Florentine cake

Florentine cake

Schiacciata alla fiorentina

By
From
Florentine
Serves
6
Photographer
Lauren Bamford

In February each year, around Carnevale (Carnival), there’s no avoiding it – the scent of orange peel and vanilla wafts through the cold, late winter air and you can’t go past a pastry shop in Florence without noticing that the windows are filled with large, flat, sugar-dusted cakes known as schiacciata alla fiorentina. Traditionally served plain, but often filled with sweet, freshly whipped cream or pastry cream, they’re instantly recognisable for the giglio (the Florentine fleur-de-lis and symbol of the city of Florence), masked and dusted over the top in contrasting powdered cocoa.

This yeasted cake has been a tradition of Carnival season for centuries. With its typical ingredients including lard, eggs and fresh yeast, it would have been a simple, but hearty and caloric country cake. It’s directly related, in fact, to the unappealingly but aptly named schiacciata unta (greasy schiacciata), which at one time included ciccioli (pieces of deep-fried pork fat).

Today’s schiacciata alla fiorentina is a delicately scented, fluffy, not-too- sweet cake. The characteristic flavour (marked by orange zest) and incredibly soft, spongy texture make it a favourite for a mid-morning or afternoon snack or even breakfast with coffee. It also goes down quite nicely with a glass of vin santo or dessert wine.

Although it requires a long rising time, this cake is easy to make. You could leave it simple with just a dusting of icing sugar. But the hint of bittersweet cocoa goes so well with the subtle orange scent of this cake, you’ll want to offer the slice that has the giglio on it to your favourite person.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
20g fresh yeast
or 7g active dry yeast
150ml lukewarm water
300g plain flour
100g lard, softened, (or, less traditional, butter)
100g sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1 orange, zested
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
A pinch salt
icing sugar, for dusting
unsweetened cocoa powder, (optional; see note)

Method

  1. Prepare a rectangular 20 cm × 30 cm baking tin by greasing and dusting with flour.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in the water in a mixing bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the yeast mixture until just combined. Cover with a dish towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the lard, sugar, egg and yolks, orange zest, vanilla and salt very well until the mixture is pale and creamy. Add this to the dough, combining thoroughly until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. Place the dough in the baking tin. The dough should be about 2 cm in height. Cover with some plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  6. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the surface is firm and golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. When cooled completely, dust liberally with icing sugar.

Note

  • If you want an authentic look, cut out a paper mask of the Florentine lily and carefully dust over the top of the icing sugar with contrasting cocoa powder. If you want to make this simple cake a little more substantial, slice through the middle of the cake and fill with some slightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream, pastry cream or diplomat cream (half pastry cream, half whipped cream) before dusting with icing sugar.
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