Sometimes we crave salty, sometimes sweet. But there are those inexplicable moments when we want both at the same time. At these moments of mixed signals, we make our way to Ciro Pace Bakery on Via Nazionale for a rustico soffiato.
This perfect mix of salty and sweet is made of short pastry and pâte à choux (cream puff dough), and stuffed with ham and cheese. Its lower half recalls the typical Neapolitan rustico (a savory cake), while the upper part resembles a huge hat (this is where the pâte à choux dough comes in) – the truly innovative feature of this pastry.
The recipe is one of the secrets of Ciro Pace Bakery, a gastronomic institution in Naples that was founded by Vincenzo Pace and his son Ciro in 1926. Since then, the two have been followed by multiple generations of bakers. The 42-year-old Vincenzo Pace, the fifth generation of this baking family, is currently the one with his hands in the dough.
When we visit, Vincenzo’s grandfather, also called Vincenzo, is at the register, ruling over the bakery like a true lord. He knows almost every customer who comes into the store and thanks them with a kindness of an earlier era. But, as he says, he has “only” been here 80 years. Time flies when you’re toiling away at something you love, and grandpa Vincenzo has a clear love for baking – just look at his pastry creations still standing proud in the display case.
In its nearly 100-year history, the Ciro Pace Bakery has born witness to Naples’ modern history and crossed many battle lines in the process. In 1943, during the Second World War, the French commanded the bakery to produce bread for men in the trenches at the Gustav Line in Cassino. In the following years, the oven worked for British troops; in fact, the Royal Air Force issued a certificate stating that the bakery had produced “real” white bread.
The bakery has born witness to Naples’ modern history and crossed many battle lines.
But it wasn’t until the post-war period that the bakery invented what would become its signature pastry: the rustico soffiato.
Vincenzo remembers the exact day that the idea for the rustico soffiato came to him – not too difficult of a task as it also happened to be his wedding day. During the post-ceremony dinner, grandpa Vincenzo tucked into a delicious rustico from the buffet; while eating it, he’s struck by the idea that he can make it better – softer and lighter – in his shop. And after many test runs, the rustico soffiato was born, and this year it celebrates, together with grandpa Vincenzo, its diamond wedding anniversary.
It was in the post-war period that the bakery also became a patisserie. There were some French troops in Naples who organized a great party and asked Ciro Pace Bakery to create a gâteau de mariage, the French multi-tiered cake. It was after baking this cake that the family realized they had a knack for making fantastic sweets.
And so the bakery became famous for putting a Neapolitan spin on desserts from northern Italy and beyond. Their Neapolitan strudel and Neapolitan chiffon cake are renowned, and their panettone is one of the best in the city.
It seems that true quality has deep roots. When we look at Vincenzo today, we can’t help but see in his hands the expertise of his dad, Ciro, grandpa Vincenzo, great-grandfather Ciro and great-great-grandfather Vincenzo – all extraordinary bakers.