Sweet Abruzzese Delicacy: Sise de Moneche

| Sun, 10/19/2014 - 03:00

It’s strange how something as humble as a cake can captivate the minds of writers and journalists like Mario Soldati and Maurizio Costanzo, both of who extolled its virtues in print.

The cake in question is the Sise de Mòneche or Sise delle Monache; a three-humped soft sponge filled with custard and dusted with icing sugar; Professor Mario Palmerio even went on to pen an entire study dedicated to this intriguing little Italian cake, often referred to as the “breasts of nuns”.

Remaining unchanged by time and originating in the foothills of the Maiella, the cake has won several important awards, including the inclusion in the list of quality local products prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Tourists to Guardiagrele, a town that the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, when captivated by its panoramic views nicknamed 'la terrazza d'Abruzzo (Abruzzo's terrace), make a point of dropping into Pasticceria Lullo to purchase this sweet Abruzzese delicacy.

What makes this confection so popular is the folklore that has grown up around its name. One tale tells of it being created in 1884 by Joseph Palmerio, who gave it the name Three Mountains in reference to the three summits of the Maiella: Acquaviva, Focalone and Murelle.

Another opinion is that the cake was originally created in more ancient times by the Poor Clares; this gives credence to the different name, sise, meaning Guardiagrele, and delle monache, which means of the nuns.

A further explanation and one which may shed some logic upon its risqué name is that the sisters concealed the shape of their breasts by placing a bundle of cloth between them and binding them to disguise their female form. It’s from this practice that we can understand where the notion of three breasts was formed.

Custard appeared around the end of the 19th century, although it originally may have been little more than sweetened egg yolk mixed with cream; this however lends support to the thought that the cake was invented by Giuseppe Palmerio.

Pasticceria Lullo is linked to the name of the family Palmerio, and was first registered at the Chamber of Commerce of Chieti in the year 1889. Founded by Filippo Benigno, it then passed to his nephew, son of his sister Anna, who was married to Francesco Paolo Lullo, in 1894.

Currently, the owner of the bakery is Emo Lullo jr, grandson of the above. The bakery is located in the historic centre of Guardiagrele and continues to make Sise de Mòneche to meet demand for these saucily named little cakes.