Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Thursday, April 5, 2007
Buona Pasqua!
An Easter colomba, the Italian word for dove, wrapped and ready at da Marcello, a popular Rome area bakery.
A few years ago, I read an article by a woman writing about her travels in Italy. She mentioned, of course, the excellence of the food, but then added that even Italians will agree that when it comes to desserts, the country sadly falls short.
Had I read the article in the first year or so after I arrived, I would have been nodding in agreement with her. But by the time I read this article I had recognized the error of my taste buds. So instead I laughed. No, I thought, you're wrong. And the Italians who agreed with you were only being polite, as they often are with strangers with strange ideas.
The first time I was served panettone, I ate it without enthusiasm. A poor excuse for a cake, I thought. Where was the moist layer cake with thick frosting that I was accustomed to and loved. (And still do!) What was this airy thing in front of me – not angel food, not normal cake – dusted with powdered sugar? I watched in puzzlement as others devoured the sliced layers.
Without interest, during Christmas season in supermarkets, I strolled by the stacked-halfway-to-the-ceiling tiers of various brands of panettone, ranging in price from less than two euro to as much as twelve or fourteen. And then the same scenario as Easter approached, only this time the cake was the colomba.
It took me a couple of years, I am embarrassed to say, but I did finally realize what I had been missing. Now, when the panettone and the colomba are served during their respective seasons, I ask for seconds, along with all the Italians. And they just smile, as they always do, at yet another awakening of yet another visiting barbarian.

More cakes and Pasqua gifts at the da Marcello bakery.

Another popular cake, pan di spagna, known as the Italian sponge cake, a simple recipe of flour, sugar, cornstarch and lots of eggs.

More colomba, costumed and waiting at a neighborhood pasticceria.

Even more popular than the cakes are the chocolate eggs. Mandatory gifts for children at Easter time but also a favorite with adults. They come in all sizes from as small as a hen's egg to as large as a barrel. Most are hollow with gifts inside, toys or jewelry.

A neighborhood pasticceria a few days before Easter, ready for the weekend rush of buyers.

Imaginative variation on a chocolate theme.

by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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