Strolling through the streets of the city these days, you will smell the seductive scent and strong aromas of the delicious Sienese Christmas delicacies when passing a bakery or pastry shop. Among the traditional ingredients in the province of Siena are honey, nuts, dried figs, white almonds, spices, powdered sugar, vanilla and candied fruit.
We have put together a small overview of the most famous, traditional Christmas specialties from Siena.
The Ricciarelli are a typical Sienese dessert made with almonds, sugar and egg whites. They are made from a coarse-grained, marzipan-like dough enriched with a blend of candied fruit and vanilla. The biscuits thus obtained are baked in the oven to then take the form of a rice grain which is slightly wavy at the ends. Subsequently, the wrinkled and cracked surface is coated with powdered sugar.
The Ricciarelli were created in the fourteenth century at the Tuscan courtyards following the ancient oriental model and were developed in different variations, for example coated with chocolate. According to the legend, it was the knight Ricciardetto Della Gherardesca who brought these sweets to his castle near Volterra on his way back from the Crusades.
Currently they are consumed mainly during Christmas season. They are served with dessert wines, especially Moscadello di Montalcino Vendemmia Tardiva and the Tuscan Vin Santo.
The Cavallucci are biscuits of Tuscan origin, made from a very uniform dough, flavored with spices and enriched with nuts.
Like most of the desserts of ancient origin, which were already widespread in the days of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Cavallucci were also prepared for long-term preservation. The typical ingredients are honey, flour, nuts, spices and candied fruits. Later, they were called "cavallucci" (from Italian "cavallo" = horse), because the pastry was mainly offered in country guesthouses, in which horsemen and horse-drawn carriages took a break.
The Cavallucci are served with liqueur wines in which they are usually soaked: Vin Santo, Marsala, Passito di Pantelleria, Asti Spumante or Moscato.
Panforte and Panpepato
The two typical Sienese desserts Panforte and Panpepato are relatively similar and have as origin a fruit focaccia that was very popular in the Middle Ages. It was made from flour, honey and fruits of the season. The fresh fruit was chopped and mixed with the other ingredients. The trick was to keep the dough a little wet while cooking, so that the fruit fermented and gives the focaccia its characteristic sour aroma: hence the name Panforte ("forte" should mean acid in this case).
Sister Berta, a nun dedicated to the health of her fellow citizens, decided to prepare a very high-energy dessert to fortify the slowly weakening Sienese during a long siege of the city: differing from the traditional recipe of Panforte she replaces the fresh fruit by candied ones (especially orange and melon fruits) and supplemented almonds, ginger, pepper and other sweet spices in large quantities. That is how the panpepato was born.
For the Panforte it can be defined a pretty accurate date of birth, namely the days of the Palio of 1879. For this spectacle the visit of the Savoy in Siena was expected. The local confectioners believed that the traditional dessert of the city was not adequate for the noble palate and decided to create a new product. In honor of the queen they called it Panforte Margherita.
The Panforte, which today is the better-known and more widely sold variety compared to Panpepato, is both sweeter and less spicy because the pepper has been replaced by vanilla.