Sunday, December 14, 2008

italian babka and other important matters

so during my sojourn to the big supermarket last weekend, i may have gotten a bit swept up in things. i may have been rather hungry at the time (always the worst time to shop for groceries), it may have been an otherwise unexciting evening, and in a moment of weakness i may have been lured in by the mellifluous lilt and enticing gestures of a middle-aged italian cougar. now now, before you gasp about proprieties, you should know she was a professional. and the product she was pushing is called panettone.

she had a table set up at the end of the aisle, with a plate of scrumptious samples. i hadn't previously tasted of this national treat, and a fateful twist of temptation and curiosity moved me. what a delight! a soft, almost challah- or babka-like texture, with small chocolate chunks, candied orange bits, and a flaky crust with hazelnut glaze, a light sweetness overwhelming the taste buds. i zealously bid my thanks, and sifted through panettone boxes of different flavors, makers and sizes strewn about and piled up like large cornerstones in a delicious roman bakery ruin. i picked up a distinct chopped pyramidal thin cardstock pannettone box by its ribbon
handle, whisked my selection to the register, and skipped home like charlie with a wonka bar.

given the content and subject line of this blog entry, you would likely expect this to have been from the doyenne of dessert, trofie wife. however, awaking upon my return from the market, and sampling the baked goods, she was overwhelmed only by my extended time absent, while underwhelmed at the discovery. but i've since seen her sneaking off to the guest bedroom followed by a trail of crumbs, and noticed the dwindling remainders of panettone over the course of the week...

a co-worker has since told me more of this delicacy, of the different types, etc. some have a crustier texture, some are lighter. some are flatter, weighed down by nuts, raisins and the like sprinkled atop. the lightness is obtained by allowing the dough to rise multiple times, some in excess of 20 hours. different regions and different pasticcerias whip up distinct varieties. wikipedia traces the cake to milan, and its history from ancient romans' "tall leavened fruitcake" to cookbooks for the popes to a 16th century brueghel painting. many interesting legends of its origins abound, but it is now particularly associated with the christmas and new years season in italy and in several south american countries to which italians have migrated. no doubt, more will be sampled in the coming months...

baci e panettone,
martello e trofie wife

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