Book Excerpt: Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita by Barbara Conelli
In an excerpt from Barbara Conelli’s new book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, we get to understand just what living a dolce vita life means – having the eyes to see the real beauty, having the nose to smell intoxicating scents, having the ears to hear dreamy sounds, having the mouth to taste delicate flavors, having the body to perceive soft sensations. In a nutshell, it means being aware of yourself, of your emotions and desires, and finding happiness in ordinary unique things. In Barbara’s new book, she uncovers all the sweet, passionate, and dark Milanese secrets that have up to now remained unrevealed. The chique secrets that will teach you to live your own dolce vita no matter where in the world you are. Because la vita e bella, life is beautiful, and the most amazing wonders of this world often hide in the simplest things.
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If we were to attribute human traits to a city, Milan has a refined spirit, ingenious brain, sensual body, elegant walk, and a sweet soul, maybe the sweetest of all Italian cities. Nowhere else will you find so many cafés, patisseries, and bakeries smelling of vanilla than here. All the sweet traditions of sweet-toothed Italy have met on this Milanese crossroad to show off the best that has been pleasing the soul and tongue of Italians for centuries.
Pasticceria Da Antonietta, or Antonietta’s confectionary, in Via Fontanelli, is a sweet-smelling corner of Southern Italy where the sweet charms of Napels and Palermo have been welded for twenty years. That’s where confectioner Antonietta’s parents came from many years ago to look for work. Antonietta grew up surrounded by traditional southern delicacies enriched with ingredients proven over generations that could not miss on Fiduccis’ table at any family lunch or dinner. She studied the intricate alchemy of icings, creams, and fragile dough, she baked, fried, candied, and filled, until rumor of her exceptional art spread all over Milan.
Antonietta started to create sweet surprises for family celebrations, weddings, and various holidays; her sweet hands were as skilful as the hands of reputable confectioners in restaurants of famous names, maybe even more so, and her creations were even more delicious because she made them with the authentic Neapolitan passion.
When Antonietta was twenty-one years old, her heart got broken by seductive, bewitching Francesco, for whom she had been making his favorite profiterole, fluffy cream puffs with a scrumptious filling, for two years. Antonietta found out that Francesco exchanged her sweet love for a daughter of a Milanese councilman, who did not know how to make profiterole but had a fat dowry from her daddy. When Antonietta recovered from Francesco’s betrayal, she decided she would never again dedicate her sweet art only to one man. She opened Pasticceria Da Antonietta, which soon became a far-famed place and a favorite destination of all the Milanese with a sweet tooth.
Today, Antonietta is forty-one but you would say she is at least ten years younger. Her raven-black hair smells of cinnamon, and her Palermo curves that she had inherited from her Sicilian mother drive young Felipe from next door insane, as well as decent seventy-something Mariano from the opposite house. Although she could have made a much bigger business out of her confectionary a long time ago, she still keeps her small store on the corner and makes all the pastry with her own hands. And although her patisserie is full of delicacies from the whole of Italy and even from neighboring France, most clients come back mostly for the irresistible Neapolitan sfogliatelle, pastiere, and the Sicilian cassata. This is the pastry of Antonietta’s childhood, the treasure of the Fiducci family, and Antonietta’s big love. Its baking runs in her blood and she has taken it to complete and unbeatable perfection. And what’s more, over a cup of mint tea, she will tell you its history because Antonietta knows absolutely everything about the sweet love of her heart.
Sfogliatelle are fluffy sweet rolls from Napels, first created by monks from a certain Neapolitan monastery. For many years, the recipe was a secret domain of the monks, simply because only those within the monastery walls had enough time to bake the laborious sfogliatelle. Sfogliatelle are made of fragile dough that is rolled to create several layers, cut into pieces and then filled with orange ricotta or almond paste. The main ingredient is candied lemon peel, giving sfogliatelle their typical scent. Antonietta has her huge lemons delivered directly from the Amalfi coast where they ripen under the Neapolitan sun and are saturated with sea breeze.
Pastiera is a dessert of many aromas, whose origin goes back to the pagan celebrations of the spring. In the middle ages it was rediscovered by a Neapolitan nun who, led by purely spiritual intentions, created this divine yet sinfully profane temptation. This woman of God wanted to prepare an exceptional dessert that would celebrate Christ’s resurrection and smell like orange trees in the convent garden. She mixed flour with home-made ricotta, added eggs as the symbol of a new life, water smelling of infused orange blossoms, the convent’s very own cider, and a combination of oriental spices that gave a spark of pagan sensuality to her devout doings.
The Sicilian cassata was brought to Italy in the ninth century by Arabs, who ruled Sicily for three hundred years. After they left, nuns of Palermo convents took the cassata to perfection, and thanks to them, the cassata of today harmoniously combines the spicy sweetness of Arabic pastries and fruity
flavors of Sicily. This colorful dessert proves that convents were not just a place of asceticism and spiritual contemplation and that they also witnessed completely unspiritual epicurean pleasure. The Palermo cassata is made of a light sponge biscuit that nuns soaked in chaste-fruit juice, which Antonietta replaced with a totally unchaste liqueur that she invented herself. Slices of the sponge biscuit are then pasted together by layers of ricotta and vanilla or chocolate cream. This base is then poured over with a marzipan icing and on top of that, pink and green sugar icings create colorful stripes on the white marzipan. Finally, the cake is decorated with deep-red Sicilian cherries and juicy citruses. What is there left to say? Maybe only Antonietta’s loving words dedicated to cassata: “Just as well the nuns of Palermo didn’t keep this sweet secret to themselves.”
Whether you decide to savor mint tea and Neapolitan pastries in Antonietta’s sweet-smelling paradise or in any of the countless Milanese pasticcerias, you won’t regret it. Milan literally lures you to lose yourself in the delicious delights the city offers wherever you go. Italian’s sweet life is really sweet, and in Milan, maybe twice as much.
Excerpted with permission from Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, by Barbara Conellia. Available from Flagrans Press. Copyright © 2011.
Barbara Conelli is an internationally published author and Chiquenist on the mission to bring Fantastic Fearless Feminine Fun into women’s lives. In her charming, delightful and humorous Chique Books filled with Italian passion, Barb invites women to explore Italy from the comfort of their home with elegance, grace and style, encouraging them to live their own Dolce Vita no matter where they are in the world.
Barb learned to read and write at the age of four, and a year later, she wrote her first bestselling book that became a big hit in local kindergartens. She turned into an overnight success that lasted for twelve exciting hours. Since then, she has never separated from her writing endeavors. Barb writes even in her sleep and she can often be seen sitting on her bed at three a.m. with a flashlight frantically processing her somnambulant ideas. A born nomad and adventurer, she’s been there, she’s done it, and she’s not afraid to write about it.
An entertaining storyteller, Barb has a unique ability to capture the magical atmosphere of the places she writes about. Through the pages of her books, Barb takes your hand and guides you through the irresistible beauty, captivating secrets, unrepeatable spell and fugitive moments of Italy. She makes them come alive easily and spontaneously, and her writing is like a magic carpet that carries you to Italy and back in the blink of an eye. She introduces you to fascinating women who have created the face of Italy, lifts the shroud of their mysteries, and reveals adorable places off the beaten track where the authentic Italian heart hasn’t stopped beating.
As a naturally curious person who loves traveling, meeting new people and discovering their life stories, Barbara founded Chique Show, an entertaining radio show for women and about women. On Chique Show, Barbara shares her Dolce Vita adventures and interviews inspiring women authors and experts who show listeners how to live their sweet life with gusto.
Barb lives between New York and Milan, and as a real globetrotter, she’s always on the move, accompanied by her adorable and very spoiled beagle. To her, writing is like breathing, and she’s currently working on her new book.
Her latest book is Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, a narrative travel nonfiction book full of charming, poetic, delightful and humorous travel and life stories about extraordinary Milanese women, men who have succumbed to their temptation and the art of living your own dolce vita no matter where in the world you are.
You can visit her website at www.barbaraconelli.com or connect with her at Twitter at www.twitter.com/barbaraconelli or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/barbaraconelli.