Showing posts with label bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bread. Show all posts

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Toni's Portuguese sweet bread

I wish that I had baked this bread before Toni passed. 

She would have gotten a big kick out of it.

Truth is, I have never baked Toni's massa sovada. The Portuguese sweet bread that you see here was a gift from Toni's daughter, Theresa. She surprised me with it last weekend in New Bedford, Massachussetts, after dinner at a fine Portuguese restaurant where a group of friends gather once a year.

I'm trying to figure out a way to sufficiently thank Theresa for her thoughtful gift. But keep coming up woefully short on commensurate ideas.

Though available in Portuguese communities year round massa sovada is often associated with religious holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter. The bread is not unlike the sweet breads that we Italians prepare around the holidays. In fact, they are nearly identical.

Toni had sent me her recipe some time ago, hoping that I might try making the sweet bread for myself. She'd once mailed me her recipe for salt cod with cauliflower & potatoes and when I prepared it — and even put the recipe on the blog — Theresa told me that her mother was completely thrilled to have been acknowledged in so public a fashion.

I'm certain that Toni was hoping for a similar experience when she sent me her massa recipe, and had reason to be hopeful based on our past experiences together.

But I am not a bread baker. The idea of tackling Toni's massa recipe thoroughly intimidated me, and so this very sweet old lady's hand-written correspondence stayed tucked away where I could at once access and ignore it at the same time.

When I heard that she had died last year, Toni's letter and bread recipe were only feet away in a pile of papers atop my desk. I quickly thumbed through the stack and read through Toni's letter again, with a mix of sadness and guilt for having let her down. I kept the letter where I could see it for a week or two, but then it disappeared into the pile again, neglected as in the past.

Until now.

I'm sorry that I wasn't man enough to try your massa recipe, Toni.

But somebody out there is going to give it a go now that you'e shared it with them. 

I just know it.

Toni's massa sovada
(Not being a baker I found this recipe a bit confusing. But as it was written in Toni's hand I am reluctant to amend it. Perhaps those with more experience will find greater clarity in Toni's instructions. She would have liked that, I am sure.)

5 lbs. all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups sugar
3 yeast cakes
12 extra large eggs, well beaten
1 cup lukewarm water
2 cups lukewarm milk

Dissolve yeast in water and set aside
Mix the sugar and eggs together and then add to the milk; mix until sugar is dissolved
Add the mixture to the flour and yeast and incorporate
Lastly, add melted butter (approx. two sticks) and incorporate
Cover and let rise until doubled
Divide into 5 greased bread pans and let rise 2 to 3 hours
Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pasta & toasted bread crumbs

Aside from the air, the water and a good sfogliatelle, the two things that I most require to function in this world are bread and pasta.

Big surprise, then, that a bowl of spaghetti and bread crumbs is a favorite around here.

If your people trace back to southern Italy, Calabria especially, this might be a traditional dish on Christmas Eve. It isn't part of my family's holiday tradition; Aunt Rita usually goes with a hazelnut sauce over angel hair. And so I make this spaghetti with bread crumbs pretty much whenever I please.

Use any plain bread crumbs that you like, of course, but you'll never convince me that homemade isn't best. The bread crumbs that I keep around the house come from leftover crusty loaves made by talented bakers right here in town. This is about a cup's worth of crumbs, which is enough for at least a pound of pasta, probably more.

In a hot pan toast the bread crumbs. You don't need to coat the pan first, but make sure to stir the crumbs frequently and make sure that they don't burn. This should only take a few minutes at medium heat, so do not—I repeat, DO NOT—leave the bread crumbs unattended—say, while texting your pals a link to that preposterous YouTube video of Dylan singing "It Must Be Santa." I know. I've been harassing people with that one for a couple holiday cycles now myself. Just remember why we're here, okay. The crumbs have got to come first.

This is where individual taste comes into play, and so feel free to adjust the ingredients however you like. Translation: you people who refuse to use anchovy in your cooking can just forget that they're here and stick with a straight-up aglio e olio.

Where was I? Right. I'm not shy about using extra virgin olive oil. It's the basis of this dish and so I'm not about to measure it out in tablespoons; I pour out what I pour out, that's all. The other ingredients are garlic (there's gotta be four good-size cloves here at least), hot pepper to taste, and of course plenty of anchovy fillets. (Deal with it.)

The only other ingredients are the pasta and the all-important (well-salted) water that it's boiled in, so don't throw all of the pasta water down the drain. I use tongs to transfer the cooked spaghetti from the water and into the pan, then ladle in as much water as needed to properly incorporate the ingredients. This stage should be done quickly and at very high heat.

What we've got here is less than a half pound of spaghetti, by the way. I'll incorporate two or three good pinches of bread crumbs while the pasta is in the pan, then sprinkle about as much over the top after it's plated.

This is some seriously good peasant food we've got here, friends. I'll take it over air and water any day.

The sfogliatelle? That I'll need to get back to you about.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mister Bua's cornbread

It isn't really cornbread.

But you knew that.

It's a crispy baguette that has been soaked in melted sweet butter. The butter was neither poured over nor spread on the bread when it was warm from the oven. It was melted by something much, much better: a just-steamed, super fresh ear of local corn.

We're getting to the end of the growing season. The nights are growing cold here in Maine, leaves are beginning to turn. I'll miss the fresh corn and the bread that I always eat alongside it.

I have Vito Bua to thank for this summer tradition that I hold dear. Mr. Bua was grandfather to several of my cousins. I remember him for only two things: dancing with the ladies (boy, could he dance with the ladies!) and teaching me how to eat fresh summer corn.

Mr. Bua died long ago, and we never were what you would call close. And yet, every summer when the corn comes, there he is teaching me all over again what to do.

"Here," he says in that thick Italian accent of the immigrants of his day. "First you put your butter on your bread. Like this."

"Now, go ahead, rub the corn up and down until it all melts."

"Okay, son, the bread is the best part of all, you know. Don't ever forget that."

And I never did.

Thanks, Mr. B.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grandpa's bean bread

In case you needed further evidence that the male humpback meatball's olive-sized brain stalls at an early stage of culinary development, well, here you go then.

This is stale bread. And hot water.

They tackle more challenging recipes than this in The Joint (I am told).

"Bean bread" is what my family calls this dish. And that about covers it. Cousin John tells me that our grandfather was a big fan and that he regularly allocated vast sums of "Italian bread" to be used strictly for its use.

Making a good bean bread doesn't exactly require a PhD (sorry, grandpa). First you take your stale bread or your frizelle or whatever similarly crunchy substance you find appealing and you slap it on a plate. Those beans you were boiling? What's that, you weren't boiling a pot of beans? Better get on that. Because after they're cooked you need to grab yourself a ladle, scoop out some of the cloudy-looking liquid that the beans were cooked in and then distribute it over the bread.

Am I going too fast for you? I know. It's complicated. Trust me, you'll do fine.

Anyway, after the bread is nice and moist you drizzle some olive on top, sprinkle a little salt and pepper, some herbs, even chopped garlic if you like. And that is pretty much that. (I had boiled some cannellini beans to be used in a couple different dishes. They cooked along with a pork bone, an onion, and the rind from a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.)

Next time you whip up a batch of beans, like for a soup or pasta e fagioli, give my grandpa's bean bread a try. It's as delicious and comforting as it is simple to prepare.

Any meatball can do it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How to make panettone

My friend Tom has spent much of his professional life learning and writing about food. Several times a week he attends elaborate dinners at some of the country's best restaurants and hotels. The food he is accustomed to sampling at these events is prepared by some very talented chefs.

And so it might surprise you to learn that, in some matters culinary, my friend can be a real pinhead.

He won't eat Asian food of any type because his mommy used to feed him crappy Chinese takeout when he was really really little. Nor will he eat seafood except under duress, also something he blames on his poor mother.

But it is on the matter of panettone where my friend and I have often come close to blows. Tom's position has always been that he never met a box of the Italian sweet bread that he has liked. And that because of this one does not exist.

"Why not just eat the cardboard box that it comes in?" he has said to me many times when we visit over the holidays. "It's just as dry and doesn't have the calories."

Except that this past holiday season Tom showed up at my doorstep one afternoon with a grin on his ugly kisser and a half-eaten panettone tumbling out from his backpack.

"I don't know why you say this stuff is so dry," he teased while releasing the fragrant bread from its plastic wrap. "This is delicious. And moist!

"Hell, Meatball, I might even bake it for you one of these days."

Turns out that he did. And he didn't.

Yesterday I received not a box of bread from Tom but an email with photographs. Of the panettone that he had made for... Who the hell cares, it wasn't for me.

I had to settle for the instructions on how to make one of my favorite breads. And so will you.

Just one thing about the recipe, in case you ever think about trying it yourself. Tom used the King Arthur Flour Panettone Recipe but fiddled with it some. He tells me he'd feel a lot better if people went with the King's recipe, and I'd have to admit that I would too.

This is the biga, a starter of flour, water and a small amount of yeast, which fermented for about 14 hours.

The biga is added to a mixture containing flour, eggs, butter, flavorings, yeast, sugar and grated nutmeg. This gets kneaded in a machine with a dough hook for five minutes and then finished by hand for another two minutes. The dough should be silky, not sticky.

After the dough rests for an hour, flatten into a rectangle and add golden raisins and candied orange peel.

Knead the fruit into the dough.

Tom doesn't have a panettone pan, so he used the pot that he uses for his morning oatmeal. The pan was buttered and lined with parchment so that it could rise above the pan's height. The dough doubled in size.

Here's the finished loaf after peeling away the parchment. Looks just like it came out of a fancy box from Milano, no?

The crust, says my friend, was crisp and buttery, the crumb dense but well textured. The flavor? Spot on. Unique in the way that only panettone can be.

Not bad for a pinhead, I guess.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Being Stephen Lanzalotta

I am not a baker.

But, you may be aware, I have this cool new wood-burning oven in the backyard, and I just had to give it a try.

Thing is, the idea was to evaluate the oven's bread-making abilities, not mine. And so rather than bumbling through a dough recipe I'd be unfamiliar with, I headed over to the most gifted bread/pizza maker in town and procured a blob of his dough.

Note to local readers: It's Lanzalotta's, from the bakery out back of Micucci, the same dough used for the Sicilian Slab and the Luna bread.

Note to everybody else: Save the indignation over copping out on the dough prep for somebody who cares. I already know I'm a spaz with the yeasty, floury stuff. Why torture myself?

Soon as I laid eyes on the blob I knew I was in good hands. It smelled swell enough to eat, and felt like a wet cloud of puffy, doughy goodness.

Did I mention the new pizza peels I bought? The wood one's for sliding stuff into The Inferno.

And the metal one's for taking stuff out.

I laughed. I cried.

Then I ate the whole freaking thing.