It’s 3am. You’re a broke college student out on a Saturday night in Florence, Italy, and after four hours of dancing, you’re more than ready for some food. What could possibly be open at 3 in the morning? Nothing much, except for Florence’s secret bakeries. You head down the dark alley of a residential street, where the warm, wafting smell of sweet bread reassures you that you’re in the right place. You stop in front of a glass door- the only one on this street- the one you’ve been told to look for. You wait. Gradually, other students begin to line up behind you as the clock ticks.. 3:06… 3:07… Two girls begin to bicker loudly behind you, and someone shushes them urgently. The baker of this shop is finicky- he will not serve the crowd if they raise their voices. A few minutes pass, and nothing can be heard on this street except the banging of pots and pans behind this mysterious glass door.
At 3:13am, the knob turns, and the door swings open to reveal a gentlemanly man with tired eyes and a white apron. His hands are stained with flour.
“Good morning,” he says, his mouth turning up in a slight smile. He raises an eyebrow. “Crème, no crème, or Nutella?”
I do not know the name of this baker, nor the name of his shop. Much like the mystery that surrounds the other three to four secret industrial bakeries in Florence, the only information we have is that he bakes for various cafés, restaurants, or hotels around Florence. Which ones? Nobody knows. But his wholesale customers like their baked goods fresh, and so this baker begins his day at around 12am. Once his baking is done, however, he will gladly sell you a cornetta (croissant) in exchange for a euro to slip in his apron pocket.
The menu, of course, is limited. You are fortunate enough to be buying quality baked goods fresh out of the oven for a fraction of their usual price, and so you take whatever the baker has. But tonight, he gives you an option.
You want Nutella for your cornetta tonight. Please, and thank you very much. Grazie mile, you say. You hand the baker a euro, and he personally fills your cornetta with a heaping spoonful of Nutella and powdered sugar.
Afterwards, you sit against the cool concrete wall, the last bits of cornetta still hot in your hands. All around you, couples and friends sit on the ground in groups or even alone, murmuring. The joy on their faces is clear as day even in the darkness of the night.
It is now 4:15am. To the disappointment of the growing line of people behind the glass door, the baker sells his last cornetta and closes his shop for the day. Girls look at your chocolate filled face enviously as the walk past you empty handed, and you feel eternally grateful that you were in the right place at the right time, to experience a warm Nutella cornetta on a cool Florentine night.