Spongata is the classic Christmas cake of Emilia, even if it is also found towards Modena, Massa and La Spezia. It is probably Jewish in origin: a number of documents suggest that it was Spanish Jews who brought the recipe to Italy. But others claim that it originates in Roman times, with the recipe kept alive in medieval courts.
Where you can spongata
Parma Valley, Corniglio
Adele from the Spongateria Guidi at Corniglio explains that their spongata:
is made without egg but with white wine, and the dough is worked while it is hot. If you make the dough in the traditional way, you will have a spongata with smooth edges and no cracks: otherwise you have to resort to chefs’ tricks in order to cover the cracks, such as pricking holes in the edges as “decoration”.
They use honey and mustard to amalgamate the dry ingredients amalgamare (walnuts, almonds, nuts, pinenuts, raisins, spices and breadcrumbs).
They only use one single disc of dough: thanks to their skills in working it, it is enough for one large ball of filling. This is then flattened between two wooden boards, one of which is incised with decorations and images of flowers.
Nearly every family in Corniglio has its own recipe for spongata and their own molds, even if not many actually make it any more.
It is one of the oldest spongata producers: the first local and provincial sales date back to 1901
Spongata of Corniglio by Alimentari Superchi Stefania
Once again in Corniglio, we find the Spongata of Corniglio by Alimentari Superchi Stefania. The spongata produced here by Alessandro is deeply rooted in the local area, starting from the ingredients used: they produce their own honey and flour. He tells us that:
he starts with the working of the fields in autumn, seeding in Spring, and harvest of the wheat in summer
They have also started bee-keeping, allowing them to produce their own honey and create a balance between sweetness and bitterness in the spongata, between the honey from the hills and from the mountains.
65% of the ingredients come from the Parma Valley: this created a local, home-made product made with quality ingredients.
Recent investments have been made in green technology, reducing the environmental impact of the production: this is acheived by doing everything by hand, using photovoltaic panels on the roots and using a pellet stove that does not produce carbon dioxide.
They produce 3000 spongata a year, because this is a home-made product that must respect the natural annual cycle. The recipe is secret, but Alessandro reveals that the ingredients are: flour, butter, sugar, toasted bread, walnuts, almonds, pinenuts, cinnammon, mustard, white wine, cider, raisins, nutmeg, walnuts, and honey.
Panetteria Antico Forno Spagna
The prize of the Panetteria Antico Forno of the Spagna family in Monticelli d’Ongina is their spongata, made of honey, dry fruit and spices. Simple genuine ingredients however do not mean a simple recipe: in fact, it is long and laborious, but this adds to the quality.
This first indications of its history date back to the second half of the 16th century, when a small Jewish community established itself at Monticelli.
Luciana from the cake-maker tells us that the first documented recipe (and so the first not passed down by word-of-mouth) was in the hands of the Cavezzali family, the local spice-sellers. The Cavezzali shop – as well as being a chemist – was also a cake-shop, and during the Jewish festival of “Purim” produced Spongata.
Changing hands various times, the recipe reached the Spagna family in 1980, since when they have been faithfully following it in their production.
Spongata Don Camillo – Piccolo Mondo del Gusto
Andrea from Piccolo Mondo del Gusto tells us that spongata is the classic cake of Brescello, prepared at home well ahead of time for the New Year: however in 1863 the Bacchi family decided to sell it.
The Brescello spongata called Spongata Don Camillo was created by the Bacchi family, by Domenico, his wife Maria Margini and their son Massimiliano Luigi: it was Massimiliano who started commercial production, opening the “Spongata factory” next to the railway station.
The son Fermo Geminiano Maria known as “Gemino’ moved the production to the shop under the arches in piazza Umberto I (today piazza Matteotti). This was at te end of the 19th century, and was the only cake shop in town. In 1960 Gemino decided to register the “Spongata Bacchi-Brescello-Paese di-Don Camillo” trade-mark, so tying the cake to the famous cinematographic star, in order that it would become instantly recognisable.
The Bacchi spongata is rich in natural ingredients: orange cubes, almonds, apricot jam, raisins, honey, grated bread, butter and spices. Once again, the recipe is secret and cannot be copied.
The first bite gives you a range of contrasting flavours, but the second creates an unmistakable rich flavour.
We are sure that your mouth is watering, and so we should also explain that in other places, like Berceto or Busseto, you can find variations of this delight, passed down from generation to generation in families.
Each recipe has its own, making the spongata a rich experience, but we should mention a few:
The name Spongata comes from the holes picked in the dough (like brisèe dough); this makes the cake look like a sponge, hence the name Spongata, and they serve to help the flavours of the filling to penetrate the dough. Now we only need remind you that spongata is a perfect product for camper voyages, especially if kept fresh. Perfect with a sweet wine wine.