Dozens of urban legends swirl around the city of Naples – strange stories repeated a thousand times that, somewhere along the line, become credible.
One of those urban legends concerns biscotti all’amarena, or black cherry cookies: people often say that they are made from day-old cakes.
To create this typical Neapolitan sweet, bakers chop up pan di spagna (sponge cake) – the bit that is supposedly reused – and then mix it with black cherry syrup, cocoa and cinnamon. The mixture is then covered with a short-crust pastry shell. The loaf is cut into small rectangles before baking.
Of course, most bakers would never admit to working with yesterday’s cake. And in many cases, people do make these cookies fresh each day – no old cakes in sight.
But there is some truth to this urban legend. In fact, some pastry chefs pride themselves on “recycling” cakes. This is especially true now, when food waste is rampant and most people consider it their ethical duty to throw away as little as possible. In a way, making black cherry cookies out of leftover cakes, something that was likely born of poverty, has become fashionable.
For all this talk of day-old cake, black cherry cookies are anything but dry. The filling is soft and juicy, and a delectable icing is drizzled on the outer pastry, which is usually decorated with small parallel grooves created by a metal pick dipped in black cherry jam.
“I give the same care and attention to everything I make.”
Neapolitans are crazy about biscotti all’amarena. They are great for after lunch, but above all they solve the problem of coffee drinkers who want to nibble on something sweet before their shot of espresso: they are the ideal pre-coffee cookie.
Our favorite spot in Naples for these black cherry cookies is Pasticciello, a small pastry shop in Rione Luzzatti, the neighborhood where Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels series are set. It’s here that owner and baker Lucia prepares cherry cookies of exceptional quality and size – they are some of the biggest we’ve seen.
Lucia is the oldest of five sisters who come from an excellent pastry lineage – their father is the great pastry chef Antonio Taglialatela, himself a third-generation baker. It comes as no surprise, then, that all five are pastry chefs. When she created Pasticciello, a small, no-frills pastry shop, she wanted the focus to be on quality.
“Attention to detail is not only required for elaborate desserts,” Lucia tells us. “I give the same care and attention to everything I make. Everything that comes out of this shop, from the first to the very last, is of the same high quality.”
So not only are her sfogliatelle and babàs spectacular, but so too are the more humble desserts, like the cherry cookies. On the day we visit, an older woman is buying some biscotti all’amarena. “I come here from Bagnoli [a district on the other side of the city] at least once a week for these cookies,” she tells us.
It’s not easy to reach Lucia’s small pastry shop. Despite being the setting for Ferrante’s books, the area isn’t very well known – it’s not near any major landmarks or heavily trafficked by visitors.
But Lucia’s fans, those in the know, flock here from every corner of the city. They are willing to make the journey, having been enchanted by this incredible woman and the passion she puts into her desserts – regardless of what day they were made on.