The first thing you have to know about the pizza dolce (literally: sweet pizza) is that it has nothing to do with the world-famous pizza, not even with a dessert pizza, except for the fact − if you’re looking for an etymological reason − that the colours mirror those on a pizza. As a matter of fact, pizza dolce is very similar to an Italian party cake. What sets it apart from a common ceremony cake is its regionality, tradition, and peculiarity of the recipe.
As regards geographical location, pizza dolce belongs to the precious gastronomic heritage of Abruzzo, a region in central Italy on the Adriatic sea, and you will not find it elsewhere. It is in fact registered in the Traditional agricultural and food products of Abruzzo, recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.
The Pizza Dolce in Abruzzo is the cake by definition. Although of ancient origin, it has survived to the present day in its traditional version. Reserved in the past especially for weddings or important celebrations of the family, it shows an elaborate appearance but is actually as simple as life in the countryside or in the mountains, when weddings were celebrated at home. According to the tradition, on the occasion of wedding parties the pizza dolce was prepared by the close relatives of the couple. The cake was huge: depending on the number of guests it could measure 50 cm in diameter and 20 cm in height and was divided into five layers. It was filled with cooked must, chocolate cream, almond paste and custard, while to cover the surface it was used a white icing prepared with egg whites, butter and icing sugar, completed by tiny silver or coloured candies as decoration.
Not much has changed in today’s version of the recipe: three layers of sponge cake are soaked with a different liqueur mixture, whose main components are alchermes, coffee, rum, maraschino or other liqueurs at will, whole or diluted with sweetened water. The main liqueur, however, is the alchermes, that gives the sponge its characteristic crimson colour. The cake is finally filled with almond mix, chocolate and Italian custard, while its surface is still covered with white sugar frosting, or the more “modern” whipped cream. On the top, you can find toasted and chopped almonds or hazelnut grains. Although the classic pizza dolce is the most loved one also today, there is no lack of attempts at innovation, such as the latest recipes that, following the recent Italian lust for Anglo-Saxon cake decorating, propose a glaze in sugar paste to cover the cake.
Today pizza dolce is served as a traditional dessert in typical restaurants, or it is still homemade by people who want to celebrate significant events following the tradition of recipes handed down from generation to generation. It can also be purchased in long-established bakeries or pastry shops.
If you’re bold and you want to test yourself , you will find a few links for the recipe at the bottom of the article. Although its preparation is a little elaborate, it is not difficult to achieve. Yet, if you have a chance to try this special cake, remember that you will not only be tasting a simple dessert but a piece of history of Abruzzo, whose antique flavour echoes ancient festive songs and promises full of hope and life in a harsh but “strong and gentle” land, as this region is said to be.
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Written by Raffaella Sciarra, PhD in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope” (Italy). This is the first article done in collaboration with the Parthenope University of Naples. Every last Saturday of the month you will be able to read a new article based on italian food terms, written by students of the University. Buon appetito!