Just imagine all those delicious cakes and pastries that have been prepared and baked in kitchens across Italy right now. Christmas is almost here and with it cheerful festivities and abundant feasts. In many families, traditional cakes and desserts (dolci di Natale) are made days in advance. This year I wanted to learn how to make a parrozzo, tipical Christmas cake from Pescara, so I went to the agriturismo Il Tholos. Its owners Paola and Gabriele moved to the Maiella National Park, near a pretty village of Roccamarice, from Pescara a long time ago. They are true custodians of Abruzzese traditions and their restaurant with its farm-to-table philosophy is certainly one of the best in the region.“I use my family recipe to make parrozzo but instead of semolina, we use our own solina flour,” says Paola. She is busy taking out several cake bases out of the domed forms and preparing them to be covered in chocolate. For a couple of weeks before Christmas Paola and her daughters make ten parrozzi a day to keep up with the demand. They sell them in the agriturismo and deliver to Pescara to loyal customers.Parrozzo is a relatively recent addition to Abruzzese cuisine. Luigi D’Amico, a pastry shop owner in Pescara, created the first parrozzo cake for his welathy customers in 1919. He was inspired by the ancient corn bread called “pan rozzo” with a distinctive semi-spheric shape, burnt black crust and bright yellow inside. D’Amico’s sweet luxirious version of the poor shepherds’ bread called for loads of eggs, almonds and dark chocolate. You can buy an industrial boxed version of D’Amico’s parrozzo but, naturally, the best ones are made in small bakeries across Pescara or agriturismi like Il Tholos.While we were talking, Paola and her daughter Dalila covered parrozzi with luscious chocolate and made a few small mountains of torcinelli abruzzesi, another traditional Christmas treat. Different versions and shapes of this deep-fried dessert exist across Italy. I love torcinelli because, like many other tipical dishes in Abruzzo, they remind about the region’s humble past when peasants came up with delicious recipes using simple local ingredients. “Torcinelli were made on Christmas Eve while fasting, so it was a torture for kids to see chests full of these treats and not being able to eat them till next day,” says Paola while turning torcinelli in a pot with bubbling hot oil.Torcinelli are made with a mix of flour, mashed boiled potatoes and a few optional raisins. They are deep-fried till golden and sprinkled with sugar, although, in older days, this touch of luxury was not available in every household. Torcinelli are the opposite of the parrozzo cake. You can grab a few torcinelli, preferably warm, still dripping with oil, and devour them without any formalities, on the go. A slice of parrozzo requires a more ceremonial atmosphere, with a cake stand, cup of coffee and dessert plate. Although, nowadays both desserts are often served together during Christmas gut-busting feasts in the region, they offer a glimpse of two different worlds: the poor traditional Abruzzese village and sophisticated moneyed city. The worlds that still exist in Abruzzo, if you care to look deeper.You can find a recipe for parrozzo on the lovely Adri Barr Crocetti’s blog and recipe for torcinelli here (in Italian).