The Malta Independent 22 May 2019, Wednesday

Caffe Cordina’s secret prinjolata recipe is key to keeping up tradition

Giulia Magri Sunday, 3 March 2019, 09:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

Located in the heart of Valletta, facing Piazza Regina and the beautiful Biblioteca, it is difficult not to take a peek at the window displays of Caffe Cordina.

In the displays, one can see numerous mouth-watering and colourful treats, such as cupcakes sprinkled with hundreds and thousands, jam-packed doughnuts and - the star of the show - the Maltese traditional pine nut cake known as the prinjolata.

The Carnival cake is a towering mass of cream, biscuits, citrus peel and  almonds, topped with sprinkled pieces of chocolate, pine nuts, pistachios, meringue and glacé cherries. It is a staple sweet during Carnival and an indulgent treat for all generations.


Cordina's traditional recipe for the prinjolata has not changed and has been passed down from one chef to another for generations. To change just one ingredient would require informing the Cordina family and obtaining their approval.

Head Chef Jesmond Borg, who has been working in the Cordina's kitchen for the past 37 years, explained that brainstorming for Carnival begins six months in advance.

"The beginning of the year is always very busy. We have Christmas, Valentine's Day, Carnival and Easter, which come close to each other. Our dolceria is currently buzzing - not only do we have to prepare our daily menu and pastries but we have been making and selling prinjolata since January," he says.

Borg said that, as well as making the traditional large version of the prinjolata, the dolceria has also introduced prinjolata in a cup.

A taster version of the traditional sweet is available for foreigners trying it for the first time and also for the younger generations, who might not be aware of the traditional sweet, said Caffe Cordina's Sales and Marketing Manager Marilyn Custo.

When asked what goes into the making of the cake, Jesmond explained that just one batch would have 40 kilos of cake and that, in a day, the dolceria produces 30 batches of cake just for the prinjolata.

He said that they have been making - and selling - prinjolata since January, so the actual figure of just how much by way of ingredients has gone into making the traditional sweet is uncountable.

Certified Sicilian almonds for high quality perlini

Another popular traditional Carnival sweet is perlini -sugared almonds - which come in a variety of pastel colours. In the past, perlini would be part of the Carnival festivities, as they were thrown from the top of the carnival floats - to the delight of the spectators, especially children.

Perlini are not only enjoyed during Carnival: Caffe Cordina produces them throughout the year. Marilyn explained that the Caffe does not compromise when it comes to the ingredients used for their traditional, hand-made sweets. She said that the Caffe imports the best Sicilian almonds from Avola in the province of Syracuse, "which are ideal, as they are 37/37 in size and are certified for their rich and delicate flavour."

She explained that such traditional sweets do not just represent the Caffe but also Malta, and therefore the best ingredients and products are necessary.

Childhood memories of Carnival at the Caffe

For generations, Caffe Cordina has been at the heart of Valletta Carnival and Luca Cordina, head of the family business, recounted his memories of Carnival as a little boy.

"When I was younger, my mother would make it a point to dress me up and bring me to the Caffe. I would be seated at the bar with a big milkshake in my hands and watch - as the Caffe would be crowded with people, all full of excitement and energy."

He said that Carnival is one of the busiest weekends of the year for the Caffe. "Whilst Christmas-time is busy, it is spread over a period of time: you have people coming to do their shopping, and then there events and the pantomime throughout the month, whilst Carnival is just a crazy weekend which flies by!"

Both Luca and Marilyn said that the Caffe is constantly working to make sure that Cordina's products are up to standard, as they are a trademark of heritage and Malta. By just tasting their prinjolata, you would know that much care and attention has gone into making this traditional cake to ensure that it is equally delicious and up to standard.

Photos by Alenka Falzon





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