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Beyond the beloved panettone, the famous Fiasconaro brand of Sicilian pastries created a guitar made from Modica chocolate, and Nicola Fiasconaro hand-delivered it to Bruce Springsteen during the rock star’s most recent concert in Milan.
Can you tell us the history behind your family’s company?
It all began 49 years ago in the small town of Castelbuono, about 90 kilometers from Palermo. My father Mario began making pastries in the ‘50s and the scent of almond paste is a fixed memory of my childhood, one that shaped my own future and that of my brothers’. I loved spending time in the laboratory, more than at school – unlocking the mysteries of chocolate was my favorite pastime. I convinced my father to let me learn the trade, so I studied first in Sicily, then in the North and then attented the Boscolo Etoile Academy. I’ve always been fascinated by chocolate – its malleability and ability to shape it into any kind of form: like the guitar for Bruce.
And your love for panettone, how did that come about?
I met Teresio Busnelli, a Milanese pastry chef with the company Alemagna. He was considered a master at sour dough and yeasts. I wanted to use this knowledge in our own labs: my father sold a few thousand panettones each year, but we didn’t make them ourselves. So I thought, “why not make them using the marvelous local products from Sicily?” My father thought I was crazy: I was supposed to go to the North to sell our products, and instead I returned with one of theirs? But I didn’t give up. And it was a success. People no longer think twice about a panettone that’s from Sicily instead of Milan. It was a kind of miracle: the sour dough found a great home in the Sicilian climate. Which is no surprise, really: the whole world knows us as the birthplace of the cannoli, the cassata and almond paste. But the claim to fame for the Fiasconaro family is now the panettone. We sell them online all year round, making about one hundred per year. But everything is still very artisanal.
What’s the secret to making a great panettone?
You first need to start with a great mother yeast, which requires a lot of attention – sort of like a spoiled child. I tend to it every evening at eight, which helps it keep strong to levitate correctly. And it requires a lot of time as well – this is the most important ingredient. My “mother” is 65 years old and is in great shape. The levitation time is about 36 hours, and I think our secret is the Sicilian air. All of the ingredients should be chosen with great care – starting with the flour and butter – and when we can, we always source locally. We’ve created several variants like panettone aromatized with Marsala and Zibibbo, or one covered in glacé of manna, which is a vegetable sweetener that comes from the bark of ash trees, or else pistachio glacé. We have panettone with chocolate chips, and also sell a almond or hazelnut cream that can be spread on the cake. There’s also a whole-grain version, an organic version and one called “Zerozerolatte”, for those who are lactose intolerant.
Your hopes for the future?
I want to raise awareness of Sicilian products, and help the local economy through knowledge of history and culture. As the leader of the “Sicilian dessert district”, I feel like a kind of guardian angel for the island. My dream is that Sicily rebuilds through the ancient art of pastry making.