Marianna DiBartolo spent much of her childhood baking Sicilian sweets with her mother. Her pastry shop Dolcetti is inspired by her Sicilian heritage and passion for baking.
Upon entering Dolcetti, Marianna’s love for sweets is clearly evident – it can be seen in the precision she gives to everything she bakes, it can be seen in the finishing touches that are applied to cakes and biscuits before they leave the kitchen and it can be seen in the beautifully hand-crafted pastries that fill her store. Antique teapots, sugar bowls and cake stands, are combined with pastel coloured ribbons and candy pink labels to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in this charming little store in West Melbourne.
Marianna, a self-confessed sweet tooth, says she had always wanted to be a pastry chef. “I love sweets, how can you not. I’ve been helping my mum make pastries since I was very little and she has been a big influence on me. Some of my recipes have been handed down from my mother and there are others I have come across over the years.”
Marianna began her career as an apprentice chef, but ended up spending most of her time working in the pastry section. From there she went on to work at several pastry shops before opening a wholesale pastry shop in the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.
Then, in 2009, Marianna opened her first retail pastry shop, Dolcetti. “I was very limited in what I could do as a wholesaler and always wanted to open a retail store,” she explains.
Located on Victoria Street, just a few hundred metres from the iconic Victoria Market, the shop has had a long history in baking. During the 1960s, a Sicilian family opened up a patisserie there, headed by a father and son duo. The family ran the patisserie for many decades before closing in 2000. The shop was then the site of two different cafés, before Marianna opened Dolcetti three years ago. The store celebrated its third birthday on 1 April this year.
In preparation for the opening of her store, Marianna had the shop completely refitted – leaving only a kitchen bench, a sink and the flooring.
“We had a great response from customers when we first opened,” says Marianna. “Many commented on how thrilled they were that we were using such high quality ingredients.”
The selection of cakes and sweets at Dolcetti is different each day and varies according to what’s in season and the time of year. For example, in the lead up to Christmas the store is filled with torrone, panforte and fruit mince pies. Torrone, Italian for nougat, is available in several different flavours, including pistachio with orange blossom honey, and dark chocolate and hazelnut with banksia honey. The honey used at Dolcetti is all sourced locally.
During Easter, Dolcetti makes dark chocolate Easter eggs filled with nougat and hot cross buns.
There are two other pastry chefs that work by Marianna’s side and each day baking begins at 6am. Everything is made on site and cannoli, pastries and soups are made fresh every day.
Marianna says that around half of what she produces at the store is different types of Sicilian sweets, however the Sicilian influence is carried over into many other desserts – with lemons, almonds and cinnamon being her favourite ingredients. “Southern Italy, particular Sicily, has a reputation for producing very good sweets. There is a lot of influence from the Arabs Greeks and French,” says Marianna.
“Sicily is well-known for its almond biscuits and cakes, honey sweets and we love our ricotta too.”
Dolcetti’s ricotta filled cannoli and cassateddi are amongst the store’s most popular creations. Cassateddi is a light Sicilian pastry with a sweet ricotta filling, which is then fried and dusted with sugar. Bombolone, an Italian style doughnut filled with chocolate or vanilla custard, or sour cherry or homemade strawberry jam are another popular treat; as well as pistachio and cherry biscotti, and ricotta and sour cherry cheesecakes. Cassateddi and florentine biscuits are among Marianna’s personal favourites.
Marianna’s parents hail from Palazzolo in Sicily, a town not far from Siracusa. They migrated to Australia during the 1960s. Marianna’s mother Lidia was taught how to make traditional Sicilian pastries by her own mother in Sicily, and she has passed many of these skills onto her daughter.
Marianna says that Dolcetti’s impantate, a typical Sicilian style calzone filled with broccoli, spinach or potato and onion, are highly sought after and are also her mother’s favourite savoury pastry. Each Saturday, Lidia comes to the store to bake impanate along with a selection of Sicilian biscuits, including ciascuni which is made with fig, walnut and orange.
Marianna is openly proud of her Italian heritage and was recently invited to take part in the Sweets Festival held at the Immigration Museum as part of the 2012 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
‘Sweets: tastes and traditions from many cultures’ showcased sweets and the traditions behind them from five different cultures – Italian, Indian, Japanese, Mauritian and Turkish – and included an exhibition, dinner and one day festival.
Dolcetti had a stall at the Sweets Festival, where they sold a variety of Sicilian sweets, including crispedi, a type of Sicilian doughnut. “The turnout was fantastic – we were sold out of everything by 3pm and sold out of our crispedi by 11.30. My mother helped out for the day and I asked her to bring a deep fryer just in case. We ended up using another six kilograms of flour during the event.”
As part of the Sweets Festival, Marianna was filmed making Christmas sweets with her mother and aunties late last year and the footage is being shown at the Immigration Museum to highlight the ceremony and tradition behind the cooking process.
“It was such an important event to promote different cultures and showcase how different cultures do things differently. It was a really positive event that was so successful. I hope they do it again,” says Marianna.