Despite having all these limitations set in place, I hope you all were able to enjoy your Easter and Passover celebrations. Practicing social distancing, I did manage to carefully carry on one Easter tradition. I made several Italian Easter Pies and dropped them off to our children, my sister and my mom. Today is Easter Monday and it has always been celebrated throughout the world. Even the White House used to have its own Easter Monday tradition with The Egg Roll on it’s the grounds. But this year, this epidemic has made us all reminisce about Easter and Passovers and how it used to be.
Growing up, my mom always referred to the Monday after Easter as Lunedi in Albis (Monday in White). But as a national holiday throughout Italy, it’s called Pasquetta (Little Easter). After the somber week of reflecting on Jesus dying for us and rising from the dead the Italians get together informally on the Monday after Easter. They head outdoors to enjoy the spring sunshine and warm breezes with family and friends, packing up the leftovers from the Easter feast into picnic baskets.
In 1972 my dad wanted us all to experience Easter in Italy. We jetted out from NYC to Naples with a stopover in London on the brand new 747! The trip wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds, though. Having problems with connection flights we ended up staying 2 overnights in London. Two days of constant running between airline counters trying to get a flight to Naples was exhausting! Unfortunately, we ended up missing part of Holy Week. I was 13 years old and besides the memorable flight, there were a couple of other memories that stood out to me during our trip to Italy.
One memory was that I noticed how proud all the women were of their Panettones (Easter Bread) or as Napolitano’s call it, casatiello. The process was a huge undertaking because each of the matriarchs of the families baked enough for all their children, the children’s families and even the children’s in-laws. Each family we visited during Easter week made sure to bring us to a special room where all the panettones were rising. The women in their kerchiefs and aprons made elaborate gestures of removing the blankets to show off the many pans of bread. This really piqued my curiosity and I asked my mom why all this drama about the rising of this bread. She said they made their own yeast and it took longer to rise. I remember thinking this bread was almost like Christ rising from the dead in three days. Is this why they all make Easter bread? So, after all the waiting the bread was ready to bake and we got to enjoy it on Easter Sunday and Monday.
The second most memorable experience was Easter Monday, La Pasquetta. My brother and I, along with my cousins had a picnic in one of Monte di Procida’s vineyards. We brought dyed hard-boiled eggs, prosciutto and provolone cheese, bread, the Easter panettone, bottles of water and even a bottle of wine. I enjoyed it all! Well except for the panettone and the wine. The pannetone was dry and sweet. Now that I remember correctly, my brother and my cousins ate the panettone with the wine. Hmmmm? Maybe that’s why my brother was rolling down the hill like an Easter egg. I wasn’t a wine drinker back then. I didn’t like it. Imagine that? I grew up drinking water with wine mixed in. Forbidding underage drinking wasn’t a thing in the Italian culture. Wine on the table was the norm. Kids drank diluted wine. I did not acquire a taste for it. When I finally turned eighteen in 1976 (the drinking age back then), it didn’t phase me. If I wanted a drink, I could have had it long before I was 18. So possibly the panettone didn’t taste as good to me because I refused to dunk it in wine! My taste buds changed as I got older. I love panettone now! Especially when it’s dunked in wine!
I have attached a recipe for Cornetti (Italian croissants). I am still daydreaming of sitting at a bar enjoying a cappuccino while dunking a cornetto. The Italian Cornetto and the French Croissant look similar but actually very different.
1. The cornetto is much sweeter than the French croissant. The Cornetto contains more sugar, while the French version contains more butter, which makes it so much greasier
2. The cornetto is softer compared to the French croissant, which is crispier.
3. Italian cornetti usually have fillings. They are filled either with pastry cream, marmalade, honey, or chocolate (I love the ones filled with pastry cream!), while the ‘cornetto vuoto’ (an empty cornetto) is the pastry without any filling. The French version doesn’t traditionally have fillings.
I tried a couple of different recipes for cornetti but this is my favorite. I used brown sugar because I didn’t have can sugar and it still came out perfect. The texture is just what a remember about them. Not greasy at all. I didn’t fill these with pastry cream but next time I will try filling them!
Cornetti (Italian Croissants)
• 1 cup of water
• 1 tbs of honey
• ¼ cup of cane sugar or brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1/3 cup melted butter
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 1 cup of flour
• 1 cup of oo flour
• 1 envelope of yeast (preferably brewers yeast)
• 2 tsp of sugar
For the layers
• ¼ cupof cane sugar or brown sugar
• 1/8 cup of melted butter
For the finishing
• 1 egg yolk to brush before cooking
• Warm honey to brush after cooking
1. In a bowl, add the flours, the envelope of brewers yeast and the two teaspoons of cane sugar that will serve to activate the yeast. Mix all the ingredients.
2. In another bowl pour the warm water and then add and a tablespoon of honey.
3. Into the bowl with warm water and honey, add the brown sugar, the grated lemon peel, the melted butter and the egg.
4.Mixing it all together with a fork, add the flour a little at a time.
5. Continue to work the dough with your hands and add the flour, until we get a dough with an elastic consistency.
6. Put the dough in a bowl, engrave in a cross with a knife and cover with cling wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place, until the volume doubles, it will take about 2 hours.
7. After it rises lightly work the dough and to form a long log. Divide it into 8 equal loaves of about 4 ounces each.
8. Prepare the pastry by rolling out the loaves to form 8 discs about 2mm thick (very thin!)
9. Spread the loaves one at a time, with the rolling pin and brush the melted butter and sprinkle the cane sugar on the surface. Continue laying out and overlapping all the discs.
10. After fixing the last disc we stretch with a rolling pin to get a round pastry, about half a centimeter thick (less than ¼ inch thick)
12. With a pizza cutter make 8 wedges and a small incision in the center of each wedge. Roll up the wedges to form the croissants and fix them in the baking tray, covered with parched paper. Cover with clingwrap and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.
12. Brush with egg yolk and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
13. As soon as you take the cornetti out of the oven , lightly brush them with warm honey!
14. And don’t forget to dunk it in a cappucino. Or maybe wine! hiccup!