Traditional Italian desserts are usually egg-rich baked goods. For example, Sicily has its cassata, a sponge cake layered with ricotta and candied fruit, and covered in royal icing. Tuscans have a simpler palate for sweets. The most traditional Easter treat is the schiacciata di pasqua, a fluffy, sweet bread scented with the unmistakably Tuscan aroma of aniseed. It’s basically Tuscany’s answer to Milan’s panettone.
Ideally, this recipe for schiacciata di pasqua from Fucecchio should be made on Good Friday, so it’s ready for the table on Easter Sunday, but to be honest, it’s even better when it’s a day or two old. It can be revived when it’s even older than that with a little dunking in some vin santo, Tuscan dessert wine.
- 28 g fresh yeast or 9 g dry yeast
- 60 ml (¼ cup) lukewarm water
- 550 g (3⅔ cups) unbleached plain flour
- 15 g aniseed (see note)
- juice and zest of ½ orange
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp honey
- 170 g white sugar
- 85 g unsalted butter
- 20 ml olive oil, plus extra to grease
- 4 eggs, 2 whole, 2 separated
- 2 small pinches salt
- 2 dashes vin santo
- 2 dashes dash Sambuca or Strega (see Note)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 4 hours 50 minutes
Cooling time 30 minutes
Activate the starter by combining the yeast, 60 ml lukewarm water and 50 g (⅓ cup) flour. Let it bubble and rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 20 minutes or so.
In the meantime, soak the aniseed in the orange juice together with the citrus rinds and honey until needed for the flavours to infuse. Preheat the oven to warm it up to help the dough rise in the next step. Turn it off before it gets too hot – ideally it should be at least 30–40ºC.
The first rising. When the starter looks doubled in size, add half of the remaining schiacciata ingredients. In other words, 250 g flour, 85 g sugar, 43 g butter, 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk (save the white for later), 10 ml olive oil, 1 small pinch salt, 1 dash each vin santo and sambuca, and half of the aniseed mixture. Combine well until an elastic, slightly sticky dough.
Place the dough in a large bowl, covered with a tea towel or plastic wrap, inside the warm oven (which should be turned off). Let the dough rise until it is soft and wobbly – it should tremble like a pudding when lightly shaken. This usually takes about 1½ hours but this can vary greatly depending on how warm your kitchen is. It can help to re-light the oven to warm it up more during the 1½ hours.
The second rising. Grease (traditionally with lard, but you can use olive oil) a round, deep 20–26 cm diameter cake tin. When the dough is appropriately wobbly, it’s time to add the rest of the ingredients. Combine everything very well and then place the dough in the tin. Let the dough rise, covered and even swaddled in tea towels, in a warm (but turned off) oven as before for a further 3 hours. Or, better, overnight. The dough should rise about 3 times its original volume and be perfectly rounded.
Baking. Preheat the oven to 150°C and place a small saucepan filled with water in the bottom of the oven to help keep the oven humid and create a nice crust. Brush the top of the dough with the reserved egg whites and bake for 50 minutes or until cooked through and dark brown on top (it won’t rise much further). Cool slightly in the pan before attempting to remove it, then cool completely on a wire rack.
Serving. Cut into slices. It’s eaten simply on its own as is, served with a small glass of vin santo and perhaps a couple of chocolate Easter eggs. I must say that although it’s not traditional, Nocciolata, an organic, chocolate-hazelnut cream far superior to Nutella, goes down very well too. The bread will keep well, covered in plastic wrap, for 1 week.
• Whole aniseed is similar in flavour and size to fennel seeds. Available from selected supermarkets and speciality food stores.
• Sambuca and Strega are liqueurs, available from selected bottle shops, carry strong fennel or liquorice flavours, which add to the aniseed aroma. Substitute marsala.
Recipe from emikodavies.com by Emiko Davies, with photographs by Emiko Davies.