In any city I travel to, you can be assured I'm poking my face into as many pastry windows as possible, searching for the sweets particular to that city. In Salento, it was no different. Ylenia and Claudia spotted my penchant for pastries, and on my last night in Lecce, they had a sweet surprise for me. They organized a little tour of the best pastry shop in Lecce. The pastry chef who owns the store, Luca Capilungo, gave the tour himself (above), guiding me through Leccese pastries and a few of his own specialties. And yes, I got to taste them, too!
Chef Luca has been in a pastry shop since he was 13. He apprenticed under another renowned Leccese pastry chef, Franco Franchini, dedicating himself completely to his work. He says, "I worked relentlessly, forgetting fun and free time, to dedicate myself to learning all that I could and to my formation as a chef." His hard work paid off and at a very young age he fulfilled his dream of opening his own pastry shop, located only a few steps from where he was born. Although he's young, he's been making pastries professionally for 30 years.
The pastry shop is very much a family affair. Initially, he had help from his parents and brothers. Now he has close to 30 employees. Both his parents and brother were there when we arrived. His passion for pastries is still going strong, evidenced by the way in which he generously shared his pastries, explaining each with the enthusiasm of a child showing off his birthday presents. He also shared his secrets to making them....well, all except one.
Pastacciotto - Sicily has cannoli, Venice has tiramisu, and Naples has sfogliatelle. The iconic pastry for Salento is certainly the pastacciotto. What you might call a covered tart of sorts, the oval shape comes from the molds in which they are made. The crust is pasta frolla (a shortbread crust), made with lard (strutto). Inside is pastry cream. Chef Luca's pasta frolla has a perfume of Strega liqueur. He makes two versions, one with a lemon-infused pastry cream and the other with chocolate pastry cream. I loved both, especially the crunchiness of the pasta frolla, but the one with the chocolate center was my favorite.
Fruttone - Resembling the pastacciotto, the fruttone has in its center almond paste and pear marmalade. The shortbread crust is topped with an icing of chocolate. The flavor is more diverse and delicate than that of the pastaciotto with flavors of pear, almond, chocolate and the crunchy crust blending together in each bite.
Zeppole di San Giussepe - Salento has its own version of zeppole to celebrate St. Joseph's Day. Similar to the one in Naples, you can purchase it baked or fried. It's made with choux paste (the dough used to make eclairs). It is topped with pastry cream, but this version has a dollop of chocolate pastry cream on the very top (Napoli's version has macerated sour cherries). As I was in Salento around the March 19th celebrations, I had my share, and then some.
Copeta - You will see these thicker versions of what Americans know as almond brittle throughhout Salento. They are carmelised sugar and almonds.
Mustaccioli - These ugly nougats look like cookies, but have the consistency of cakes. Don't let their unattractive shape fool you; they are tasty. Let's give a nod to Italians who hate wasting food, and come up with ingenious ways to rework leftovers. An antique recipe, they are traditionally made with what remained, leftovers (rimanenze). The sponge cake base has a little bit of cinnamon, cocoa powder, candied citrus, almond paste, and chopped almonds inside. Then they are glazed with a chocolate coating. Chef Luca makes them in two sizes, the small nougats and the larger longer version.
Quaresimali - These biscotti for Lent (la quaresima), chef Luca makes with a bit of muscat wine. Both chef Luca and Claudia said they now can be found year-round in pasticcerie in Salento, but at one time were only around during the Lenten season.
Bocche di Dama - These individual cakes, mouth of a lady in Italian, are a single portion of pan di spagna (sponge cake), filled with pastry cream and topped with a sugar glaze and a cherry.
Specialty Cakes and cookies - Chef Luca had a caseful of elegantly decorated and colorful cakes that are specialties of his pasticcerie, including an emerald green iced Cassata alla Siciliana. As is common in almost any pasticceria in Italy, biscotti and little cookies are as popular as the specialty cakes. We sampled several of those, too.
Torta Chantilly - Underneath its bright yellow almond paste decor, are layers of pan di spagna (sponge cake) and whipped chantilly cream.
La Giulietta - This tart was most interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First I love the way it looked, the combination of crunchy pasta frolla, the cream inside and the almonds dusted in powdered sugar on top. Above the pasta frolla is another crunchy layer (like a crumble), a layer of dark chocolate pastry cream, then sweetened whipped cream. It's topped with sliced and toasted almonds. There is a secret to this cake, that Chef Luca wouldn't share; why it is named Giulietta. He even blushed when Claudia asked him. That secret will remain a mystery to me. Of course, after our visit, we three girls conjured up various stories, most of unrequited and secret love, that could be behind the name and this pastry.
Assortment of Cookies - Perfectly crunchy shortbread cookies filled with jam, almond paste shaped like fruit, almond cookies topped with almonds, or coated in pine nuts or ground pistacchio nuts. Chef Luca sent us home with a few trays of treats, and each little bite on this tray was tremendously tasty.
Chef Luca has two pastry shops in Lecce. The original one is on via Bari, and a smaller one is in Lecce's historical center in Piazza Sant' Oronzo. He had just had a huge celebration for the 20th anniversary of opening his first pasticceria. You can watch a video of Chef Luca working, the pasticceria, and of highlights from the celebration here: 20 Years of Capilungo
Join me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover's culinary tour, we'll learn how to make pasticciotto with Chef Luca, be cooking with beautiful Italian mamme and professional chefs. We'll also be eating and exploring our way through the region. There are four tour dates available from which to choose! For tour details, check out this page: Culinary Tours in Puglia 2013!
***Early booking discount: Book and pay by check by January 31, 2013 and receive a $200 discount off the tour price.****
Pasticceria Luca Capilungo
Via Bari, 7
Phone: +39 0832 312406
CinCin Bar Pasticceria Gelateria Capilungo
Piazza Sant’ Oronzo
Phone: +39 0832 312406
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesdays, traveling food lovers.