No cake in the world shouts spring quite like Pasticceria Gualtieri’s Iris Cake. Founded in 1933, the via Senese bakery has been making nonno Alfredo’s yellowed, chocolate-splattered recipes for four generations. Many people’s first encounter with the dessert is due to a divine act of product placement. Spring meanderings and marvellings in the Iris Garden beneath piazzale Michelangelo happen upon a cart emblazoned with the flawlessly white iced cake, all designed to stimulate the sweet teeth of garden goers.
Eighty-eight years on and Riccardo Gualtieri continues his family’s quest to turn out historic desserts as well as gluten-free and vegan cakes, all made on the premises from the finest ingredients. The baking lab is like an alchemist’s crucible, reads the website, and indeed the Iris Cake tastes like the product of sublimation.
The pride and joy of the Oltrarno patisserie, the delicately flavoured dolce is moist and fragrant. It’s basked in the light of the fashion world too: back in the Noughties, Prada delivered the baked delight to its most prized clients as part of a publicity campaign for the newly launched perfume Infusion d’Iris. Recent reinventions have seen the cake wrapped in a red sugar paste bow for Christmas and topped with a scarlet piped heart for Valentine’s—it’s equally beloved for birthdays and weddings. While the recipe remains a family secret, we know that no flour is used to make the cube-shaped dessert and that dried white iris rhizome powder is said to feature in the mix (don’t try this at home: it must be carefully dosed).
The main reason why the Iris Cake bears the showy flower’s name is a tribute to the emblem of Florence, the giglio. It is, in essence, a slice of Tuscan life.
This article was published in Issue 277 of The Florentine.