Up close before before being scored with a cross and cooling upside down after the bake.
After cooling completely, this panettone was wrapped and left to mature for 5 days before being cut into… The texture was the best I’ve had so far, very bready and very shreddy. For my taste this could have done with a little more salt even though I did raise it to 3 grams already.
I'm never sure when it's going to happen. Last year it was at the end of April. This year it's the 8th! As usual, I visit the Wiki Easter page in an attempt to, for once and for all, understand about full moons, spring equinoxes, Julian and Gregorian calendars and... well, that's usually where I give up.
Just hit me with it when it comes along! I usually start shifting gear when people actually start buying the chocolate eggs, -bunnies, and other Easter paraphernalia that have been patiently sitting on the supermarket shelves ever since the X-mas deco was chucked out.
With Easter shifting so violently all over the April calendar, and all the related holidays shifting with it, it is my most likely season for a good old "showing up at work on a national holiday"-experience.
Most of all I'm a bit confused about Easter itself. I have some distinct associations ingrained in my gray matter and gene pool.
This one is in the genes I'm afraid. A bonfire is a Northern European's traditional way of chasing away the winter demons and welcoming back the light. The sight of a big pile of wood waiting to turn bonfire in the middle of a field somewhere when visiting my family for Easter up North, where the tradition still lives on, never fails to get me all revved up with anticipation. As a kid the bonfires seemed a multitude of impressions bigger and more awesome. The smells and intense heat have remained equally intoxicating. This year there is a small village in the East trying to beat their own Guinness World Record. They have a live web cam, so you can see the biggest ever bonfire go up in flames if you want to, and who wouldn't! Nothing like a good friendly fire.
Chicken on a Stick
Another strong association with Easter is the Palm Sunday Parade. It involved a bread roll shaped like a rooster on top of a decorated cross. It's eye was a currant that came off quite easy. I was the kind of kid looking up all the time to make sure my rooster wasn't going blind up there on his stick.
Much later I realized the full meaning of this (literal) crossover tradition. Eggs, oranges and roosters; all pagan "finally-it-is-spring-again"-symbols mingled in with Christian symbols like (palm)leaves and the cross Christ died on. The rooster became associated with the bread Jesus broke at Last Supper and even with the rooster crowing after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times on Good Friday. Eggs doubled as symbols of spring as well as a symbol of new life (Easter Sunday).
Blissfully unaware of all of this, I was most of all concerned with my currant-eyed rooster and oranges surviving the parade. My mother once told me her story. When she was a kid, right after world war II, oranges were the stuff dreams were made off. And then; lo and behold; the first Easter came around that she proudly paraded around her chicken on a stick with two shiny oranges pinned on both ends.
My mother was of course as proud as a peacock. As soon as she came home, she took the oranges off carefully and put them in a box, carefully wrapped, guarding it with her life, to admire and eat later.
When she finally gave into her desire to eat her precious jewels, she found them dried out and wasted in her beautiful box. I consider it one of my more important lessons in life.
All Together Now
And then you realize that Jewish Pesach and Christian Easter share a whole lot of history as well, and were at one time the same thing. Christian Easter allegedly gets its name from the Saxon Goddess Eastre, the spring goddess. The Netherlands is a linguistic border in the Northern regions of Europe. All around us, geographically speaking, there is talk of "Ostern" or "Easter", but the Dutch have stuck with French & Latin influences and celebrate "Pasen", like the Flemish their "Paas", the French their "Paques" and the Italian their "Pasqua".
So what are we celebrating? The return of the light, the resurrection of Christ AND the end of slavery and thus freedom regained. That's a whole lot of celebrating! Let's turn to the Italians to provide us with the necessary festive bread. The message of this bread is simple: Peace! All of the above celebrations will benefit from that beautiful word, even if the tulip named after it at the tulip exhibition certainly isn't going to win any big prizes soon, except for maybe in the category awkward yet true...
For the peeps who rather watch things than read, here we go!
550 gr / 22.9 oz bread flour
8½ gr / 0.2 oz salt
1 x 120 gr / 4.2 oz soft butter
2 x 40 gr / 1.4 oz soft butter
120 gr / 4.2 oz whole milk
150 gr / 5.2 oz sugar
75 gr / 2.6 oz candied lemon peel
75 gr / 2.6 oz candied orange peel
50 gr / 1.7 oz of small pearl sugar
Home made orange/lemon peel
The day before; Wash and peel the skins of two oranges (or lemons). Cut into thin strips. Cover them with water, bring to a quick boil, simmer for 5 minutes and then drain. Put fresh cold water in the pan, and repeat this twice.
Then dissolve 450 gr / 15.9 oz sugar in 435 gr / 15.3 oz of water. Add 1 TBS of lemon juice. Simmer the orange peels in the sugar syrup for about 1 - 1½ hrs until translucent. Drain and dry the peels over night on a cooling rack. The next day put 100 gr / 3.5 oz of sugar in a plastic bag, add the peels and toss around to cover them well. Cut into little cubes and put aside until needed in the dough. If you want to shape your Pasquale in the traditional way, you might want to browse around for sturdy card board that can be cut into the shape of a (rudimentary) dove. The amount of risen dough yielded from this recipe gives you two medium sized loafs when baked in standard bread pans.
Mix 12 gr / 0.4 oz of instant yeast with 100 gr / 5.3 oz of flour and add just enough water to make the dough come together; 2-4 TBS. Cover and let rest at room temp until the stiff dough has turned puffy; about 45 minutes. Alternatively; try submerging your ball of dough in warm (30° C / 86° F) water.
Your starter is ready to go when it floats to the surface! (I finally tried this method, and it really works...)
Combine flour, salt, sugar and candied lemon peel, mix together. Then add the eggs, a little at a time until incorporated. Add 120 gr / 4.2 oz soft butter in pieces and mix. When the dough gets dry, add the milk and the starter dough. Mix very well on low-medium speed until you have a firm and elastic dough. Depending on what sort of flour you are using, you might have to add a few extra TBS of flour, or hold back a little of the milk to get the right consistency.
Transfer the mixed dough to an oiled bowl. Cover the dough and let it rest until increased in volume by ⅓.
When the dough has risen by a third, turn it out into the mixer bowl again. Add 40 gr / 1.4 oz of soft butter and the orange peel in portions. Mix until well distributed. Transfer the dough to an oiled container once again, and this time leave it to rise until doubled in volume.
Transfer the dough to the mixer one last time to incorporate the last 40 gr / 1.4 oz of soft butter. Mix it in and transfer the dough to your mold or bread pan(s). In Italy the traditional Colomba Pasquale mold is easily found. Outside of Italy that might be a bit of a problem. If you are dead set on shaping it the traditional way, you might have to get your card board and scissors out to put one together yourself. Don't worry about making it neat; the more "rustic" your "bricolage"-mold looks, the more rustic your Colomba will look as well.
Cover and let the dough proof one final time.
Making the topping
200 gr / 7.0 oz sugar
80 gr / 2.8 oz ground almonds
3 egg whites
¼ TSP of almond extract
pearl sugar (optional, but very pretty)
When the dough has almost fully proofed (poke it with a wet finger; if the dough springs back immediately, you are not there yet. If the dent fills back slowly, you are on the money and ready to go on) continue making the topping. First, preheat your oven to 200°C/ 390°F.
In a fat free mixer bowl, whip up a meringue using three egg whites. Fold in the sugar and the ground almonds and spread out evenly over the dough when using the traditional mold or bread pans. Sprinkle royally with flaked almonds and pearl sugar.
(Alternatively; if you are using a dove mold, you will first have to bake the bread in the mold and then add the topping to it after taking it out of the mold. You can put it back in the oven to make the meringue set and brown the almonds on top).
Put the Colomba on a rack in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes on 200°C/ 390°F. Then lower the temp to 170°C/335°F and bake for 35-45 minutes more until nice and golden on top. Make sure to rotate the loaf halfway the bake to ensure even browning. Keep an eye on the top; if it goes too fast, you can cover it with foil to prevent burning.
When your Colomba is done, let it cool completely before taking it out of the mold.
The first day it tastes great, the second day, it tastes better, so making this Pasquale ahead of the Easter festivities is no problem at all!
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The kids no longer living with us, I get late into Christmas mode. No Adventskranz (traditional wreath with 4 candles lit for each Sunday before Christmas) on the table, no calendar window to open. Holiday baking happens usually in a rush on the 23. and 24th, but this year we are invited for Christmas dinner, and nobody's around to eat all the goodies (not counting a dog that would LOVE to help us with that task!).
Having to limit my output I decided on two of the best: Mohnstollen (poppy seed stollen) and Lebkuchen (German spice cookies). Before I came to Maine I never made either of them, stollen I always got from my mother, and I never cared too much for Lebkuchen. If Cooks Illustrated had not published a recipe for German spice cookies last year, I would never have dreamed of making them. Sheer curiosity prompted me to try it ("Americans and German Lebkuchen, haha!").
Reducing the sugar just a little, I followed the recipe, and the result was - incredibly good! Instead of the chewy, dry-ish store-bought stuff I sometimes had at home, this was a delicate, moist cookie, where you could actually taste the toasted hazelnuts; and the spices were spicy in a good way, harmonious, not crude. Last year we ate them so fast, I had to make two batches, and gave some to the nice people from A & B Naturals (the store that sells my breads), too.
To find a perfect recipe for Mohnstollen was not easy - there are so many of them. I settled on one whose ingredients I liked best, from a German cooking magazine's website (essen&trinken.de). But I would add an overnight fermentation, reduce the sugar, and exchange half of the raisins with cranberries for a little bit of tartness. So far so good! But what about the poppy seed filling? Germans always use Dr. Oetker's "Mohnback", a ready-made poppy seed mix you can buy everywhere. Fortunately the "internets" yielded a recipe for home made poppy mix, too, with almond paste, semolina flour, milk and eggs.
Our Cuisinart coffee mill that we were about ready to trash - it did a miserable job with the coffee beans - now got it's second chance. And, lo and behold, it ground the poppy seeds as if it were made for just that. The last ingredient I had to find was candied citrus peel. Our supermarket had only some tutti frutti mix left, full of Maraschino cherries (I hate them). Again, Google, helper of the clueless, linked me to a recipe.
Candied orange peel
The Mohnstollen turned out as good as expected, I sold some, too - and I won't tell my mother that it's better than hers.