untryside living has its advantages: chirping birds in the morning sun, clean air, dramatic sunsets, and middle-aged hunters in army fatigues rummaging through the garden.
Wait… Hunters in army fatigues? That wasn’t part of the idyll.
Our otherwise peaceful dog Google hates the interlopers with all her canine heart. By way of explanation these are Umbrian wild boars hunters. Even when the wind howls end-of-the-world style, they’re still out there prowling.
Winter in the fabulous Umbrian hills can be less than fun. It’s grey, wet and sparsely populated. As for the prowling hunters, our only good luck is that their season lasts only about a month.
Still, there’s an advantage of living in the hinterlands at this time of the year. It makes me utterly immune to the commercial glitter of Christmas. The nearest shop is 25 minutes away. Why should I go out? When the wood stove is burning and my family is home I need nothing more.
I’ve got sugar, butter and eggs, which I can make into a Christmas treat with relatively little effort (thanks to my Bread Maker). It’s my own stripped down version of pandoro, Italian holiday season sweet bread (pan d’oro, or “golden bread”), a descendent of the sweet cakes made for the early Italian aristocracy.
Yes, I know it’s not the real thing. The original recipe is rigid. It calls for making a sweet starter (with fermentation and cooling) followed by several bouts of mixing and proofing dough before the actually baking. The whole process takes three days and a lot of luck. You’ll find countless kinds on supermarket shelves.
What I can promise is that my recipe yields something infinitely better than those sickly supermarkets sponges, which last through Easter. Not to mention fresher. Bread that has a shelf life of a year can’t possibly be good for you.
- 350 grams (3 and 1/2 cups) strong bread flour (called “Manitoba” in Italy).
- 2 eggs.
- 140 gr (5/8 cup) butter.
- 80 gr (1/3 cup) whole fat milk.
- 1/2 tsp salt.
- 50 gr (4 tablespoon) sugar.
- 1 tsp vanilla extract.
- 1 tsp fast acting yeast (called “Mastro Fornaio” in Italy).
— Place all of the ingredients into the pan of your Bread Maker. Program the machine for basic white bread, light crust. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar before serving.
— If you want to transform pandoro into panettone, add a few tablespoons (approx. 100 gr/3 oz) of raisins and candied orange before the last kneading. You can also decorate it with whole almonds. Just brush the surface of the risen dough with egg white and press them lightly on it.
— Keep the sweet bread in the refrigerator in a plastic bag and re-warm briefly before serving.