In Siena, you can always tell the time of year based on the types of sweets available at any given moment in local pastry shops and bakeries.
In September, a few spoonfuls of sugar and wine grapes are added to plain bread dough to make a focaccia, schiacciata con l’uva. It is sticky, jammy, with the crunch of grape seeds. It stains your lips and hands, but it is the best seasonal treat, traditionally associated with the grape harvest.
Late October to mid-November, on the other hand, means the arrival of pan co’ santi. Once again, this treat follows the tradition of Tuscan enriched breads to celebrate seasonal events and holidays. In this case, the bread dough is enriched with sugar, olive oil and red wine, studded with raisins and walnuts and shaped into a round bread loaf. Its name derives from an association with All Saints’ Day, which falls on November the 1st.
Pan co’ santi will be followed later by Christmastime treats. Christmas represents the highlight of the confectionary production in Siena. This is when the aroma of spices – cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, pepper – permeates the town, when the seasonal sweet treats, wrapped in traditional paper, crowd the windows of every bakery and pastry shop.
Christmas season sees the arrival of cavallucci, sturdy spiced Christmas biscuits with candied citrus peels and walnuts, dusted in flour, and copate, a brittle-like crunchy dessert of caramel and almonds wedged between wafers.
This is also the time of panforte, the world famous and most renowned Sienese Christmas sweet. This dense, spiced, nut-filled specialty bread has become the symbol of Siena. Every Sienese family has its favourite bakery shop, and come the start of the season, a sort of secular pilgrimage begins, as locals seek out the flavours and aromas of the winter holidays.
Next to panforte, Christmas in Siena means ricciarelli, too. A cross between a small pastry and an almond cookie, ricciarelli feature a dusting of powdered sugar, with a soft inside that melts in your mouth and a striking aroma of bitter almonds.
As soon as the Christmas season comes to an end, Carnival time sprinkles confetti in Piazza del Campo and brings the frittelle di riso hut back in the square.
Just for a few weeks, this is where you can buy the traditional rice fritters. You can purchase frittelle that are fried in front of your eyes, they are wrapped in white paper and generously dusted with sugar on the spot. These are special fritters, made with rice that has been cooked and let to soften and almost melt, resulting in hollow, super-fluffy fritters.
When the temperatures warm up and the season moves toward Easter, all the bakeries start to sell schiacciata di Pasqua – a leavened bread flavoured with rose petal syrup and anise, which takes its name not from the shape (schiacciate is a flatbread whose name means “squashed”), but rather from the large amount of eggs “smashed” in its preparation.
One of the best spots where to buy pan co’ santi, panforte and schiacciata di Pasqua in Siena is Forno il Magnifico, an historic bakery which is said to produce the best pan co’ santi and Easter schiacciata in town.
You’ll know when the schiacciata season has arrived by the long line outside, so great is the local love of the version made at il Magnifico.
If you are not in Siena this time of the year, this is the recipe to bake your pan co’ santi.
This recipe to make pan co’ santi marks the passing of time and the arrival of colder temperatures.