In Lucca, made up of history, landscapes and culture, there is also space for pastry making: Sandra tells us about her corner of the dessert.
Born in 1969 in America to parents from Lucca, she returned to her native land as a child and pursued her passion, the driving force behind her life, pastry making. Sandra’s story is rich in values, dedication, and creativity. Sandra & L’angolo del dolce” is born in the heart of Lucca, a place where attention is paid to detail, where the morning goings-on of the bar mixes perfectly with the sweet aromas of a pastry shop that combines tradition with innovation. The counter, located on the perfect glass bell of the sweets, provides a perfect view of the great classics, croissant cakes, and pastries, combined with the same line aimed at celiacs and diabetics. But there are also solutions for lactose intolerants: in short, Sandra wants to give everyone the chance to sweeten their day with a delicacy, with or without sugar.
Sandra, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I graduated from high school, and then I graduated in Architecture: so I had not planned to do this job, even if since I was a child my passion has always been cooking, food, what my mother called “messing”. Think that as a child, I lived near tennis courts where the red clay was set aside at the sides, and I made cookies with the same: it was an innate talent probably. I also demanded that you eat them – she says, laughing. So I think I always had this passion, it was fun. When I started university, I was working in a restaurant at the same time: I was born more in the kitchen than in the pastry. Afterward, I had other experiences around, then I went back to the United States, I came back, and when I was 27, I opened my pastry shop. My parents were both from Lucca, but they met in America: a meeting between migrants in short. I was three years old when I came back. While I was studying, I wanted to have an experience in confectionery: not everyone allows you to enter the kitchen with them, but a pastry chef took me under his wing, and so I learned. Then I turned around a bit and got passionate: the pastry shop has become my passion. So I’m self-taught, I didn’t go to school. I went to school in the field, working. I was lucky enough to meet the right people who passed on both passion, which is fundamental because it is a job of extreme sacrifice and dedication.
I feel that I have always belonged to this world: I made sweets and studied my mother’s cookbooks since I was a child. Or I asked my grandmother to teach me about her cakes: I was curious, perhaps because I was greedy, to understand how things were done.
Compared to cooking, confectionery requires a perfect mix of creativity, dedication, and precision: where do you find inspiration every day?
It’s a flash that comes; it can happen at any time. I can’t tell you where you came from. My rose cake, for example, comes from a walk. I am a great lover of walking, and on a spring day, I used to take a walk in the area: I come across the first rosebuds, and from there, it occurred to me that this aroma could be perfect for a cake. Many times I dreamed of something, as soon as I wake up I have to write it down; otherwise I forget. Sometimes there are also exciting ideas from external things: I get the combination of two flavors as a spontaneous input, from the scents I feel, from the dishes I see, from some combinations that are made on the salty. For example, a short time ago, we made a cake with gorgonzola.
How do you stand out from the competition? Lucca has grown a lot in terms of gastronomy in recent years; how do you differentiate?
I am distinguished by the attention I pay to innovation and the fact of taking risks with particular tastes. Here you are still very attached to tradition, but I am bored and curious: I always need new stimuli. In the end, you take something new from traditions, but you have to change or transform it: sometimes, it is enough to start from the consistency or to combine a different ingredient with different cooking. Then I care a lot about the raw material, about natural products: I like clean products as well. I also did a Master’s degree in culinary nutrition, so I’m paying attention to the subject. Besides, what I do must be what I would eat too; otherwise I would go against my ethics. A while ago, I discovered that I was celiac, and from there, I thought of using this limit as an opportunity. I started researching by changing traditional recipes, reducing sugar and fat, adding fiber, helping to have a healthier product. Many of the flavors we make are also gluten-free, suitable for diabetics. We pay a lot of attention to intolerances, and this certainly distinguishes us. I am happy because I know that I can give food to those with problems, without them worrying about eating sweets. There are pastries that I have in my shop window that completely replace the traditional ones. Therefore the concept of the bakery has changed: you experience bakery more times a day than before, which was more of an opportunity. Now prevention lies in containing oneself first: so today I offer the opportunity to take away a desire without feeling guilty and having an eye on what you eat by replacing the sweet part with other ingredients.
Are there experiences or aspects of your personality that define the person you are today, and how do you express yourself in what you do?
My character is definitely: who knows me sees me a lot in what I do. I’m incredibly critical of myself; those who work with me know it. I’m not bad, but extremely precise and demanding. The bakery, as you can see, is clean, I can’t stand anything in disarray or crooked. For example, as a child, I could not stand twisted clothes; I reprimanded my mother for this. Look, it’s an illness, maybe worse than celiac disease,” she says, laughing.
Tuscany is surrounded by beauty, both for the landscape and culture: is there something that inspires your creativity?
Everything. Maybe beauty in general, the ugly, makes me sad, makes me lose heart, makes me lose heart. I mean the nasty also as the neglect, dirty, sloppy. I also hold on to it as citizen, even in a sense of respect for what we have around us, to enhance even more what we have. Beautiful things excite me.
What is your relationship with the producers from whom you get your raw materials? And with raw materials?
I buy almost everything from the producer, and I have a close relationship with everyone, from the flour of Mulino Marino to the honey of Garfagnana from a girl who has an organic production. I try to have natural products. I get the fruit from local producers: from the berries of Garfagnana to the chestnut flour, which is not always available, and I instead freeze it in order always to have it.
What substitutes do you use in your desserts?
Honey (not recommended for people with diabetes) or agave syrup, maple syrup, erythritol (polyalcohol) that helps to reduce calorie and is also recommended for people with diabetes: it gives sweetness but is not a sugar.
For fat, I use oil and avocado.