Favorite Summer Desserts from Venice

Which is the golden rule to choosing your dessert in Venice? From an incredible number of options, my grandmother and I have selected three styles of dessert for you, especially adapted to summer. These desserts come 1. fluffy, 2. light and 3. very (!!!) luxurious in the sense that you can taste recipes more than 1,200 years old.Venezia Parte 2 Maggio 2013 150

In Venice we don’t have a “real” tradition of desserts, our focus is rather on antipasti (cicheti) than on dessert. But of course we love sweets an cakes but  not always immediately after lunch. A typical menu that Venetians love consists of un primo (first course), usually a pasta dish,  un secondo con contorno (grilled fish with a side dish is our favorite in summer) and un caffé. On special occasions, it might be a small dessert as well. Pudding, fruit plates, fruit salad or a crostata – fruit cake. In summer, everything comes in the light version.

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Below you can see what Zuppa Inglese looks like, based on a family recipe. There’s a restaurant in Venice that has been swapping recipes with Grandmother since the 1960s, so when you visit Al Giardinetto da Severino, you can actually taste many of her recipes!!

The sweet red sauce you can see isn’t berry sauce, nor is it strawberry juice the way it would be served elsewhere. My grandmother simply used a liquor – un liquore rosso per dolci called alchermes. Alchermes is based on an ancient recipe from the Levant that Venetian merchants brought back in the 12th century.

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In the meantime, alchermes liquor is considered “Italian” but is most often used in the Veneto. For example to color the fave dei morti that Venetians eat on All Saints Day in November.

Alchermes consists of alcohol, white cane sugar, a spice mixture (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom), and its red color comes from rose water and often from another ingredient that we don’t use in our personal recipe.

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The light dessert we recommend for summer is definitely panna cotta. It can come flavored too, like above with rum, vanilla extract and caramel syrup. Panna cotta comes in smaller portions and is our favorite with favorite with il caffé.

The luxurious – and ancient recipe we present here – is torta greca. It’s one of the oldest recipes in Venice and its fascinating story deserves a post of its own which I will write soon. Here’s what torta greca can look like in Venice, at Pasticceria Chiusso’s:

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In my opinion, you get the best version of the torta (there’s not just one but several ones in all sizes) at Pasticceria alla Bragora. It’s the ONE dessert that really takes you back into the past.

Almonds are the main ingredients of ancient Venetian dishes. Almond milk (home-made!!), rose syrup, pine nuts, raisins, orange blossom water and bitter almonds can be counted amongst the five ingredients used in ancient recipes from the 11th century.

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Torta greca, home-made version

Now it’s your turn to discover desserts in Venice :-) We’d love to hear about your favorites !!

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6 thoughts on “Favorite Summer Desserts from Venice

  • How lovely and luscious! Don’t you love using ground almonds in baking? I find they give such a different, yet great,texture and flavor! And of course, now I am dying of curiosity to know what the secret ingredient in the alchermes is! From the color, I’d have guessed Cinzano or Aperol might be involved, but your description makes it sound rather sweeter. I am dying to go back to Venice, hopefully next year, and these will be chief on my list of things to try. Thank you for another marvelous post!

    1. The secret ingredient for home-made alchermes, in our family, is rose syrup, made from Damascene roses, the same variety of roses growing on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni in the Lagoon. But in ancient times, when Venetians came across the recipe in the Levant in the 11th century, there was another ingredient named cocciniglia used to color the liquor.
      Thank you, we’re very happy you like our new post !! There will be more on lunch in Venice coming soon, I’m thinking of making a little gift for our readers, an e-book with tips for Venetian summer lunch. Hope you can be back in Venice next year!!

      1. I am guessing cocciniglia are like cochineals, yes? Little bugs crushed to give that red color? :) They were used for coloring in many 1800 recipes in the United States, too.

      2. Exactly, that’s why we don’t use that ingredient !! Venetians used rose syrup to color the liquor, so alchermes made in that manner is simply sciroppo di rose speziato – rose syrup enriched with spices. Will share the recipe on our food blog http://www.venezia.cucinaspeziata.com soon.

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