It’s 2:00 a.m. in Florence. You spent the last five hours feigning fabulous in chic Italian bars, dancing your way through the discoteche, and midnight sightseeing in empty piazze. You can’t imagine the night getting any better. But before you call it a notte, I insist on one last stop. It’s called a secret bakery, and I promise, it is just what you need to catapult your night from ‘great’ to ‘epic.’
Every night, as Florentines turn out their lights, the secret bakeries turn theirs on. Bakers furiously mix, pour, bake, and fill throughout the night in order to stock the cafes of the city with tantalizing treats by dawn. However, with this little tip (you’re very welcome), a map, and one euro, you’ll be able to intercept the piping-hot pastries before they leave the kitchen. Secret bakeries are strictly providers. Not allowed to sell pastries directly to the public, the facilities remain unmarked, and the underhanded late-night distribution is technically illegal. I have yet to witness a secret bakery sting, but nonetheless, keep voices down and antics to a minimum. You can sniff out a handful of secret bakeries throughout the city on your own. However, if you are serious about late night pastry consumption, I recommend jotting down the following:
a. Laboratorio di Pasticceria Fratelli Arrighi (corner of Via dell Ruote and Via San Gallo) – The Laboroatorio is one of the more friendly secret bakeries. Off the beaten track, bakers are less concerned with fumbling young coeds eager for a late-night treat. Typically, a large door on Via delle Ruote just past the dumpsters (hey, I never promised table service) remains ajar, welcoming the midnight cravings of Florentines. The Laboratorio sets itself apart from the rest by offering both savory and sweet treats. Mini pizza or nutella croissant? The right answer is both.
b. Via Campo d’Arrigo 14 – This secret bakery hits the spot for the day-trippers returning to Florence late at night to the Campo di Marte train station. Located just across from the station, and with early hours (opening at midnight) this secret bakery will add a pep in your step on your late-night stroll back to your apartment.
c. Via del Conto Rivolto 2 – The secret bakery most near and dear to my tummy, however, can be found in the heart of the Florence party scene, just off of Via dei Benci. Let the wafting scent of warm pastries guide you to the unmarked door in the tucked-away alley. The illuminated windows and clinking pots and pans will assure you that you are in the right spot. Knock on the glass door and wait for the baker to pop his head out. Be ready with your order, as they like to make quick work. I recommend a ciambella or filled bombolone, or probably just both. The baker will return shortly with a small bag of your piping-hot pastries. Delve into the gooey, warm and yeasty treats, followed by a moment to yourself. Trust me, you’ll need it.
*click here for a map
What to Order: The whole “illegal” thing coupled with Italians’ general impatience with foreigners can make ordering at a secret bakery stressful. To keep your experience nothing but blissful, prepare yourself with this simple vocab lesson.
Cimbella – Round donut-like pastry. Light, fluffy, and bathing in a finish of granulated sugar.
Bombolone – Similar to a ciambella, but spherical and filled with either chocolate (con cioccolato) or cream (con crema)
Cornetto – A croissant with the option of a chocolate, cream or nutella filling.
Pizza – Pizza! Secret bakeries will typically serve mini pizzas only. And no tricky requests. Remember, you’re knocking on doors in the middle of night for food – beggars can’t be choosers.