Something magical happens throughout Florence at about 4:00 every afternoon: in bar pasticcerie (pastry shop cafés) all over town, the day’s second batch of sfoglie come off the cooling racks and into display counters everywhere, luring, tempting, enticing the afternoon crowd coming in for their afternoon coffees (ristretto, macchiato freddo, macchiato caldo, in bicchiere, and so on, but that’s a story for another day!). How not to resist those luscious pockets of folded puff pastry filled with creamy custard that, if you’re lucky, is still warm as a lover’s kiss? A miracle of chemistry happens when the butter in the pasty caramelizes the sugar crystals sprinkled on top, turning the outside edges mouth- wateringly crisp and flaky (hence the name sfoglia, or “thin layer”). It’s sweet and crunchy and buttery as buttercrunch candy all at the same time, filling the whole café with a fragrance that can only be described as divine. Is it any wonder that there are people who time their coffee breaks to coincide with the sfornare (the “taking out of the over”) of the sfoglie?

There are connoisseurs of the sfoglia, afficionados who know just the right place for the best one: the pasticceria that makes them from scratch (not bulk frozen), homemade (not outsourced from a larger operation) and that uses quality ingredients and real butter instead of margarine (a sacrilege!). Alas! The best places to get an authentic, artisanal sfoglia that is made come Dio commanda (as dictated by God) are in the residential areas surrounding the historic centre rather than in the touristy areas near the cathedral because they cater to a more knowledgeable clientele – places like Pasticceria Giorgio, Caffè Neri, Gelateria Pasticceria Badiani and Pasticceria Stefania, well worth veering off the beaten track for a taste of heaven.

Tip: talk like a pro. Sfoglia is singular, sfoglie is plural.