Tag Archives: bread

Pan di Ramerino: Rosemary & Raisin Buns for Holy Thursday

pan di ramerino at a Florentine bakery

pan di ramerino at a Florentine bakery

While walking through Florence this morning, I happened to catch a snippet of conversation in front of a local bakery: ‘Yes, actually, the priest was here this morning to bless the bread’. Pausing, I noticed the tray of soft, round buns flecked with zibbibo raisins and rosemary sprigs, and remembered—today is Holy Thursday. And in the Florentine tradition, come the morning of giovedì santo, parish priests visit area bakeries to bless the just-baked rosemary bread known as pan di ramerino (ramerino is rosemary in the Tuscan dialect).

More or less the Italian version of the hot cross bun, pan di ramerino is around throughout much of the year, yet remains highly associated with Holy Thursday in particular. While contemporary pan di ramerino has surely evolved from its medieval prototype—consider the addition of sugar, for instance—the ingredients used traditionally to make pan di ramerino continue to account for its symbolic appearance at this point in the liturgical cycle. Beyond the obvious cross design, the rosemary and rosemary oil recall the aromatic oils applied to the body of Jesus Christ on the cross, much like the traditional Roman focaccia with fennel seeds, also prepared this time of year. Then, the simple addition of milk and eggs to pan di ramerino renders the buns soft and light, transforming the bread from one that would otherwise have been ‘lean’ to one fitting the close of the Lenten fast and the transition to the festal Easter period.

'Today, Holy Thursday: Blessed Rosemary Buns'

‘Today, Holy Thursday: Blessed Rosemary Buns’

Schüttelbrot, South Tyrol’s ‘Shaken’ Bread

mini Schüttelbrot

mini Schüttelbrot

Schüttelbrot is a traditional bread of South Tyrol flavored with caraway seeds, coriander, fennel or aniseed, typically served with speck and cheese as an afternoon snack. This savory, crisp flatbread takes its name from the shaping method: after the dough rounds are rolled out and transferred to a baking sheet, the Bäckermeister literally shakes them into shape (schütteln = to shake). The unique flatness of this bread, called pane scosso in Italian, allows for easy storage in a slotted wooden shelf (pictured below), which together with the crisp, fast-drying texture ensures a long shelf-life—the perfect bread for farmers and peasants in the Alpine winter. Though usually around ten inches in diameter, Schüttelbrot can also be made in small, cracker-like rounds (pictured above).

Schüttelbrot storage

Tortillas

We are made with lard. We are perfect.

We are made with lard. We are perfect.

Yes, this recipe calls for lard. You want a perfect tortilla, don’t you? Then don’t be squeamish about the fat.

Ingredients for 12 small tortillas

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 Tablespoons lard
3/4 cup tepid water

Instructions

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to blend the lard into the flour until it’s a crumbly mixture. Add the water and continue mixing until the dough forms. Transfer to lightly floured work surface and knead for 3 to 5 minutes. The dough will become elastic and soft. Cut 12 more or less equal-sized pieces and roll them into balls. Flour your rolling pin and roll out each ball into thin rounds (or you can use a tortilla press if you have one). Cook them in a hot skillet until they start to bubble up and turn nice and golden. Cook both sides. Greasing the skillet is optional. I find that a lightly-oiled frying pan gives a nicer color to the tortillas, and they will be firmer, crunchier. If you want soft tortillas you can skip the oil. Try both ways and decide for yourself!

tortilla dough

Berry Scones

scones

oh my darlings

You will never spend two dollars on a coffee-shop scone again after tasting these homemade darlings. I make round scones using a water glass to cut the shapes, but if you prefer triangular scones, use a dough scraper to make the triangles.

Ingredients

500 grams flour plus extra for working
125 grams sugar plus extra for dusting
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
125 grams heavy cream or half & half (or whole milk if you must)
125 grams sour cream
1 stick (115 grams circa) butter plus 2 Tbls for brushing
1 cup frozen mixed berries

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C

Set the berries out to thaw a little. Place the butter in the freezer while you get started. Blend the liquid cream and the sour cream in a bowl and put in the fridge. In another bowl mix all the dry ingredients and set aside. Generously flour a work surface. Using the large-hole side of a cheese grater, grate the very cold butter into the flour mix. Toss gently with your fingers until the butter is covered and distributed throughout the flour. Now add the cool cream mixture to the flour mix, folding the ingredients together until just combined. Turn the mixture out onto your work surface. Flour your hands and knead about 8 to 10 times. Don’t overwork the dough and don’t worry if it’s lumpy-looking.

Dust the mound of dough with flour. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick (it will be a large ‘sheet’). Cover half of the dough with the berries (it’s okay if they are still a bit frozen). Using a large dough scraper or a large spatula, carefully fold the dough over onto the berry-covered side so you have a kind of sandwich. If the dough breaks as you are attempting this, just piece it back together as best you can with your hands. Dust the top with flour and roll out again gently one last time to ensure the berries are nice and nestled in the dough. Flour the lip of a water glass and start making rounds.

Transfer the scones to a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Brush them with melted butter and dust with sugar. Any straggler berries can be pressed into the tops of random scones. Bake on the middle shelf for 15 to 18 minutes or until just turning golden on the edges (longer if you like harder scones).

Coccoli Fritti with Prosciutto & Stracchino

fried dough

plateful of genius

Coccoli are dollops of deep-fried bread dough. When folks speak of Tuscan genius, I am pretty sure they are thinking of coccoli, and not, rather, anything related to art, science, or philosophy. Coccoli are typically served as an antipasto but can certainly pass as a full meal in themselves.

Ingredients

200 grams (about 1 & 3/4 cups) flour
15 grams (1 & 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
150 ml water (about 2/3 of cup) warm water
salt
olive oil
oil for frying

Instructions

Dissolve the yeast in about half of the water in a mixing bowl and let it sit for a few minutes. Add the flour a little at time, stirring and gradually adding the rest of the water. Add a pinch of salt and about 1 teaspoon of olive oil and keep blending until you have a uniform dough (it will be sticky). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for at least 1 hour. The dough will about double.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Flour your fingers and begin making balls about the size of a walnut. This recipe makes about 10 to 12 of this size. Fill a heavy, medium-sized saucepan about 3 inches deep with oil and heat. Test the oil by dropping in a small piece of dough. When the oil is ready, carefully ladle in about half of the coccoli. They will puff up after a few seconds. Fry them for about 5 minutes or until they are a light golden color. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels. Lightly salt the coccoli and serve them warm with stracchino and prosciutto (break the coccoli open and spoon in a bit of the cheese then wrap with the prosciutto).

Lussekatter: Saffron Buns for Lucia, the Bearer of Light

cats' tails, saint's eyes

cat-tail-shaped, saffron-flavored, raisin-dotted soft buns for Lucy

Across the numerous, often ambiguous stories of Lucia, the virgin saint who rejected her suitor and gave her dowry to the poor, the one constant is her association with light. Although Sicilian and celebrated in Italy, Lucia is arguably most revered in Scandinavian countries, where today young women dressed in white will sing Lucia songs and carry candles in her honor, evoking ancient, heart-of-winter rites meant to illuminate the year’s longest nights. In folkloristic terms, Lucia makes up part of the company of figures with whom Saint Nicholaus cavorts, such the Krampus, the red-tongued devilish punisher of bad children, and La Befana, the gift-bearing ‘good witch’ who flies the world over on the eve of the Epiphany. Interestingly, Lucia shares qualities with both: depending on the version of the story, Lucia sometimes rides a broom (like La Befana); while in some Swedish traditions, young people dressed as Lucia go about scrounging for schnapps, not unlike their far-creepier counterparts in the Krampus procession.

These buns, called Lussekatter (meaning ‘Lucy cats’) are the treat to have on Lucia Day. Raisins placed in the curls are meant to recall eyes, as Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and the eyes are her attribute (she was blinded before being executed). This does not exactly explain how this cat-tail-shaped, saffron-flavored, raisin-dotted soft bun equates with Lucia’s feast day though, does it? Well, maybe with a little more research (and why not a trip to Sweden next December, eh?), illumination will come in time for next year’s Santa Lucia.

The recipe comes courtesy of Joe Pastry. I used mascarpone in place of quark, a soft fermented cheese commonly used in baking throughout much of Europe but not available in Italy.

Buona Santa Lucia!

Fettunta: Garlic Bread the Tuscan Way

ingredients for the 'oily slice'

ingredients for the ‘oily slice’

Fettunta is a contraction of the Italian words fetta and unta, often (awkwardly) translated as ‘oily slice’ in English. Una fetta is indeed a slice of something—cake, bread, cheese, meat—and unta does in fact mean ‘oily.’ But I think we can do better.

Fetta is related to the Italian verb affettare: to cut or to slice (a deli-style meat slicer is called un’affettatrice; to cut oneself is affettarsi). Then, unto/a is the past participle of the verb ungere, which means to oil, grease, or anoint. The English words unguent and unction have the same Latin root (yet are rarely used in food-related contexts, one hopes).

Back to fettunta. Slice a thick fetta of Tuscan bread and grill it on both sides. Rub down both sides with a peeled clove of garlic. Drizzle both sides with a really good new olive oil—this is the unta part—and dust with salt. Use your fingers to rub the oil and salt all over the bread. Put lots of napkins out. Buona fettunta!

Pizza Bianca

who needs tomato?

Pizza bianca with sausage, mushroom, and green onion. Really, who needs tomato?

Pizza bianca, or pizza sans tomato sauce, is a favorite of my hubby’s and our Saturday night go-to meal. Start with a good pizza dough and top with your favorites: sausage or pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, mozzarella, hot pepper flakes, minced garlic. Tips: Brush a little olive oil on the pizza before adding the toppings, and add the mozzarella half-way through the cooking time, unless you like your cheese crunchy and slightly burnt (which is nothing to be ashamed of).

Ingredients

This dough recipe will make one large pizza (circa 14-16 inches) or two small-to-medium pizzas. Double the recipe for more/larger pizzas.

1 cup (250 grams) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup (100 mls) tepid water

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 190° C / 375° F, on the pizza setting if your oven has it.

Blend the dry ingredients in a large glass bowl. Slowly stir in the water with a fork, then use your hands to form the dough. When you have a soft dough transfer to a flour-dusted board and knead for 8-10 minutes, dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Form a round, place the dough round back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and let rest for two to three hours in a warm place. The dough round should rise to about double its original size. (In cold weather you can use 2 teaspoons dry yeast. Or, if after a few hours the dough has not doubled in size you can put it in the oven on the lowest temp for about 10 minutes.)

Re-knead the dough for a few minutes and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to baking sheets or a pizza stone, brush with olive oil and layer with your ingredients. Bake for about 12 minutes, less if you like soft pizza and more if you want a really crunchy crust. Experiment! It may take several pizza nights to get your pizza bianca just the way you like it.