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A Carnival Treat in Florence

All about Schiacciata alla Fiorentina, a Carnival cake.

(pronounced skee-ah-CHA-tah) literally means flattened in Italian, but it has a lot of incarnations. It's the name of an oiled flat bread, known as focaccia or pizza bianca in other regions (see my recent letter on a wonderful Roman version). As schiacciata con l'uva it becomes an autumnal dessert of ancient Etruscan origins, made with bread dough, red-wine grapes, and sugar. And, in January, bars, bread bakeries, and pastry shops in Florence begin to sell schiacciata alla fiorentina, a cake that's prepared for the season of revels known as Carnival (Carnevale) that precedes Lent. This schiacciata is based on a simple, bread-like dough enriched with eggs, flavored with orange rind, and heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Don't wear black.

I found many recipes for schiacciata in Tuscan cookbooks in Italian. These divide into several schools of thought: those using either baking powder or yeast as leavening; those calling for lard, butter, or olive oil for fat. All were vague about liquid measurements and almost impossible to follow. In desperation, I interviewed bakers and hunted down a special rectangular pan with sloping sides. We ate my schiacciata alla fiorentina experiments for weeks.

Finally, creating my own recipe, I chose olive oil instead of lard or butter, and I opted for yeast. Those who prefer an unyeasted version using baking powder might try the tre, tre, tre cake that I have written about (but make it in an 11 x 7-inch pan).

For a traditional garnish on your schiacciata, cut out our stencil of the symbol of Florence - a lily - and place it in the middle of the cake. Dust heavily with powdered sugar, remove the stencil, and serve the cake.

P.S. Hold the egg whites that this recipe doesn't require for a wonderful Lenten cookie recipe.

-February 23, 2000


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