If you have a sweet tooth, then you must make Gozo a go-to destination on your culinary calendar as our celebrated confectioners have an array of tantalizingly tasty treats guaranteed to satisfy any sweet cravings.
Gozitan people truly love sweet bakes, biscuits and cakes and our select but devoted confectioners delight wide-eyed locals with their brightly decorated, traditional sweet offerings. Many of these small stores are age old family businesses passionate about Gozitan confectionery and are proud to keep alive authentic recipes which have been passed through generations of family members.
So, these ‘curators or custodians of confectionery’ make cakes, biscuits & pastries which taste delicious and are well worth a try. Our advice to you – just delay the diet for another day.
As with any traditional dishes; some of these local sweet treats are seasonal and have historic or religious associations; like Prinjolata – a mountainous mass of cream, biscuits, citrus peel and almonds, decorated with drizzles of chocolate and chopped pine nuts, pistachios, meringue and glacé cherries. This showstopping cake with its unique distinctive look is synonymous with our Carnival season (and is enjoyed just before Gozitans give up all of their indulgences and excesses for Lent). The name Prinjolata originates from the Maltese word prinjol, meaning pine nuts.
Over Easter, bakeries and confectioners sell Figolla in plentiful supply. Figolla is a flat cake – normally shaped into a fun Easter design, such as a rabbit, egg, heart and then filled with a thick layer of marzipan and coated in either chocolate or sugar icing. It’s incredibly sweet, but tasty nonetheless.
Imqaret is another traditional sweet which can be either baked or fried. It consists of a shortcrust pastry roll encasing a sweet filling of dates, citrus peel and spices. The word imqaret in Maltese, is the plural of maqrut (diamond-shaped) and most likely refers to the more traditional diamond shape of the sweets, the origin of which dates back to when our Maltese islands had a significant Arabic influence.
One family owned Gozitan retailer, who have been catering to our islanders’ sweet cravings for over half a century, is Portelli Confectionery in Victoria (Rabat), also known by their nickname ‘ta’ Locci’ (from the Italian ‘dei Dolci’ meaning cakes).
Portelli Confectioners was established in 1960 by husband and wife Tarcisio and Maria Portelli. Although Maria Portelli (nee Bezzina) is from a long line of confectioners (a 3rd generation sweet maker no less). So, the Bezzina confectioner – in the next street are of course, cousins.
So, you could say sugar and treacle runs through her veins; ever since her Grandfather, George Bezzina founded the family’s first confectionery business way back in the 1890’s.
Maria’s father Giuseppe, George’s son – renamed the business “Royal Confectionery” and had an esteemed reputation through Europe for his award-winning nougat.
Tarcisio and Maria, met and fell in love while he was working for her family learning the confectionery trade. The sweethearts married in 1960 and just months after their wedding day opened Portelli Confectionery – the rest as they say, is sweet history.
80-year-old Tarcisco Portelli still works every day in their family bakery, just yards away from their confectionery store – he enjoys making confectionery and sweets with his sons George and Michael; whilst his other children Frankie and Miriam run the shop.
George Portelli says: “Many of the recipes we use for our baking are four generations old and we love the fact that we are making cakes in the same way that my ancestors would have done years ago. Because we use a traditional stove, it’s almost like we are keeping this sweet taste of history alive. Different confectioners in Gozo will make the same traditional cakes as we do, but in their own style with their own unique recipe. Customers always ask us to reveal how we make them, we will tell them some of ingredients, but we never reveal our cherished family recipes.”
Other traditional cakes which confectioners such as Portelli make include:
Bankonċini; this is a sweet staple for most Gozitans. The main ingredients of this cake/cookie combo is sugar and almonds and when you buy them, the edible rice paper is still attached. The treat has a distinctive taste of almonds and so is comparable to a macaroon.
Ftietel is a traditional Gozitan cake; it’s filled with a rich brown paste made from almonds and candied peel and so the inside has an almond / marzipan taste and is encased in shortcrust pastry which is then decorated with brightly coloured white, pink and green icing. These cakes go by many different names, although commonly known as Ftietel – they are also called: Traffic Lights, Fingers or Rainbow Cakes because of their bright coloured decoration.
If you’d like to savour a taste of social history while sampling our Gozitan sweet treats, then try the Biskuttini tal–Għarusa – which translates as The Biscuit of the Bride. These very distinctive biscuits, seen here with their brightly coloured swirly pink icing were historically used in villages and given to guests during a wedding reception. This was in the days before guests enjoyed a lavish sit-down meal courtesy of the bride and groom. Because giving these biscuit treats was a rural tradition practiced mostly in villages; these biscuits became known as ‘the biscuits of the bride’ OR ‘the biscuits of the village’.
Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to enter a Gozitan confectionery shop and not notice Bambolini; which is a brightly coloured pink cake. The sponge base, which has a hint of vanilla and lemon is then dipped into red jelly and coated with desiccated coconut. Not the easiest to eat single handedly without making a mess but most definitely worthy of a sticky, finger licking attempt.
If we have whet your appetite for all things sweet and you’d like to visit one of our Gozitan confectioners, find more details on some of our retailers below:
- David’s Bakery & Confectionery, Triq il-Madonna tas-Sokkors, Kerċem
- Dolceria Bartolo, Triq Marsalforn, Ix-Xagħra
- Portelli Confectionery: 10 Triq Sir Adrian Dingli Victoria
- Pralines Confectionery: 46 Madre Gemma Camilleri In-Nadur
- Stephen’s Confectionery: 8th September 2005 Avenue, Ix-Xagħra
- Ta’ Lajku Confectionery, 38 Triq ta’ Gorf, Xaghra
- Ta’ Pulitu, 2a Triq Dicembru Tlettax, Nadur
- Ta’ Saminu Bakery & Confectionery Triq Tal-Ħamrija, Ix-Xewkija
With thanks to: Portelli Confectionery.