As a follow-up to our recently renovated Best Food in Florence blog, we are bringing you a new food-themed “Best Of”: the best breakfast pastries in Florence!
So you think something covered in sugar is always good, eh? Well, ok, it is. But we’re not satisfied with “good,” what we are searching for here is Greatness.
In fact, doing some research for this post, I stumbled across an adorable blog post by Tiana Kay called “ITALIAN CROISSANTS SUCK,” which I read with a chuckle because I know exactly what she means (and nothing puts a damper on a morning like a crap pastry!). Sadly, there are some pretty lame excuses for breakfast pastries out there (the pre-packaged, stale, hard, and defrosted varieties), but there are also really good ones! I promise. I have made it my life’s mission to find them, and I want to share them with you.
This post obviously required a lot of on-site research, with endless taste testing and re-taste-testing until we KNEW we had a solid list of locations.
No need to thank us.
This is what we do.
Now let’s review the whole Italian pastry thing, because there is a science here and that science changes from region to region (and city to city sometimes). First, while croissants—aka cornetti—are plentiful and come in many varieties, they are not necessarily the only option. In fact, while the Italian version (somewhat different from the Parisian variety) is very delicious, they do not necessarily exemplify the best the Italian pastry industry has to offer you. So, if you are not feeling satisfied by your breakfast paste, try something other than the croissants.
Second, identify your filling of choice. Many Italians order according to the filling and not the pastry (I do not happen to be one of those people, but to each their own), the basic principle being that no matter what “crema” is wrapped in, it will be always be delicious.
At your average pastry place the options for fillings will typically include:
• Crema: custard, basically vanilla filling, somewhat like what you find in an éclair but less viscous.
• Cioccolato: chocolate, obviously, though it is not as popular as the other fillings.
• Marmellata: jam filling that comes in albicocca (apricot), mora (blackberry), and, sometimes, frutti di bosco (mixed berry).
• Miele: honey
• Riso: rice (as in sweet rice like in rice pudding)
• Ricotta: cheese
(The image above is a croissant in Torino where they use panna (whipped cream) as a filling, but you won’t find that in Florence.)
• And, of course, vuoto, aka empty, which is really not a filling but a lack thereof…anyway. You get the idea.
At some of the places listed below (because they are awesome) you will find new and wonderful combinations of these old standards, and that is part of the reason they have been included. I suggest trying all of them before determining your favorite. Who knows, you could be a marmellata lover. You’ll never know, unless you try and try again (this is hard work people).
Now the doughy wrapping in which these fillings are transported, aka the pastries themselves, come is a wide variety. In truth, they vary so much that we get their names confused (often). Basically, the standard “Quella” while pointing in the direction of your desired treat usually does the trick. While we can’t cover each type, we would like to highlight some things you may not be aware of when first walking into your average coffee bar in Italy.
• Cornetto: croissants also come in “cinque cereale” (five grains) and “integrale” (whole wheat) varieties and while I said above to maybe break outside the croissant box, the integrale with miele is one of my absolute favorite breakfast pastries as it is a little less sweet and, because it’s integrale, I feel less guilty afterwards. (Note: according to some, a “brioche” is also another way to say croissant and according to others it is something entirely different. I have not found a vast difference so I am including it here as well.)
• Sfoglia. This may be the most important vocabulary word you will learn today. This word refers to a certain genre of paste that is made with a flakey pastry dough that is folded around the filling and can look a variety of different ways depending on what that filling is (the first and last photos in this blog offer two examples). They are usually encased in sugar (and so perhaps a bit higher on the guilt-o-meter) but, in my opinion, they are always the best ratio of pastry to filling and are nearly always a win (so if you’re in a questionable bar, go with this instead of the croissants).
• If you are a doughnut lover, fear not, there are two kinds of doughnuts here in Italy. The first is filling-less and known as a ciambella (funny story, that is also the word for any ring-shaped object, including a toilet seat) and the second is filling-filled and known as a bombolone (thankfully, this only means one thing, “doughnut glory”). The bombolone is perhaps the mother of all the guilty breakfast pleasures. I rarely sample it unless it is fresh out of the oven, in which case I get two.
• Then there are a variety of other pastry items that stand alone with usually one unvarying kind of filling or no filling at all, these include the budino, fruit tart, the Italian version of a cinnamon roll, and many more that vary from place to place. Like I said, start trying them. You’ll never know until you try (them all).
Onto our favorite pastry places in Florence!
Now our favorites conveniently line up in a nice little (zig-zaggy) row from around Piazza Repubblica, heading north through San Marco, to Viale Matteotti, past Piazza Savonarola, and finally under the train tracks to Viale dei Mille. If you are feeling particularly veracious, you could make this a breakfast walking tour, but I don’t think it would be doctor recommended. Otherwise, start at the center and make your way out over time. The rule of thumb is the further you go outside the city center, the better the breakfast gets.
Ok, here are our favorites starting from the center and heading north:
Via del Corso 36R, Florence, Italy
This place is crowded in the morning hours for a reason: great pastries and coffee in a central location. Everything is super fresh and the variety is huge (last time I had orange-cream filled cornetto with little candied orange peels for flair). Don’t be turned off by what appears to be a small space, it has seating in the back (also an awesome spot for aperitivo, FYI).
Heading out towards Via Calzaiuoli and zig-zagging towards Piazza Repubblica you will find another hub of sugar-coated morning wake-me-ups.
• Bar Pasticceria Robiglio
Via dei Tosinghi, 11R, Florence, Italy
Right in the city center, a stone’s throw from the Duomo, this place has always had one of the best cappuccinos in town, but their pastries are also fantastic. This is my favorite integrale con miele location, but they also make a mean sfoglia con marmelatta di mora (blackberry jam pastry). (FYI, they have another location on Via dei Servi that doesn’t have as good coffee but has an even wider array of pastries, though they tend to be more in the afternoon cake/tart category…I smell a future blog post there!)
Head past the Duomo, up Via Cavour towards Piazza San Marco to a neighborhood breakfast staple.
• Gran Caffè San Marco
Piazza San Marco, 11R, Florence, Italy
They named the piazza after this place. Only kidding, but they might as well have. It’s an institution. They have great café lattes and also an excellent selection of pastries. They almost always have something with frutti di bosco, one of my favorites (and a bit harder to find) as well as many other exciting and unusual things perfect for pairing with their delicious coffee. (They also have fresh bombolone in the later afternoon to combat that 3pm sugar dip.)
Jog over to Piazza Santissima Annunziata and then head north out towards Viale Matteotti, cross the Viale and find another little pastry haven.
• Pasticceria Ruggeri
Via Giacomo Matteotti, 2R, Florence, Italy
This is a large bar and it fills up between 8am and 10am. Lots to chose from with an extensive selection of sweets below the glass including at least three different kinds of integrale or cinque cereale options and some stupendous fruit tarts, if that’s your morning craving. (They also offer a good lunch menu if you’re staying in the neighborhood.)
Keep heading north to Piazza Savonarola and head west on Via Giacomini for something truly special.
• Pasticceria Minni
Via Antonio Giacomini, 16, Florence, Italy
Not everyone has the capacity to bake their own pastries and most places have them delivered daily. However, this place bakes everything on-site. Between 7am and 9am fresh paste come out of the oven and head straight onto the shelf, croissants first and sfoglias a bit later. Get there in the morning and enjoy these baked goods the way they were meant to be enjoyed: still warm. It is no surprise that this location also has the best frittelle in the city. Fat Tuesday turns into Fat March whenever I can swing by and grab a few. Further north again, walk under the train tracks and hit Viale dei Mille, head east for the final and, arguably, my favorite pastry post.
• Antica Pasticceria Castaldini
Viale dei Mille 47R, Florence, Italy
Run by one of the sweetest families, pastries made in-house and ample seating for leisurely breakfasts when needed, make this one of my favorite spots in Florence (albeit not quite in the “center”). However, there is good reason for the trek: these guys specialize in the art of the sfoglia (which happens to be my kryptonite). They have more varieties of sfoglia than anyone else and they are all amazing. Flavors include: crema, crema alla arancia (orange flavored cream), peach, pineapple, apple, pere e cioccolato (pear and chocolate), integrale with marmellata, fig and cream (seasonal), candied chestnuts – Marron Glacés (seasonal), riso, ricotta, and often others that rotate in. So, on Sundays we enjoy a nice long breakfast here, often with several trips to the pastry banco, and then we follow it with a very long walk to assuage the guilt.
Well there you have it. The reason why I can’t ever leave Italy. After many years of eating breakfast at lovely locals like this I have trouble going back to the diner with salty eggs and bacon. If you ask me, this is the perfect way to start every day. But don’t tell my doctor I said that.