Rome-born but world-bred, Melissa Forti (turning 40 this year – “and I couldn’t be happier!” she exclaims), is the cutting-edge connoisseur behind updating some of Italy’s most beloved bakes. Her first cookbook, The Italian Baker – 100 International Baking Recipes with a Modern Twist (Quadrille Publishing), is a stylish revival of traditional baking, adding modern flair to Nonna’s favourites.
A nation proudly responsible for some of the world’s finest and most comforting dishes, Italy has earned its place as a foodie nirvana. Yet, among the traditional pastas and produce emerges a new hero: Italian-global fusion-baked goods. The Italian Baker’s platefuls of decadent deliciousness blend the personal, worldly and traditional, thanks to self-taught baker Melissa’s mantra of travelling many roads, meeting many people, and tasting many cakes.
Ever since her Roman girlhood, the large majority of which was spent with a biscotti canestrelli clutched in a powdered sugar-coated fist – much to her mother’s chagrin – Melissa has celebrated her country’s culinary traditions as much as she has sought new flavours around the world. An appreciation for heartfelt delicacies is a quintessential part of growing up in Italy, and having been taught that sweets and pastries were strictly “special occasion” treats, Melissa’s love for all things butter and sugar is all the more precious. Her book is a gift to the reader so that every day might become a celebration of flavour. What could be more sweetly Italian than kisses of Alassio, mimosa cake and castagnaccio?
Upon trading Roman residency for living experiences in Los Angeles and London, Melissa’s sweet tooth found new terrain in “the best chocolate cake… ever tasted”, a “dear French friend’s” sables bretons and the finest German-inspired raspberry streusel loaf cake on Hollywood Boulevard. Dusting flour off cookbooksalong the way, Melissa excavated 19th century almond brittle, replicated English chocolate Charlotte and crafted her signature cheesecake brownies, all while honouring family favourites, like her Aunt Rose’s apple cake. From the Scottish Highlands to the wild savannah, Melissa’s palate is as embossed as her passport, and her baking book self-education shows no signs of ceasing.
Now a local of Sarzana, one of northwest Italy’s most magical historic towns just a few kilometres away from the sparkling Ligurian coast, Melissa has realised the dream that she crafted during her years as a professional baker: Melissa’s Tea Room & Cakes (since 2014). What started out as Le Cupcakes di Melissa (baking, of course, cupcakes and… wedding cakes!) seven years ago, turned into this boutique eatery when she decided to focus on what made her happy, not what the market demanded; and so she ditched the wedding cakes. This is a sanctuary to all those who favour pastry wanderlust, and offers “real food to real people”. Thanks to this Italian baker, a fusion of cosmopolitan, homey and curious has never been easier to dust with sugar and serve on a plate.
Purchase your copy of The Italian Baker for R460 at exclusivebooks.co.za (delivery costs apply).
Compiled by Virginia Boshoff
Recipes by Melissa Forti
Photographs by Danny Bernardini