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Christmas cakes - Spongata

This is a cake of ancient origins which some people date as far back as Roman times when Petronius Arbiter described this type of cake in his Satyrico.

It is a real delicacy in Reggio Emilia’s cuisine and an absolute must on the Christmas Eve and Boxing Day dinner table. Its name apparently derives from “sponga”, i.e. sponge, due to the pinched appearance of the surface which indeed makes it look like a sponge.

The skill in making spongata lies in the filling. Firstly you need walnuts from the hills around Reggio Emilia, which have to be prepared as soon as they are gathered. They are cracked open and the kernel is taken out: the Christmas production of spongata requires about 10,000 kilos of kernels. Each ingredient has to be expertly mixed within precise working times that have to be strictly observed. The chopped walnuts are spread out together with the honey on a large table and mixing begins. Almonds and raisins are then added and blended into the mix; then, when the filling has hardened, the pine kernels are added in last since they are the most delicate ingredients and must not break. The mixture should be made using wooden spatulas and hands. Lastly, the mixture is sprinkled with no less than thirteen different types of spices, which give spongata flavour and character.