• 2018.04.11
  • April Fools’ Day fish cake and the holy palm twigs
The 1st of April is internationally known as April Fools’ Day, the day of the year dedicated to pranks and jokes. On this day each year in Italy, just as in the rest of the world, children play pranks on their friends and family members, the most common of which is to stick a paper fish on the back of someone bearing writings such as “April Fool.”
The origins of the April Fools' day tradition remain shrouded in mystery. There are some historians who date it back to the fourteenth century and say that it originated in the Italian town of Aquileia. There, supposedly in the first half of 4th century, it is said that Bernardo of San Genesio, patriarch of the town, saved a pope from suffocation caused by a fish stuck in his throat; the pope, once saved, established that in Aquileia, every first of April of each year, no fish were to be eaten in order to remember the incident. The anecdote was then written down and added in the town's history books. But the event, presented between historical narration and myth, would not explain how the traditional jokes that characterize this day came to be.

Although everyone knows about this day, not everyone is aware of the existence of a dessert typical for this occasion which is prepared in Liguria and which is handmade by pastry chefs every year around April 1st. This cake is sold exclusively during the month of April in the pastry shops around the region. The name of this delicious creamy cake is Torta Pesce d'Aprile (April’s fish cake) but it’s not made of fish, but rather shaped like one. The dessert was precisely invented in the city of Savona (near Genoa) and, although we don’t know precisely when it was first prepared or who first thought of this recipe, we know for sure that the cake was specifically created April Fools’ day as a sort of joke.
The Torta Pesce d'Aprile is a layered cake which consists of sponge cake and layers of cream of various kinds, most commonly white cream, custard, raspberry jam, hazelnut spread or chocolate mousse. The cake is very moist and creamy and some pastry chefs also like to add chocolate chips, nuts or candied cherries in between its layers to give it some crunchiness and texture.
On the top, the cake is covered in butter cream and almond paste and the almond paste is modeled and often decorated to make the ‘fish scales’ and details look more realistic. Some of these cakes are more cute than realistic and they look like clown fish or big whales. The pastry chefs give way to their creativity in preparing them and sometimes compete to prepare the best looking one in the area. Some cakes are even covered with edible glitter, candies or sugar decorations (for the fish eyes) and they are usually proudly displayed in the window of the pastry shop to attract the customers.
A few pastry shops even choose to prepare two ‘twin’ fish (perhaps of different colors), making one for children without liqueur and the other in its alcoholic version for adults.

Fish-shaped cake for April Fools’ Day

Although April Fools’ Day is only the first day of the month, the cake is popular during the entire month and it’s often served on Palm Sunday (the Christian holiday preceding Easter Sunday) if Easter falls around the beginning of April that year. On Palm Sunday, mothers usually prepare the fish cake at home (in its smaller version) and, traditionally, the young ones in the family give it the shape of a fish and decorate it as they please with edible garnishes, while the grown-ups are busy interweaving the traditional holy palm twigs.
This tradition is particularly felt in Liguria because it’s a place which favors the growth of the palm trees, in particular the variety known as the date palm, cultivated precisely to obtain the twigs for this liturgical use.
The first documentation referring to the interweaving of palm twigs is dated to the Middle Ages and the varieties of weaving available today are so many that practically every town can boast an original one.

Holy palm twigs


  • Patrizia Margherita
  • Jobtranslator, interpreter, teacher

Although she was born in Italy, she is half Italian and half American and she has become a "multicultural person" who can speak five languages. She has lived and worked in the US, Brazil, Australia, France and the UK so she considers herself a citizen of the world. When she is not teaching or translating, she likes cooking Italian food, hiking and traveling around the world...She has traveled to 80 countries and counting!

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