This week took me back to serving at Villa Via Sacra, the home of the Mount Tabor Center for Art and Spirituality in Barga, Italy. What a blessing to be back in this verdant and beautiful area of Tuscany. This is the peak of Tuscany’s summer season when tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peaches and nectarines are all in abundance. After a busy summer of offering hospitality to various groups, the villa household has quieted down for a wee bit. August 15th is a national holiday for the Feast of the Assumption. We felt it was only right to celebrate this special day in true Italian style, which means pack a picnic and head for the cooler air of the mountains! We did just that: a simple meal of homemade bread, cheese (pecorino stagione, ricotta and parmigiano), meats (mortadella, sopressata and prosciutto cotto), some garden vegetables of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives, a bottle of red wine and a fresh fruit salad.
We enjoyed this fresh French bread with our picnic. Delightful to eat with cheese and meats or just a little olive oil, it requires little rising time, so it’s a wonderful go-to bread recipe that you can make and bake within an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Activate your yeast by sprinkling it over the hot water in a bowl and whisk with a fork until dissolved and add 1 Tbsp of the sugar - let sit until foamy - about 5 min.
- Add the remaining sugar (3 Tbsp) and then the flour a cup at a time, mixing in as you go (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this step, if you'd like). Add the salt at some point along the way. Stop adding the flour if your dough is no longer sticky.
- When the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, turn the dough out onto your counter and divide into two balls.
- Using the palm of your hand to kneed out any air bubbles, roll the dough into two long loaves.
- Let rise slightly (about 10 min.) and brush with the egg-wash.
- Bake for 25-30 min, or until golden or reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
- This recipe can also be used to make nice breadsticks.
In many European countries Epiphany is celebrated as a National Holiday. Last year, I was blessed to be serving at Via Sacra in Italy where I learned about the magical Christian legend of La Befana, an important character in the Christmas festivities. The story of La Befana has been in Italian tradition since the XIII century. The legend tells that la Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men who asked her to lead them to the stable where the baby Jesus lay in a manger. La Befana was too busy sweeping her house, so she declined the offer to go with them. Soon she realized that she had made a mistake, so she gathered up a bag full of gifts and set off alone, flying on her broom in search of the baby Jesus. Though she followed the same star as the Magi, she was unable to find the stable. Undaunted, la Befana continues to travel the world to this day, searching every house for the Christ child, leaving gifts. On January 6, the first day of Epiphany, Italian children search their stockings for gifts from La Befana as a sign that they have been good that year.
Celebrate Epiphany with us by baking Dreikönigskuchen (A Cake for Three Kings) a specialty sweet roll found in bakeries all over Liechtenstein at this time of year!
Dreikönigskuchen (A Cake for Three Kings)
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and add sugar – wait about 5 min until the yeast starts to work. Add the rest of the ingredients, starting with the liquids and going to solid, adding the flour last. Add the flour 1 cup at a time until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and it springs back to the touch. You may not need all the flour.
- Once a soft, smooth ball forms, set it aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. Be sure to cover it and place in a warm spot.
- Divide the dough into 8 Pieces, one a little larger than the rest.
- Roll each piece into a ball and arrange the 7 smaller balls around the slightly larger one on a sheet pan, forming a flower. Poke an almond into the bottom of one of the rolls. Let rise another 30 minutes, then brush with the egg wash.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare the glaze by mixing the apricot jelly with a tablespoon of hot water.
- Bake the rolls for 30-40 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Brush with several coats of apricot glaze and sprinkle with the coarse sugar. It’ll sparkle in the sunlight, like a beautiful jewel
- Next, add a real crown. You can make one out of a brown paper bag or, if you happen to have one of these laying around…
- Let a lucky someone find the almond and be royalty for the day! Serve it with a big cup of tea or coffee and … an epiphany or two.