Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pandolce – Christmas Bread of Genova

There was a time when it would have been considered blasphemy not have time to prepare the Christmas Pandolce, every matriarch guarded her recipe for the preparation jealously. In the times when homes were not heated at night some would take their dough to bed with them to keep it warm so it would leaven properly. This dolce is full of tradition. Today the preparation is only for the most dedicated of home chefs, the others prefer to purchase their Pandolce at the pastry shop but the value of a home prepared pandolce is considered a gift of great value among those from Liguria.

An Olive branch is placed in the top of the cooked loaf as a sign of devotion to God. It was the privilege of the youngest member of the family to remove the Olive branch. Cutting the Pandolce is exclusively reserved for the oldest member of the family.

This Christmas Bread should be prepared about 10 days before Christmas.

500 grams [3 ½ cups] flour
2 packets dry active yeast
200 grams of sugar
150 grams [1 ½ stick] of butter (room temperature)
100 grams of white raisins (soak for ½ hour in water, drain and dry before using)
100 grams of pinoli
40 grams [½ cup] of candied fruit
50 dl [½ cup] of milk
100 dl [1 cup] water of orange blossom (this can be made with 1 teaspoon of extract and water)
100 dl [1 cup] sweet Marsala


Warm the milk with a little bit of sugar. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let sit for 10 minutes.

In a mixing bowl mix half of the flour with milk-yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour.

In a medium sized bowl mix the sugar, orange blossom water and marsala. Pour the remaining flour on the dough, add the marsala mixture and mix the dough. Work the butter into the dough with your hands or dough paddle. Cover and let rise about 2 hours.

Place the raisins, pinoli and candied fruit pieces into a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoon of flour and mix together. Roll the dough to about 1 inch height and spread half the mix and roll the dough into a log. Roll the dough again to about 1 inch height and spread the remaining mix. Roll into a log again and then form into a ball.

Place in a heavily buttered baking pan, cover with a towel and let rise for at least 3 hours. If your kitchen is less than 75-78 degrees do this at night and let rise overnight.

Before placing the dough in the oven a triangle is cut in the top of the loaf to permit greater volume during the baking process. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes. The crust should be rather dark and may require another 10 minutes.

Finally when cutting the first piece of Pandolce all present repeat the salutation to Christmas:

Long life to this bread
A wish of health to all;
Today as tomorrow
Cut this bread and sit with us;
For all to eat in peace
Children, big and small;
With family and friends
In all the years to come
For the grace of God

Health and peace at home and away; Holiday Greetings to all.

Traditionally a family would prepare numerous Pandolce at Christmas and store them in paper in the cantina (cellar). They would last all year long. The first time I had Pandolce I was told that it was their family tradition to not eat the first piece of Pandolce cut but to put it away and give it to the first poor person that knocked on their door (maybe they were trying to tell me something!?!)


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