Spring, sunshine and food bingo

Spring in Garbatella

Spring! Sunshine, flowering trees, time for allergy medication and looking at the surviving plants in our balcony boxes. It is a lovely day here, and people are making the most of our last weekend before lockdown starts again in Rome Monday until 6 April. Most of Italy moves to red now, so we will just have to make the best of it.

Spring drinks while bars still open: the blue spritz is made with blue Curacao. Classic Aperol Spritz is better.

One new thing we have tried this week is a food waste app, TooGoodToGo. I view it as food bingo: you pay a small amount from participating food shops to get a “Magic Box” of mystery food at reduced price that would otherwise be food waste. Near here it is mainly pizza, bakeries, bars, pasta shops and supermarkets. So far, it looks promising.

Today: a pizza box for 4€ and a very nice tray of pastries for 5€. Desserts for a week!

I looked for offers within 3km, with convenient collection time, and took it as an opportunity to explore new streets – and walk off some of those pastry calories in advance…. We like to cook, but now and then, it’s nice to try something else.

Hopefully we know better what to expect this time. There will be fewer zoom cocktails this time than our lockdown a year ago, but more making sure to get out for walks to maintain our mental health. Bonus if the walk passes a nice bakery or vegetable stand. The food markets here should still be open too, thank goodness.

Special greetings to all in lockdown. Forza! We will get through this. The news of friends and relatives getting vaccinated does help. Cheers to spring and more people having drinks in sunny Roman piazzas soon!

Baking Shrovetide buns (fastelavnsboller)

The days are getting longer, and despite the polar winds (well, -2C at night, which is cold for Rome) it does feel like spring is on the way. Some optimistic cherry tree are flowering, and there are electric yellow sprigs of mimosa bobbing down the street along with the red roses in Valentine’s Day bouquets today. Rome is currently in the yellow zone, so restaurants can open for lunch and we can go for coffee, as we did this morning, sitting outside bundled up against the wind. Everyone on the street wears masks, and it was a busy Sunday with people out walking in the sunshine. Carnevale must have started, as there are colorful sprinkles of paper confetti scattered here and there on the sidewalks, and a few small children in costumes. I confess, I’ve lost track of whether the kids are in school or not. The palazzo next door had a mini birthday toast for someone this morning, and it was great to see a couple kids with tutus and play swords. Even with plenty of distancing and masks, seeing that makes life feel almost normal again. The pastry shops in Rome are also selling frappe and castagnole, deepfried dough pieces dusted with icing sugar, and little dough fritters.

It’s Shrove Sunday, so I made Norwegian fastelavnsboller today, Shrovetide buns. Yeasted wheat buns with a little cardamom, split in two horizontally and filled with whipped cream, dusted with icing sugar. Some years I make a healthier version, this year I used the classic Tine recipe, just with less yeast, no egg and longer rise.

Fastelavnsboller (Shrovetide buns, makes 12-14)

100g butter, melted and slightly cooled
350 ml lukewarm milk (I used semi-skimmed)
25g fresh yeast (or 13g dry yeast)
100 g sugar
500 g white flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

To serve
200 ml whipping cream, whipped wirh a little vanlla sugar, plus icing sugar to dust over

Melt butter, and add milk. Heat until it is just finger warm, about 37C. Crumble the fresh yeast in a bowl. When the milk and butter are lukewarm, dissolve the yeast in the milk and butter, in a large bowl. Careful it is not too hot, that will kill the yeast. Add flour, sugar, salt, cardamom, and sugar. Stir well, the dough will be quite sticky. Knead for a few minutes, you will feel the dough getting smoother. Let the dough rise at room temperature, under cover (I use a plastic shower cap) for 2-3 hours, you will see it doubling.

Knock the dough back. Divide it into 12-14 pieces, and roll these out to round buns, roughly the same size. Leave to rise on parchment paper on a baking tray, covered with a tea towel. Dampening the tea towel slightly keeps the dough from drying out. Leave to rise until it doubles, half an hour or so. Bake at 220ºC on the middle rack for 10-11 minutes. Let the buns cool on a rack.

When cool (otherwise the cream goes runny): whip the cream with the vanilla and sugar. Slice the buns in half. Spoon a generous blob of whipped cream on the bases, then replace each bun top carefully. Sift over icing sugar, and serve.

I hope you are all staying safe and that sunny days are on the way for you too.

Baking brune pinner (cinnamon cookies)

Norwegian Christmas cookies galore: bordstabelbakkels, krumkaker, strull and brune pinner. The last one translates as “brown sticks”, and they are really easy to make. My grandmother always made them and I have her recipe, but they still do not taste quite like hers. Every year my sister and I tweak the recipe to see if we can get closer to what we remember: a dark, crispy cookie with a hint of caramel and a lot of cinnamon. This year I doubled the treacle, which helped the flavour but made the first batch a little soft. Or maybe they were too thick? They need to be very crisp.

We should have seven kinds of Christmas cookies, but socializing is limited this year, and we do have biscotti and IKEA gingerbread cookies too. Plus four (!) different kinds of fruitcake to try, as my friends all have been baking. Now we are exchanging samples and comparing the results. An Australian glutenfree boiled whiskey fruitcake, a Canadian fruitcake, a fruitcake fed with brandy, plus my mother’s fruitcake. All delicious in different ways. But here, a simple cookie.

Brune pinner

  • 200 gr soft butter
  • 200 gr sugar (I used brown sugar, but dark muscovado would be better)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbs treacle
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp hartshorn salt (or baking soda)
  • 330 gr white flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • To top: 1 beaten egg for eggwash, plus some chopped almonds, pearl sugar and coconut flakes

Note: Modern recipes often use golden syrup but dark syrup (like molasses or treacle) is better for the right flavour. This year I doubled the treacle, which helped the flavour but made the first batch a little soft. Or maybe they were too thick? They need to be very crisp.

Chill the dough for at least a couple hours before baking. Divide the dough into six sausages, and roll them out medium thinly on a baking tray with baking parchment. Too thin, and they are hard to handle, but too thick and they will not be crisp. Brush a stripe of beaten egg down the middle, and sprinkle with a mix of chopped almonds, coconut or pearl sugar.

Bake 10-12 minutes at 170C until baked but not burnt. Last year my notes say 10-20 minutes at 200C, so see what works for you. As soon as they come out, slice each length diagonally with a sharp knife to make individual cookies, and leave to cool before breaking apart. Best to taste-check the ends at once just in case 🙂 as the house will now smell amazing. Store in an airtight box.

You might prefer them with just 1 tbs of light syrup, or less cinnamon.

For a little glimpse of Garbatella on a sunnier day: Fontana della Carlotta e Scala degli Innamorati.