It is not at all easy to track down one of the three Cicciò siblings during this busy holiday season.
Giusy, Rosario and Domenico were literally submerged by visitors – an estimated 15 thousand – who thronged to the Vibo Center, where these master pastry chefs of Vibo Valentia were present with their claim to fame, the babà – a typical Neapolitan sponge cake usually soaked in a rum syrup.
But we want to talk about Christmas in one of the best pastry shops in southern Italy, celebrated by the Gambero Rosso as the top in its region – Calabria: we make this perfectly clear with Domenico, as soon as we are finally able to pin him down.
And yet, the youngest of the Cicciò succeeds in catching us off guard: ”Our babà is an evergreen. Since it can be found year round. But is has become such a cult that even at Christmas we get a flood of orders. In fact, we receive contracts from some companies for sixty or seventy babà to give to their employees at Christmas. An let’s not forget that on the table of Vibo Valentia inhabitants, it is easy to find our savoury version of our babà during the holiday season.”
To explain how this classic of Neapolitan pastry has become a must even in Calabria can be understood through an anecdote that the Cicciò family love to tell: it’s about Neapolitan officials who transfer to Vibo Valentia for work and at the end of every week go back to their towns, but not before passing by the prestigious pastry shop next to the Cathedral to order one of their babà, because – as they maintained – not only did they compare with Neapolitan babà, but – in their opinion – they surpassed them.
The secret is in the cream filling: the filling of the Cicciò’s babà is rich, succulent, and yet never heavy. The glaze that the babà is immersed in is intense, but not at all nauseating. It is a prestigious dessert, worthy of an important holiday like Christmas, and in spite of its notable caloric charge, always fittingly concludes a meal, leaving a full-bodied aftertaste.
In Calabria – in a strategic position between Campania and Sicily with their own great gastronomic traditions – it has always succeeded in holding its own, because they are capable of interpreting prestigious classics with creativity, also by putting to good use excellent local products, like bergamot and liquorice.
For example, the brilliant interpretation by the Cicciò siblings of the frutta martorana and the almond biscuits. Father Bruno, who was born in Messina, opened his pastry shop in Vibo Valentia during the 1970s, after having already worked in Calabria. It soon became a landmark, now cultivated by his offspring, with Rosario coordinating production in their cutting-edge workshop.
But now let’s prepare ourselves for the Christmas bounty of Cicciò’s ovens: there are susumelle, typical Calabrian Christmas sweets, but there are also homemade panettone – a sort of sweetbread – as well. And the cream fillings of maison Cicciò are also out of this world, as we have already said. So a panettone can be filled with Chantilly cream, or with a cream aromatized with bergamotto, hazelnut, chocolate, pistachio, lemon, trifle, rochè, or cream. Fill fruit include dates and figs. While Piedmontese hazelnuts will be coated with chocolate.
And candied fruit is also a must. So look for it together with another stronghold of southern pastry art: torrone gelato, which despite its name is a very soft nougat coated in chocolate and served at room temperature. Even the almond cake and the marron glacé are requested during this period. And let’s not forget the pandoro, another sort of sweetbread that can be filled like the pannettone. Both can also be ordered in a gelato version. In conclusion, the Cicciò family’s shop is a true paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth.