Making pecorino sheep’s milk cheese in Campotosto
Delicate slices of Pan di Spagna (sponge cake), as light and fluffy as cotton wool, layered with delicious fillings of grape jam Pasta Reale (marzipan) made with finely chopped almonds, and crema pasticcera (cold custard). A stratigraphy of colours and flavours, enriched by the bright red of the Alchermes liqueur and the topping of crushed almonds on a thin veil of Riccio al caffé (strong coffee butter-cream) or icing, present at every party and special occasion: this is the pizza dolce from Montorio, the symbol of marriages and the gastronomic wisdom of the housewives.
The pizza dolce (literally: sweet pizza) is the cake for weddings and parties. In the past, before marrying, the couple received the large quantities of ingredients needed to make it as a gift from relatives and families in the neighbourhood: kilos of flour, hundreds of eggs, milk, jam, almonds or other products for the filling. The most expert women went to their home to make it according to the procedures developed by the diversified gastronomic traditions of the hilltop and mountain villages.
In Montorio al Vomano, in the Alta Valle del Vomano, the pizza dolce is a symbol of the local bakers’ confectionery. The elderly women of the village have transmitted the practice in the family or local bakeries, being very careful to give continuity to the creation of this important cake, referring in a generally scrupulous manner to the procedures and raw materials always used. The pizza dolce from Montorio is known in two versions, “all’antica”(old-fashioned) and “alla moderna” (modern), differentiated by the filling: in the first one the sponge cake layers are alternated with the filling of marzipan and ground almonds, grape jam flavoured with cinnamon, chocolate, toasted and ground almonds and lemon peel, and finally custard; in the second one the layers are sandwiched together with coffee butter cream and chocolate butter cream. Each layer of sponge cake is first brushed with diluted rum and sprinkled with lemon peel and cinnamon; the one covering the jam, in the middle of the cake, is also moistened with Alchermes, the characteristic liqueur that gives a bright red colour to the sponge cake. Both types of cake are topped with a thin layer of icing or coffee butter icing covered with ground almonds.
Once completed, the pizza dolce is tied and sealed laterally, so that it can take shape without deforming or yielding due to the weight of the layers and abundant fillings; then it is left to rest for about twenty-four hours, before being served cut into thin slices.
WATCH THE VIDEO
Santina Ponziani illustrates the art of filling the classic, so-called “old-fashioned”, version of the pizza dolce from Montorio,
Montorio al Vomano (TE), December 13, 2012.
Filming by Gianfranco Spitilli,
Don Nicola Jobbi Study Centre Archive /Bambun
Transmission and conservation
The pizza dolce from the Montorio area is produced on numerous occasions, from weddings to parties, at home and at the many bakeries and cake shops in the village, according to a local tradition that has never been interrupted and has been greatly enhanced, especially commercially, in recent decades. The two methods of production, “old” and “modern”, are both very popular and scrupulous attention is usually paid to the production procedures and the quality of the ingredients used, such as the renowned grape jam, an essential element of the filling, which many make at home.
Some particular bakeries, such as the Ponziani bakery, represent a continuity of practice that originates from the elderly housewives of Montorio, the depositories of gastronomic knowledge related to baking who are still in demand today for the preparation of desserts for private festive occasions. The bakeries of Montorio have contributed, with their experience and attention to detail, to increasing the popularity of pizza dolce in a much wider area, thus promoting the cake beyond the local territory and encouraging the transmission of the original baking techniques.
As part of the Réseau Tramontana project, during the two-year period 2012-2013, several video interviews were carried out with some protagonists of the preparation of the pizza dolce, subsequently assembled in a short film entitled Pastori e pizze dolci (Shepherds and pizza dolce), screened at public events and in educational settings, and permanently available online.