It’s a little past 2 on a regular night in Florence. Along via de’ Benci and farther down past Piazza Santa Croce on via Verdi, people pour out on to the street as the bars and clubs begin to close.

While some congregate outside to smoke and chat or stumble to the next place for more dancing and drinks elsewhere, others go in search of something different: a secret bakery.

Just off via de’Benci, through the small Piazza Peruzzi, and down a couple of narrow, dimly lit streets, a cluster of people can usually be found outside the non-descript doors of via del Canto Rivolto 2. A sign taped to the glass doors reads, “Please be quiet”.
Nothing else.
Only the golden glow shining through the glass doors lets you know something’s going on inside. That and the intoxicatingly sweet smell that floats through the air and beckons you inside like a siren call.

Welcome to Pasticceria Vinci & Bongini, one of Florence’s so-called secret bakeries. Except like the others, this is not a secret and technically not a bakery either, not in the traditional sense anyway. There are no glass cases filled with rows of pastries or little tables and chairs at which to enjoy your treats. Instead there are only large ovens and stainless steel counters, metal rolling racks filled with baking trays and bakers with hair nets and flour dusted-aprons. This kind of bakery, or pastaio, is where many of Florence’s cafés, bars, and shops get the baked goods they sell during the day.

To supply these businesses with fresh treats, “secret bakeries” work late hours through the night to have them ready and delivered in the morning. However, when people pass by, they are happy to sell individual pastries. At Vinci & Bongini the crowd is usually made up of people coming from nearby bars (hence the “please be quiet” sign). For 80 cents, boisterous mouths are filled with mini pizzas, chocolate covered desserts, and warm, foglie, twinkling with a layer of sugar.

Across town, near Piazza San Marco, is the Laboratorio di Pasticceria Arrighi on the corner of via delle Ruote and via San Gallo. Another no-frills kitchen, the main attraction here is also the mouth watering scents drifting from the ovens as they churn out racks of hot goodies. 1,5 euro will buy you a pizzetta while 70 cents will satisfy your sweet tooth with a cornetto or other pastry.

To complete the after-hours snacking: a vending machine offering drinks including coffee, water, and soda.

For something outside the city center, try Il Re della Foresta in Piazza Giorgini. Well worth the possible cab ride there, this hole-in-the-wall is just that: a walk-up window. If a bombolone, or large doughnut-like treat is what you crave, watch them be filled with your choice of chocolate or cream from huge pastry sleeves. Prices range from 70 cents to 1 euro.

So while good food is not hard to find in Florence, sometimes a good, fresh-baked treat takes a little map-following and an unsuspecting bakery late at night.

(Article by Angie de Angelis, Florida – School in Florence: Lorenzo dé Medici)