I was fortunate in that my parents supported me spending my junior year of University abroad. I spent the fall in London and the spring in Florence. The beauty of that semester in Italy was the amount of feast days and holidays that I was able to experience. Carnivale in Venezia, Lent in Firenze, and Easter in Roma. Because I was pursuing an degree in interior architecture my classes focused on Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. We spent countless field trips travelling by coach along narrow country roads to visit obscure little towns, enter the church or cathedral, look at a fresco for a few minutes, then hop back on the bus and journey to the next stop. I feel very lucky all the time that I was given that opportunity. The semester was made all the more special for me because I was there with one of my sorority sisters who was studying the same major. Homesickness is easier to cope with when you have a friend from home to experience it with you.
Ms. H and I love food. We were poor college students though so we only ate out in restaurants twice that I can remember while we were there. Once the first night I arrived and again on St. Valentine's Day. The rest of the time we would shop at the grocery store or the market. We took an Italian language class while there and that helped us when selecting food in cases. We also took an Italian cooking class as a non credit elective. Our teacher Martha gave us many contraband photocopies of recipes from her cookbooks as well as some of her own versions of old classics.
In late winter, during Carnivale, all the local bakery windows would be filled with Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This is a low, flat cake flavored with oranges and dusted with powdered sugar in different designs. More often than not, that design is the lily of Florence, or a fleur de lis. We never bought one while we were there, but Martha did provide us with her own recipe for the cake. I have never forgotten this cake though. The word schiacciata also refers to low relief carving in stone so much of the art on sarcophoguses or baptismal fonts or niches on buildings was also called schiacciata. I have forgotten a lot of the Italian I learned then, but I have never forgotten the carving technique that shares a name with a baked good!
Since we are in the midst of Carnivale now, I decided it was about time I finally attempted to make this cake. Since I intend to go vegan for Lent again this year, I opted to go for the more decadent version of the cake which includes a layer of whipped cream.
Perfect peaksDusting the top with powdered sugarI didn't want to miss any steps on recreating this cake so I searched online until I found a template for the proper fleur de lis. I happily found one and blew it up to cover the rectangular shaped cake. I really ought to get some velum so I can make a template which I can reuse year after year. Now I have an excuse/reason to purchase a rectangular platter