Sweet Sicily: The Story of an Island and Her Pastries

Sweet Sicily: The Story of an Island and Her Pastries

by Victoria Granof

There's nothing subtle about Sicily.

From the towering cake known as the Triumph of Gluttony to the pert cherry-topped pastries called Virgin's Breasts to puckery, palate-tingling ices made from the island's luscious lemons and tangerines, Sicily is known for its audacious — and delicious — desserts. Pastry chef and food stylist


There's nothing subtle about Sicily.

From the towering cake known as the Triumph of Gluttony to the pert cherry-topped pastries called Virgin's Breasts to puckery, palate-tingling ices made from the island's luscious lemons and tangerines, Sicily is known for its audacious — and delicious — desserts. Pastry chef and food stylist Victoria Granof has traveled throughout Sicily learning sweet secrets and local lore from the island's pastry chefs and home bakers, and the result is Sweet Sicily, a lushly photographed exploration of authentic Sicilian pastry-making.

For more than two thousand years, Sicily has been coveted for its fertile land and unique location in the Mediterranean. The Greeks, Romans, Normans, Austrians, French, Bourbons, and Saracens have all landed on its shores, and in turn left their imprints on its food. Granof's magical tour takes us to Modica, where Franco and Pierpaolo Ruta of the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto create chocolate pastries using a five-hundred-year-old recipe that originated with the island's Bourbon conquerors, and to the Baroque town of Noto, where master pastry chef Corrado uses jasmine blossoms planted by Saracens more than a thousand years ago to flavor his jasmine gelato. Granof goes on a quest to find the most authentic ingredients and recipes, including delectable homemade ricotta made from the milk of sheep that graze on fragrant herbs and pistachios that grow in the shadow of Mount Etna, the island's still active volcano.

In Sicily, every holiday and festival has its proper sweet accompaniment: marzipan lambs at Easter, honeyed pastry fritters at Christmas, crunchy, clove-scented cookies called "bones of the dead" for All Soul's Day. Granof explores these customs and festivals, gathering heirloom recipes, along with local anecdotes and advice. In addition to sweets that are already familiar to Americans, such as cannoli, cassata, and lemon ice, she introduces us to dozens of delectable pastries, confections, and cookies that are destined to become favorites as well.

With a guide to festivals and pastry shops throughout the island, and nearly one hundred recipes formulated for use in American kitchens, Sweet Sicily is an unforgettable exploration of the desserts of the world's most beguiling island.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sicilian sweets are more than simply desserts-each one has a particular significance in the island's varied and unique culture and history. In this, her debut work, Granof, a New York City chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, wonderfully integrates the myth and mysticism of Sicily with solid, easy-to-follow recipes and gorgeous photos. N'zuddi, for example, are orange and almond cookies shared in a square to honor Messina's patron saint, the Madonna della Lettera, and the letter she brought to the town from Jerusalem in A.D. 43. Minni di Vergine, or virgin's breasts, are small mounds of pudding encased in pastry dough with candied-cherry nipples, which Sicilians eat "with reverence" to honor the martyred Saint Agatha. The Rice Fritters of Siracusa were originally made in the 18th century by Benedictine monks, and Jasmine Gelato uses flowers originally planted by Arabs over 1,000 years ago. Some Sicilian desserts, known as Cannoli, are well-known in the U.S., but Granof presents them in their classic form. Feature pieces on Sicilian bakers, like Franco Ruta of Modica's Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, are great fun, as are the author's recollections of her own experiences eating in Sicily. With inspired confidence, Granof offers an unusual addition to the crowded shelves of Italian cookbooks. (June 1). Forecast: Part history book, part travel memoir, this original, beautiful book seems destined for success and will certainly appeal to fans of Mary Taylor Simeti and Carol Field. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Pastry chef Granof begins her cookbook with a time line and history of Sicily. This chronology is a story not just of political conquest but of culinary influences that makes for enjoyable reading. An overview of Sicilian festivals and lessons on how to stock a Sicilian pantry follow. The recipes are divided according to type (e.g., cookies, fried pastries, cakes, etc.), and most don't require many ingredients and steps. Each is preceded by an amusing anecdote, a brief history, or additional interesting commentary (e.g., what makes the texture airy). Granof also includes a listing of caf s and pastry shops to visit in Palermo. Beautiful photographs of the dishes and of Sicily make this book a treasure to own. Highly recommended for public libraries or for colleges that support culinary arts. Debra Mitts Smith, Jamaica Plain, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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8.00(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.25(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Crunchy Orange-Almond Cookies


In Messina, these cookies are enjoyed during the Feast of Messina's patron saint, the Madonna della Lettera, on June 3. Their slightly squared shape mimics the letter that the Madonna was said to have written to the people of Messina in 43 A.D., which she hand-carried from Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the letter was destroyed in a fire in 1253, and its contents unknown, but the cookies live on. In Messina, pasticcieria owner Domenico Vinci, his vivacious wife, Brigitta, and their nephew Giuseppe work round the clock starting on the first of June to produce enough n'zuddi to feed the faithful during the festival.

2 cups blanched whole almonds, divided

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2teaspoon baking powder

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

7 tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Let cool.

Set aside 36 almonds. Grind the remaining almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor or in small batches in a coffee grinder. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and sift in the flour, baking soda, and bakingpowder.

In a large mixing bowl, with a wooden spoon, beat the butter and sugar until blended. Beat the egg, then beat in the orange zest, juice, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the flour-almond mixture.

Pinch off a tablespoonful of dough at a time, roll into a ball between the palms of your hands, and place 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Flatten the balls to 1/2 inch thick under your palms, then gently coax the edges inward to create a loose square shape. Press a whole almond into the center of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pans, then cool on a rack. The cookies will become very crunchy as they cool.

Makes about 3 dozen

Lemon Ice

Granita al Limone

The lemon groves in the fertile valley near Palermo called the Conca d'Oro were planted over a thousand years ago by Arab farmers, and there they grow today. Sicilians will tell you it's the hot Mediterranean sun that makes theirlemons sing, or maybe it's the soil. In any case, Sicilians love their lemons. You can spot a Sicilian by the way they eat one. A true Siculo sprinkles it with salt and eats it plain. Just like that. During the summer, a typical Sicilian breakfast consists of lemon granita (or gelato) piled into a soft, sweet bun called a brioscia and eaten out of hand. I can't think of anything better than strolling down to the beach in Lipari on a summer morning with my lemon granita from Bar Oscar.

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 cups water

Grated zest of 3 lemons

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 to 6 lemons)

Have ready a 9 by 13-inch nonreactive metal pan.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and zest and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Add the lemon juice to the sugar syrup and pour it into the metal pan. Freeze for 30 minutes, or until ice crystals begin to form around the edges of the pan. With a fork, stir the crystals back into the liquid and return the pan to the freezer. Repeat every 20 minutes or so until the granita is completely frozen and slushy. This should take about 2 hours.

Makes about 1 quart

Sweet Sicily. Copyright � by Victoria Granof. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Victoria Granof is a food stylist who was classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu. She has worked as a cooking instructor and as a chef and pastry chef at several restaurants in Los Angeles and has done recipe development or food styling for numerous cookboods aw well as for Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Vogue, and InStyle and film and television. She lives in New York City and Taormina, Sicily.

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