(updated January 2019)
In Italy, the hottest party of the year happens to be in the coldest months! This year, Carnival (or carnevale in Italiano) is from February 16th until March 5th 2018 in Venice- here is the link for the 2019 Venice Carnival Guide. You can also find Carnival events around Tuscany, more notably Viareggio from February 9th- March 5th 2019. Viareggio is an easy train ride (about 2 hours) or drive West from Florence, and is a laid-back beach town along the Tuscan coast. There are many other more scenic beach towns in Tuscany such as Castiglioncello and islands like Elba, however Viareggio comes alive during Carnevale with mask and float parades- definitely worth a visit!
Usually about mid-January (at least in Florence) you start to see Carnival-themed food specialties pop up in bakeries around town.
(psssst! Interested in a culinary walk in Florence during Carnival? Book our Food Lover's Tour or Market Walk in Florence. We'll be tasting these treats at the bakeries and bottegas we visit on our specialty walks!)
How does Carnival relate to seasonal treats in Italy? Well, Carnevale is the party leading up to lent. During lent, rich foods containing fat, sugar and meat were big no-nos so these luxuries were consumed in gluttonous glory up until lent commenced. The big party that most are familiar with is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) and indulgence in worldly pleasures was allowed until Ash Wednesday when lent commences.
Carnival is derivative from latin meaning "farewell to meat!" (Carne: meat, vale from levare meaning "to remove") and the tradition of celebrating in Venice dates back to 1162 after defeating Patriarch of Aquileia when the victory was celebrated around Shrove Tuesday and involved ridiculous activities such as pig and bull slaughtering in Venice's Piazza San Marco, where today the most lively carnival festivities still take place (add some masks and minus slaughtered animals!)
Since in Italy, a tradition and a party would be nothing without food- of course there are some foods that are made and brim local shops exclusively for Carnevale.
The three most common, must-eat foods in Florence during Carnival are:
Cenci or Chiacchiere- Cenci meaning "rags" are slices of fried dough that are drenched in powdered sugar and sometimes DARK CHOCOLATE. They are best when freshly fried of course, but surprisingly retain their flavor even after in bakery cases for a bit. They are the holy trinity of goodness: fried full fat, a tinge of savory crunch and happily sweet.
Frittelle di Riso- Imagine sweet, luscious mouth-full rice pudding. Then imagine that rolled up, fried and immersed in sugar, letting the heat from the fried balls amalgamate the sugar to stick so sweetly to produce a pure fat, sugar and carb chunk of gluttonous heaven. THAT is what a frittelle di riso is. Sometimes, they go into the depths of bliss and inject custard cream or chocolatey nutella. These sweets are also bite-size, so you can feel like they are just a small snack. Have a go at making them at home with this recipe with loads of curious facts and tales.
Schiacciata alla Fiorentina- While not fried like the last 2, la schiacciata alla fiorentina is a sweet flatcake extremely traditional to Florence, made with a tinge of citrus and sometimes lathered with chantilly cream in the middle. It is also doused in powdered sugar and in Florence, you find the fleur de lis "giglio" crest of Florence etched in with powdered cacao. Here is another recipe- quite easy to make in respect to frying things!
Don't particularly have the patience to bake or want to compare your baked version to the stuff they make in Italy?
Visit these bakeries in Florence for Carnival sweets
Pasticceria Nencioni- This pastry shop has a great selection of Italian regional baked goods, savory pastries, cakes and petit bites of sweets. They have a really great coffee bar and the service is jovial- a great spot in Sant'Ambrogio and they have Schiacciata alla Fiorentina welcoming the window display. Pasticceria Nencioni Via Pietrapiana, 24/r Florence, Italy Web: http://www.pasticcerianencioni.com/
Antico Forno Giglio- For the longest time, I've tried to keep this bakery under wraps. But its so good, I can't hold out any longer. It's located just few minutes walk from the Sant'Ambrogio quarter in the zone Beccaria. It's a great area to stroll around in general as there are tons of shops, local cafes and foodie gems like this forno bakery. Be aware that its almost always packed so take a number and be patient- these guys are totally worth it. Address: Antico Forno Giglio: Via Vincenzo Gioberti, 151R Florence, Italy
Pasticceria Giorgio- Located a bit off the map from the center in the Soffiano suburb, but according to the city's most respected food lovers like Girl in Florence says this bakery is worth the trek. Plus, for those wanting a slice of local life it wouldn't hurt taking a taxi or driving out to this Florentine institution for traditional baked goods for more of a sweet tooth immersion outside the center. Address: Via Duccio di Buoninsegna 36 Web: http://www.pasticceriagiorgio.it/
Caffe Neri- Like Giorgio, Neri is a bakery icon. The original Caffe Neri is also a bit on the outskirts in the Sesto Fiorentino suburb definitely worth the voyage especially if visiting Medici villas is on your bucket list. Caffe Neri's claim to fame is Simone Bellesi- head pastry chef whose Schiacciata alla Fiorentina has won awards in various bake-offs and is the official provider of dolci to the Fiorentina football (soccer) team. This is THE place if any to have a true Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. The best part is that you can usually find this sweet year round since it's in such high demand. Address: Caffe Neri C/O Villa Donatello Via Gramsci 809, Sesto Fiorentino (FI) Web: http://www.caffeneri.it/
Rivoire- Located in Piazza della Signoria, I consistently recommend this cafe for coffee and sweets smack dab in the center. Their frittelle di riso are irresistible and their coffee is always on point. Tip: Unless you want to sit-down and pay a whopping service fee, I suggest to enjoy a couple frittelle and a coffee at the bar standing and soak in the old-fashioned, yet classy vibe that fills the cafe thanks to the charming barmen. No matter how "touristy", Rivoire will always be in my book. It was one of the first places that served the Negroni for Camillo's sake! Address: Piazza della Signoria, 5 Web: http://www.rivoire.it/
post written by Coral Sisk of Curious Appetite.