With one more week to go until Easter Sunday, we’d like to give you some impressions of spring in Venice. The sun is really strong by now and wisteria blossoms have opened in protected sunny areas in town ! The light is betraying April and the traditional three-months festive season which is our favorite time of the year.
We’ve got a few surprises for you to celebrate this flowery season and start with taking you virtually to Venice for a short stroll to discover bakeries and Venetian Easter breads.
You could say that el pan (bread) was the basis of Venetian economic success. The Venetian government meticulously organized bread to be delivered for the merchant expeditions and sea voyages. This special nourishing bread was called pan biscoto. It’s a secret flour + spice mixture withstanding the moist sea air which otherwise would have shortened the life span of bread onboard.
The ingredients used in pan biscotto were fior de farina (only the finest wheat flour) and a secret mix of spices (!) A few years ago, a team of archeologists found bread stored in a terracotta pot in a former Venetian citadel on the Mediterranean island of Crete, This bread was estimated 450 years old, and they found it was still edible and tasted quite well !!!
Spices – if you know how to use them – really work wonders. But that’s knowledge lost over the centuries. Unfortunately, many recipes are lost or forgotten on library shelves in Venice and it’s La Venessiana’s primary objective to re-discover as many of these as possible and present them to you in this blog.
Making traditional Venetian sea voyage bread seems to have survived best on the islands of Burano and Pellestrina. After all, amongst their inhabitants are fishermen, that’s our grandmother’s theory.
My favorite store to buy baicoli is Panificio Palmisano on Burano, you can see their little sweet breads below called buranelli and baicoli. If you cannot go all the way to Burano, Serra dei Giardini garden cafe in Venice also offers their bread and baicoli.
Spices and wheat flour (not genetically altered) were the basic ingredients of these special breads. Another staple ingredient was sucaro de cana – cane sugar which was considered a medical remedy 500 years ago. Sometimes, raisins and almonds were also used to add nourishment and flavor, or vitamins as we would say today. Venetians grew cane sugar on Crete and this was also one of the ingredients in the bread found in the Venetian citadel as we mentioned above.
For centuries in Venice, pistori made bread while forneri sold the bread in Venice. Amongst the pistori, not only Venetian bakers worked in Venice but also pistori todeschi. Todesco basically means “German” in the Venetian language but 500 years ago, any nation west and northwest and beyond the territories of the Republic of Venice was called todescho. So you could find bakers from Dalmatia, Brunico and Bavaria in Venice as well as well as the Greek pistori who settled in particular to the Venetian sestier de Casteo (Castello). Each of the foreign bakers brought their own recipes, that’s why you can still find so many varieties of bread in Venice :-)
In Venice, there’s pan nero like in Germany and Austria but you also get sweet almond bread called torta greca. Pasticceria Chiusso and Pasticceria alla Bragora prepare my personal favorite kind of torta greca. They only offer it for breakfast !!
While many foreign pistori were allowed to settle in Venice (men only, by the way), it was just the Venetian bakers who were allowed to produce pan biscoto for the merchant vessels. Government officials carefully selected wheat and had it delivered to six bakeries in town that had to bake the bread for the departing vessels within three months of delivery.
Of course, as the first Easter weekend has started, there’s a wonderful variety of soft Easter cakes in town … from Easter focaccia and the all-Italian colomba to Venetian Easter cakes … below you can see torta greca dressed up for Easter at Pasticceria Chiusso’s . You can read more about our Easter cakes next week on our Food Blog !