Brace yourself for an authentic Italian experience with us at Eataly!
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The Italian sweet tradition
The Italian sweet tradition was born in order to celebrate family occasions and religious events. The ingredients used were strictly linked to the agriculture cycle. The preparation of sweets was also influenced by seasons.
In autumn, it was typical to make sweets based on walnuts and hazelnuts, chestnuts or must, whilst in winter, dry or candied fruits or apples were added.
In spring, sweets were made with ricotta or other fresh cheeses and in summer honey and fresh fruits were mainly used. In Italy there is a different sweet tradition between the South and the North, due to different climatic and historic factors. Usually there is a net subdivision among regions; however, some ingredients are more used in some regions rather than others.
For example, typical ingredients used to make sweets in central and southern Italy are: ricotta, almonds, figs, must plus candied fruits and pistachios in the South. In the northern parts, Italians mainly use milk based creams, whipped cream, butter, chestnuts, apples and berries. Usually sweets are aromatized with liquors.
Even though, all the Italian regions have different sweet recipes all sweets have something in common: authenticity and quality. Indeed, homemade Italian sweets are perfect snacks for adults and children as they are made with fresh, quality ingredients which are at the basis of the well-known Mediterranean diet.
Il bignè alla crema
Il bignè is a very popular sweet in Italy, it’s really appreciated by almost everyone. It can be filled with crema pasticcera (custard), cioccolato (chocolate), crema al gusto di caffè (coffee flavoured cream) and more. The bignè dough is made of water, flour and butter now called pasta “choux” (French for sweet) Even if its name is French, apparently the dough was actually created in Florence by Chef Penterelli in the sixteenth century. Somehow, pasta “choux” became popular in France where they created the bignè as we know it today.
The babà’s origins
Il babà has been considered one of the pillars of the Neapolitan sweet tradition and everyone believes so. However, what is it the real origin of this soft beloved dessert? The ugly truth is that il babà doesn’t have Neapolitan origins, but rather Polish.
Apparently, the baba’s inventor was the Polish King Stanislao Leszczyński who reigned until 1736.The King was a huge lover of gourmet sweets and very passionate about cakes. Unfortunately, the King was toothless and having difficulties eating the traditional European sweets which he found dry.
From the King’s need was born the babà, a soft sweet dipped in rum. The recipe was then improved by pastry Chef Nicolas Stohrer whilst working for Maria Leszczyńska, daughter of Stanislao and Queen of France.
According to a more folkloristic version of the story; the King had a really bad temper and he was used to throw anything he wasn’t pleased with against walls and furniture. The lucky babà was thrown against a bottle of rum and as a result was socked in the liquor. The King remained ecstatic when he tasted it.
The tiramisù recipe does not seem to appear in any cooking books published before the 1960s’, hence we can only deduce that it is a recent creation.The word tiramisù appears in an article for the first time in its written form only in 1971, however, the dessert invention is credited to the restaurant “Alle Beccherie”, located in Treviso, by the expert gastronomist Giuseppe Maffioli at the end of the 1960s’. It is said tiramisù was created by a pastry chef, called Roberto Linguanotto, who had acquired a great deal of experience by working in Germany.
The dessert’s name comes from the Venetian dialect “tiramesu”, then Italianized in tiramisù meaning lift me up. However, some people argue its name comes from its highly nutritional properties while some others, more naughtily, believe tiramisù has aphrodisiac effects.
The pastry chef Linguanotto states the recipe comes from the “sbatudin” (zabaione), a mixture of fresh beaten yolks and sugar, usually used by peasant families as “fortifying” to which mascarpone was then added to create tiramisù.
Legends of tiramisù
There are a few legends about the origins of tiramisù. One sees Siena as the place where the dessert was invented in the occasion of a visit of the Gran duke Cosimo III (1642-1723). Even though this version is fully compatible with the introduction of coffee into the Italian market, it is not for mascarpone, which is a typical cheese from the Lombardia region and for the savoiardi very little likely to had been used during that time in Siena. Infact, mascarpone goes off very quickly and it very unlikely that it could have been transported from Lombardia to Toscana fast enough to avoid its deterioration.
Furthermore, using raw eggs in a un-cooked dessert in the past, was a real hazard because of the risk of developing salmonella due to the poor food preservation methods used at the time.
Another legend says the dessert was created by a pastry chef from Turin in order to support Cavour in his efforts to unify Italy (1861).
This version too does not seem plausible because of the food preservation methods used at the time which could not guarantee decent enough preservation.
Tiramisù was developed as a dessert for adults and children alike, therefore its original recipe did not contain any liqueur. The dessert was aromatized with alcohol for the first time, probably later on, in Northern Italy. Another curious fact is that tiramisù was made into a round shape, while nowadays the rectangular or square options are preferred.
As with many original recipes, tiramisù has experienced variations; a very common one is to replace coffee with chocolate especially when preparing it for children.
Some people believe that the name Tiramisù (lift me up), is derived from the aphrodisiac effects of the dessert
That’s all for today, for more live & learn Italian lessons which involve traditional foods, please click on the following links.
I hope you enjoyed this authentic Italian experience, comment below if you did or didn’t and what you would like to learn next time. For those of you, who want to start learning in Italian with a tutor, get in touch we offer a free consultation. If you have Kindle unlimited you can also access my “Live & learn Italian through my family’s recipes” for free.
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Thank you for sticking around. Ciao e a presto!