The reason why we are never satisfied with pastry shops in Stuttgart.
So the fun thing about blogging is, not that I’m such an expert yet, but it can end up anywhere and make the most interesting connections, relationships and friendships in any part of the world. That’s what happened last time I went to Giovinazzo. There’s an amazing pastry shop that we go very regularly (we also ordered A’s first 100th day cake from here) and apparently, one of the writers from Pasticceria Internazionale read my blog post about the shop and the goodies and decided to check it out and write a feature spread on the magazine. I knew about it but then when I popped over for some quick treats, I was welcomed by Mr. Nicola Giotti himself.
Giovinazzo is a very small town, so small that almost everyone knows everyone, and if they don’t know everyone, they know at least something about him or her or their family. In the case of our very hard working pastry chef, G’s mother knew his father while Mr. Giotti’s wife was a classmate with G in elementary school. Small, small world.
He explained that he was pleasantly surprised when the magazine contacted him for a feature and he also showed us the magazine spread. I was so happy that he was so happy and lucky for us, he offered a tour and allowed me to take some photos of the shop and his work later.
He was in the middle of finishing up a birthday cake and it was adorable. He makes around 100 per month, but more during May and June when there are more holidays. We visited Giovinazzo when A was around three months and I insisted she needed a 100th day cake. We got it from Giotti and it was one of the best cakes I have ever had, hands down. Normally, these type of cutesy cakes don’t taste yummy, but it was amazing.
I learned a lot about traditional pastries of the area, which G had no idea about and was equally amazed. Giovinazzo is famous for its olive oils, there are olive trees everywhere, but it’s also famous for its almonds. In fact, the entire city of Bari is famous for these little nuts. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a raw almond before I came here. Did you know they come in a hard shell and you have to crack them open like a walnut? (Fun fact: Sicilian almonds are equally famous but according to Nicola, they are much better used in confectionery due to its shape.)
Not only are almonds abundant in Bari, but the quality is one of the best in the world. Other Italian cities order almonds from this area just to make their famous desserts and other countries actually import them. When there’s not enough, they just stop producing their cakes and desserts altogether. That good.
The staple almond pastries are called Bocconotti and the ones showed here are the classic version. They are normally filled with marasca cherries, which goes well with the nutty flavor of the outer part, not too sweet but not so nutty either. Not only are these little cakes historical in Giovinazzo, but it also is a crucial part of Nicola’s pastry shop and his personal history. It’s what started it all; the fame, the history, the dedication and the love toward his beautiful work.
There are a lot of varieties since it’s such a simple recipe and you can add in your own personality to them, and Nicola was nice enough to share some other flavors. His phone was full of pastry photos, which showed how dedicated he is, always studying other recipes and researching.
The powder sugar is the classic version, but you can also change it up, like what Nicola did right there. He chose white frosting and he just whipped it up, poured it into the bowl and redecorated the Bocconotti, just like that.
Almonds are also used to make cookies and they, also, come in various forms and flavors.
According to Nicola, the tradition of making these pastries is pretty lost, while almonds are not quite as popular as before, especially after the introduction of new techniques and ingredients like cream and chocolate. Tradition is a hard thing to hold on to in this industry, especially when the demands are so particular and fast-paced. Taste buds are so picky nowadays, you don’t really give a second chance and one’s lost opinion is, more often than not, lost forever. With so many other sweet and flashy brands producing pastries and desserts every other day, it’s hard to keep up with not only the demand, but the taste buds of, especially picky, Italians. Both old and young.
So does the pastry chef eat his own work everyday?
“I have to, just to check the quality. But it’s a pleasure.” I was very jealous.
But the quality check is more complicated than you would expect. Because humidity poses as a very important factor when it comes to the quality and condition of the almonds, it’s crucial to check the humidity and the almonds. And because of this, the recipe has to be changed every single time. EVERY single time. Now that’s devotion.
The varieties are endless! Chocolate, espresso, cherries, citrus etc. It’s interesting how you can still taste the almondy flavor, but it also meshes so well with other ingredients and doesn’t overpower.
Another one of his specialties is the Semifreddi, which literally means “semi frozen.” It’s not ice cream, but it’s not technically just bready cake either. Because this type of pastry is in middle grounds, it’s much easier to create interesting shapes and sizes, without having to worry about melting or changing its shape. You can make it into a cake form like he showed us, but also smaller, cuter shapes like these ADORABLE ice cream cones.
Nicola also explained a new technique where he uses something called Amande from the brand Valrhona. It’s all almonds but with the texture and also the very similar taste of chocolate. For those who can’t eat dairy, this is a great way to make desserts without dairy but still produce a very, very similar outcome. He was very excited about it and explained the endless possibilities. I could only imagine the excitement of creating new recipes and in the end masterpieces, but ah, the world of sweet, sweet pastries.
Let’s take a moment and enjoy A’s chubbier cheeks. She slept through the entire interview and woke up only minutes before we had to leave. She took a little cookie though. She looks so much different now.
Thanks to Nicola for the brilliant interview and also for showing us his works.
- Giotti Pasticceri
- If you want to make some Bocconotti on your own, try Nicola’s recipe. (only in Italian)
All photos by rachelsanghee.