The haute patisserie of Iginio Massari arrives in Florence
The great Italian master pastry chef tells us about the new project inside the iconic Helvetia & Bristol Firenze hotel
It all began among the ovens and piping bags of Pasticceria Veneto in Brescia, where Iginio Massari - with his shock of wavy snow-white hair, smiling face and blue eyes - revolutionised pastry-making and became Italy’s best pastry chef. After Brescia, Milan, Turin and Verona, the king of Italian pastry and creator of a legendary panettone opens his fifth cake shop in Florence, with his children Nicola and Debora. It’s located on the ground floor of the delightful Helvetia & Bristol Hotel in Via dei Vecchietti, right in the city centre, and the most striking thing about it is the size of the workshop, almost larger than the shop itself. The inauguration of Galleria Iginio Massari Firenze is scheduled for October or November this year.
Maestro, why Florence?
A city like Florence inevitably had to be part of our plans. We like the people who live here and their politeness, although they’re a bit hot-blooded - but it’s in the genes… I won’t deny that my dream in adult life is to bring together the six Italian capital cities of the past (Turin, Florence, Rome, Brindisi, Salerno and Cagliari, ed.).
Will the new cake shop create a dialogue with Florentine and Tuscan tradition too?
This work is our mission, and it also involves my family and partners, who closely follow local customs. The traditions of Florence and Tuscany have enriched the sweet flavours of Italy.
Your interpretations of traditional sweets, like Sachertorte, have broken new ground. Have you ever worked with a Florentine dish?
Yes: zuccotto, and Siena trifle, which the French call the sweet of love, because of its red Florentine liqueur.
Could your large workshop in Florence accommodate a school of fine pastry-making in the future?
In a broad sense, yes. Our staff have to specialise before working in the company, and when the time comes, they’ll be trained there.
On your visits to Florence, what caught your attention and curiosity about the city?
Leaving Piazza Duomo, I see elegance and practicality, which is echoed in the ordered span of the bridges over the Arno, and the Renaissance Ponte alle Grazie and the medieval Ponte Vecchio. But if you think about it, it’s like asking what’s special about a beautiful woman? It’s all beautiful, including her soul. Florence is like that!
Zuccotto or schiacciata alla fiorentina?
Both. Schiacciata is rectangular and quite flat, with a snow white surface thanks to the thick layer of icing sugar used to decorate it. It’s a bit heavy, but also pure as the soul of the chef who makes it. Zucotto has the shape of a generous and seductive breast, just creamy enough to drive you wild.
Your favourite Tuscan dish?
The famous Florentine steak (which absolutely must come from a Chianina steer) - the real thing is cooked by genuine rôtisseurs. I love the soups, like ribollita (made with very few ingredients, but each has its secret: the cavolo nero, the beans, the olive oil, the pane sciocco, the slow cooking), minestrone and lampredotto, the perfect filling for panini.
You’ve said that the culinary art lies in understanding popular food trends. What are your predictions for pastry in the coming years?
It will become increasingly perfect in form, and less sweet. We’re already moving in that direction.
Which of your recipes are you really most fond of?
Two of them: panettone and Italian-style mille-feuille with Chantilly cream.
Panettone is one of your most famous specialities. Is there a secret for the perfect panettone?
The quality of a panettone is not a static thing and it’s not just about nutrition; it requires an appropriate choreography that’s constantly changing to meet the needs of people, which are ever-shifting and increasingly exacting. The secret of success for panettone is to always pursue quality.