In Rosanna Chiofalo’s touching novel, a unique pastry shop features mouthwatering creations that have the power to change one woman’s life…
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
When a group of nuns finds Rosalia, a young woman who has been beaten and is unconscious outside of a cave in Italy, they take her back to their convent, where they nurse her back to health and introduce her to the extraordinary pastries they bake and sell on the convent’s property. While Rosalia enjoys learning how to make the most exquisite pastries she’s ever seen and the company of her new friends, she longs to be reunited with her family whom she’s been separated from. But when she meets Antonio, an apprentice at the pastry shop, her life takes yet another most unexpected turn.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
“Madre Carmela’s favorite nuts were almonds. Not only did she like the way they tasted the best among all nuts, but she loved the flavor they imparted to Sicilian desserts from cakes to biscotti, and her favorite of all, Frutta di Martorana—the perfect fruit-shaped confections made from pasta reale, or marzipan, which required plenty of almonds. Who would have thought that the base for an elegant, regal dessert like marzipan came from such a simple ingredient as the almond?”
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- The book is set in a sleepy, hillside town in Italy.
- Recipes for ten of the pastries that are featured in the story appear in the back of the book.
- One of the main characters’ weakness is marzipan fruit, and she always carries a few in her pocket.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
Rosalia is a seventeen-year-old girl who loves her family fiercely. She takes pride in her work and immediately falls in love with the art of pastry making when she learns the craft from the nuns who nurse her back to health. I was surprised to discover after writing the character of Rosalia that she had a sense of humor in addition to her more serious side. Madre Carmela is the mother superior of the convent and the nun who takes Rosalia under her wing–both to help her recover from the ordeal she’s been through and to teach her how to make the best pastries. Sorella Agata is the current mother superior in the present day who relates Rosalia’s story to Claudia Lombardo, the American food writer who’s writing a book about the convent and its famous pastries. I was surprised to discover that Sorella Agata could be stern when she needed to be in addition to showing the utmost compassion.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
I would probably choose the scene from the prologue where the nuns find Rosalia unconscious outside of the cave.
“The nuns following the sounds, which seemed to be coming from land that was just behind the almond orchard. Soon, the outline of a crumpled form came into their line of vision. It was the body of a young woman, lying by the mouth of a cave. Madre Carmela let out a small cry and rushed to the side of the girl who looked to be no more than seventeen years old. She was very pale, and her lips were extremely chapped. Bruises circled her arms and legs, and scratches etched her cheeks. She wore a plain housedress that was several sizes too large on her petite, very thin frame. The dress was torn in several places. Madre Carmela tore her eyes away from the girl’s exposed body as she tried in vain to cover her. While Madre Carmela did so, her gaze settled on the girl’s hair. The tresses hung down to the young woman’s waist, and in stark contrast to her dirty, battered body, her hair shone radiantly in its lustrous shade of black. Without a doubt, it was the most beautiful hair Madre Carmela had ever seen.
Madre Carmela reached into the deep pockets of her habit and pulled out two marzipans—one shaped like a small apple and the other shaped like a pear. Of all the pastries she made at the shop, marzipans were her greatest weakness.
She held out the shimmering glazed sweets. “Prendi. Take. The sugar in them will help you feel better.”
The girl’s eyes widened. She tentatively took the small apple, but left the pear in Madre Carmela’s hand. She stared at it for a moment longer, no doubt in awe of the miniature dessert’s perfection and marveling at how much it looked like a real apple. She took a bite out of the marzipan and stared once more in wonderment at the pastry. Then she popped the rest of it in her mouth and chewed it ravenously before swallowing. Her eyes immediately went to the pear-shaped marzipan Madre Carmela still held in her hand.
“It’s very good. No?” The girl nodded her head. Madre Carmela handed her the other marzipan. This time, without hesitation, the girl took it.
“Cosa ti è successo?” Sorella Giovanna asked the girl what had happened to her.
In a split second, her eyes filled with terror, and she glanced over her shoulder at the cave….”
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
To never give up hope even when the greatest obstacles stand in our way and to convey how strong the bonds of family–whether they’re our biological or adopted families–are.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2016?
Currently, I’m still working on the premise for my fifth book, which will most likely be set in Tuscany during World War II. I don’t have any other releases planned for 2016.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Print copy of ROSALIA’S BITTERSWEET PASTRY SHOP by Rosanna Chiofalo
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Excerpt from Rosalia’s Bittersweet Pastry Shop:
Rosalia had woken up early today. The aromas coming from the kitchen below shook her out of her deep sleep. Though it smelled heavenly, she still had no desire to go downstairs and sample what they were making.
She walked to her window and opened it wider. Rosalia loved looking out onto the convent’s beautifully landscaped grounds. Though she could tell from the steady breeze that the seasons were beginning to change, December in Sicily was still quite comfortable.
Suddenly, a bird came into her line of vision, startling her. She could see, from the beautiful colors that were displayed on its chest, it was a bluethroat. Rosalia had seen this species of bird before, and her father had told her its name. He had explained to her that the ones with a bit of blue, black, orange, and white were males. The bird perched itself on a tree branch that hung close to Rosalia’s window. It tilted its head as if trying to meet her gaze. It chirped for a few seconds, looked around, and then tilted its head once more in her direction.
Rosalia walked over to her dresser and picked up the plate of cookies Madre Carmela had tried to tempt her with last night. They were Buccellati, named so because they were shaped like small bracelets. After the dough was molded into bracelet shapes, it was cut at intervals to display the fig filling in the cookies. Madre Carmela had explained all of this to Rosalia, and while Rosalia had feigned disinterest, she actually had found it charming that the cookies were shaped to look like a piece of jewelry. Still, her curiosity had not been enough to tempt her to try one of the cookies.
She brought one of the cookies to the window, hoping the bluethroat had not flown away. It was still there, and its head jerked up suddenly upon seeing Rosalia had returned. She broke off a tiny crumb and reached her hand out, placing the crumb on the branch the bird sat on, but the crumb fell off. She broke off a bigger piece this time and was about to lay it on the branch when the bluethroat hopped over and pecked the crumb out of her fingers, eliciting a laugh from Rosalia.
“Bravo! You’re a very smart bird.”
The bluethroat looked at Rosalia as if it understood her, but she knew that it was silly to think so. The bird was just waiting for her to feed it again. This time she made sure to get some of the fig filling when she broke off the cookie.
While Rosalia watched her new friend pecking away at the Buccellati crumbs, she took one of the cookies she had not broken apart yet for the bird and took a bite out of it. She chewed it ravenously and realized how hungry she actually was. Of course, the cookie was delicious.
The bluethroat flew away to a neighboring tree and began chirping a beautiful melody. What was strange was that the bird still glanced over at Rosalia every so often, even though at the distance where it sat now, she couldn’t reach out to feed it. Shivers ran down Rosalia’s bare arms. She watched the bluethroat as it flitted from tree to tree, going deeper into the convent’s courtyard. Curious, Rosalia decided to follow the bird.
Slipping a robe on, she quietly tiptoed down the corridor, hoping she didn’t run into anyone. She wasn’t ready to make small talk or to see the pitying looks on everyone’s faces. She just wanted to get some fresh air and watch the bluethroat.
As she approached the kitchen, she could tell, from the commotion of the pans banging and the many orders being given by whomever was in charge of overseeing the pastries’ output for the day, that most of the workers were on duty today. It was still too early for the pastry shop to be open. The selling windows opened at eight a.m. It was now barely seven. She breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the courtyard would most likely be empty.
She inhaled deeply once she stepped outside; she realized she hadn’t been out since that day she had returned from her hometown. A sharp stab of pain pierced her heart. Pushing the memory out of her mind, she walked deeper into the courtyard, keeping her gaze lifted as she scanned the tops of the trees, looking for the bluethroat.
“Ah! There you are!” Rosalia said, delighted she had found the bird.
The bluethroat once more glanced at her and then resumed its singing. She saw other birds—sparrows, partridges, even a pair of striking bluebirds, but no other bluethroats were in sight. The bluethroat stayed apart from the other birds and only seemed aware of Rosalia. Again, shivers ran through her.
She followed the bird as it hopped from tree to tree, and then, when it had exhausted all the trees in the courtyard, it landed on the manicured shrubbery. Rosalia slowly walked toward the bird, hoping she could get closer to it. The bird stared at her, and this time it held her gaze. Rosalia held her hand out and began speaking softly.
“I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
The bluethroat took a hesitant hop forward, but then the sound of someone whistling startled it, and it flew away. Rosalia tried to run after the bird, but it seemed to vanish into thin air.
“Don’t you just hate it how they can make fools of us?”
Rosalia jumped at the sound of the voice. She’d been so preoccupied by the bird that she hadn’t thought to see where the whistling was coming from. A young man who looked to be about her age was standing a couple of feet away. He was grinning.
Rosalia stepped back a couple of feet, clutching her robe to her chest, which suddenly felt very restricted. She looked around the courtyard, but no one else was in sight.
“My name is Antonio. Antonio Bruni.” The young man stepped forward, extending his hand, but that only caused Rosalia to take another step back.
“You don’t have to be afraid. I just wanted to introduce myself.”
He pulled his hand back, placing it in his trousers pocket. He ran his free hand over his hair, which was a little long, but seemed to suit his face, accentuating his high cheekbones and large amber-colored eyes. He was a good seven to eight inches taller than Rosalia, and he was very thin.
Rosalia wanted to leave, but she remained fixed in place. She wished she could say something to him, but the fear that had taken hold of her would not budge. In her mind, she knew not every young man wanted to hurt her like Marco had, but her heart refused to let go of that notion.
“I know. You must be mad at me for chasing your little friend away.” Antonio smiled, locking his gaze onto Rosalia’s. She quickly averted her eyes and scanned the treetops, pretending she was looking for the bluethroat. But it was nowhere to be seen.
“I’m sure he’ll come back. I’ve seen him before.”
“You have?” Rosalia said softly.
Antonio nodded his head. “Every day since I’ve been here.”
Rosalia’s curiosity made her forget her fear, and she asked, “What do you mean since you’ve been here? Why are you at the convent?”
“Madre Carmela has brought me on as an apprentice.”
“But only women work here. I don’t believe you. What are you really doing here?” Rosalia’s brows knitted furiously; she was convinced he was lying.
“There are men on the grounds, gardening and bringing deliveries to the pastry shop.”
“Oh. So you leave at the end of the day.”
“No. I have a room.”
Rosalia’s heart skipped a beat, her fear returning.
“You don’t believe me.” Antonio laughed. “It’s in the abandoned chapel. Madre Carmela cleaned it out for me and put a cot in there.”
“There’s an abandoned chapel?”
“Si. Would you like to see it?”
Rosalia shook her head adamantly. “No, that is all right.” Her suspicions of the young man entered her mind once more.
They both remained silent until Rosalia asked, “How long have you been here?”
“Just a few days. I haven’t seen you. Are you one of the lay workers in the pastry shop?” Antonio then hit his forehead and laughed. “How silly of me. Of course you’re one of the lay workers. You’re not in a habit.” He then took in her clothes, and his face reddened when he realized she was in her nightgown and robe. “I’m sorry. You’re still in your nightgown. I meant no offense.”
Though Rosalia was still not quite sure what to make of Antonio, she couldn’t help but smile at his assumption. “Don’t worry. I am not a nun.”
“Ah. Meno male.” Antonio crossed himself, no doubt thanking God that he hadn’t offended a nun. “So you are one of the lay workers.”
Rosalia paused before answering his question. Naturally, she didn’t feel comfortable sharing with this stranger what had brought her to the convent.
“Si. But I’ve been sick and haven’t been in the kitchen. That’s why you haven’t seen me.”
“I see. What is your name?”
“You have the name of one of Sicily’s most revered saints—and the patron saint of my city, Palermo.”
“You come all the way from Palermo?”
“Yes. It’s a beautiful city.”
“I have heard. Why did you come all the way over to Messina and to our small village of Santa Lucia del Mela?”
Now it was Antonio’s turn to look anxious.
“I’m sorry. It is none of my business. You don’t have to tell me.”
“I have nothing to hide. I ran away from home.”
Rosalia was taken aback. “Why?”
“My father and I did not get along. Besides, I am a man now. It was time for me to make a life for myself and not depend on him any longer.”
“How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” Antonio smiled. He seemed proud of reaching this milestone. “It feels good not to be under my father’s thumb any longer and to be making my own decisions, especially about where my life is headed.
Rosalia nodded thoughtfully. “And your mother?”
“She died when I was twelve.” Antonio looked pained.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Just an older brother. He’s still at home with my father, helping him in his shoemaker’s shop. My father wanted me to learn the trade just like Salvatore, my brother. But I had no interest in it. Food has always been my love.”
Rosalia took in his thin frame again and found his last statement hard to believe.
He noticed her assessing him and laughed. “While I love food, I also love to run and go swimming, which is good since I do eat a lot. But maybe I’ll put on some weight here with all these amazing pastries the nuns make.”
“Why do you love food so much?”
“I used to help my mamma cook. Papà hated it. Said cooking and baking were women’s work. He tried to beat it out of me, but that only made me angrier and more determined not to do what he expected of me. Funny thing is he didn’t mind that I cooked for him and my brother after Mamma died. But he still wanted me to become a shoemaker or at least do a manly trade.”
“How did your mother die?”
“She caught pneumonia.”
“It happens.” Antonio shrugged his shoulders and looked away. Rosalia noticed tears forming in his eyes.
“So what is your story? What has brought a pretty girl like you to a convent of all places?”
Rosalia’s cheeks burned. Just when she was beginning to lower her guard around Antonio and even feel sympathy for him over losing his mother and having to fend for himself after running away from home, her discomfort returned.
“I should go. It’s cool out here, and I am still sick.” Rosalia turned and walked quickly away.
“It was nice to meet you, Rosalia! I look forward to working with you in the kitchen!” Antonio shouted.
Rosalia stopped upon hearing his last words, but, realizing that Antonio was still watching her, she merely nodded and resumed walking.
Once she was back in her room, she climbed back into bed, pulling the covers up to her chin. But she couldn’t stop shaking. Though her mind was telling her Antonio was harmless, her heart was telling her otherwise. Perhaps she could talk to Madre Carmela and Madre Carmela could send him away? Then Rosalia realized how absurd that notion was. She couldn’t tell Madre Carmela whom she could hire and dismiss.
Closing her eyes, Rosalia pushed all thoughts of Antonio out of her mind. She could not think about him right now. She felt spent, and she needed to focus all of her energy on finding her family. For the sooner she found them, the sooner she could leave the convent and not have to worry about being so close to Antonio.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Food writer Claudia Lombardo has sampled exquisite dishes by the world’s greatest chefs. But when she hears about the remarkable desserts that are created in a pastry shop operated out of a convent in the sleepy Italian hillside town of Santa Lucia del Mela, she wants to write a book featuring the sweets and the story behind their creator—Sorella Agata. But the convent’s most famous dessert—a cassata cake—is what really intrigues Claudia.
Everyone who samples the cake agrees it is like none other they’ve tasted. Yet no one can figure out what makes the cassata so incredibly delicious. Though Sorella Agata insists there is no secret ingredient, Claudia is determined to learn the truth behind the mysterious cake. As she samples each delectable treat—marzipan fruit, rich cream puffs, and decadent cakes—Sorella Agata relates the pastry shop’s history and tells of the young woman, Rosalia, who inspired her.
Kidnapped and separated from her family, Rosalia is subjected to a terrible ordeal—until the nuns find her. As she heals, she learns the art of pastry making, and soon she even finds love with Antonio—an apprentice in the pastry shop. But her heart still aches for the family she lost. And Rosalia knows she will not be whole again until she is reunited with them.
As Claudia unravels the secret of the cassata cake, she discovers a deeper, fascinating story—one that affirms food can do more than nourish the body…it can stir memories, heal the deepest heartaches, and even act as a bridge to those we love, no matter how far apart.
Meet the Author:
Rosanna Chiofalo is also the author of Stella Mia, Bella Fortuna and Carissima. An avid traveler, she enjoys setting her novels in the countries she’s visited. A first-generation Italian American, her novels also draw on her rich cultural background. When she isn’t traveling or daydreaming about her characters, Rosanna keeps busy testing out new recipes in her kitchen. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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