Every Florentine over 50 knows what a Zuccotto is and the mere thought of it is enough to make ones mouth water. The Zuccotto Fiorentino is a semifreddo dessert that was one of the most appreciated sweet dishes in Florence for many centuries. In recent years however it had to make way in the pastry shops and restaurants for fancier sweets. The gelato variety of the Zuccotto is still popular and can be found in many gelaterias all over town. Besides the characteristic dome shape, it has not much in common with the original recipe from the Renaissance.
Served since the 16th century
The Zuccotto Fiorentino is the oldest known dessert of Florence. It was first served in the 16th century during a banquet in honor of Caterina de’ Medici. Bernardo Buontalenti invented it especially for this occasion. He was a true Renaissance man. Besides being an architect, he was also a sculptor, painter, military engineer, and designer. As the official architect of the court, there were few matters in Florence that didn’t concern him. Apparently, he also had a sweet tooth because, in addition to inventing the Zuccotto, Buontalenti is also considered the inventor of modern gelato. A delicious creamy ice cream flavor was named after him, made of egg and cream, which can be found in every Florentine gelateria.
The original Zuccotto by Buontalenti however, was not an ice cream dish but a semifreddo, which means chilled, but not frozen. Due to its characteristic dome shape, the dessert was initially known by the name Helmet of Caterina. Legend has it that the first Zuccotto desserts were made inside a helmet, also called zuccotto, worn by the infantry in those days. The shape also reminds of the famous dome of the Duomo of Florence, and maybe Buontalenti also found some inspiration there. The dome of the Zuccotto was formed by sponge cake soaked in Alchermes liqueur, which gave a deep red color. The filling consisted of ricotta cheese, grains of cocoa and candied orange- and lemon zest.
Bottega di Pasticceria
Fortunately, there are still a couple of pastry shops in Florence where you can eat Zuccotto, be it in a more contemporary version. One of them is the Bottega di Pasticceria. This elegant pastry bar is within walking distance located at the edge of the center on the Lungarno Ferrucci. Here you can not only find the most
Patissier Massimo de Grazia of the Bottega di Pasticceria told passionately about his variety of the Zuccotto during a tasting. He opted for sponge cake soaked in Strega liqueur, a filling of whipped cream and chocolate mousse, and as finishing touch ricotta sauce, toasted hazelnuts and candied fruit. The Bottega opened its doors in early 2016 but has already built up a considerable reputation. Zuccotto lovers from all over the city come here to enjoy the oldest dessert of Florence. Not served frozen, but semifreddo, as it should.