The coffee shop was simple and cozy: a long glass counter, polished to perfection, where cakes, scones, eggs, bacon and beans were neatly arranged. In front of the counter, facing the bright wide windows, tiny white tables for two people. Outside of that little café there was Ireland, the boundless meadows of the Kilkenny Castle, bus as the only means of transport and the curiosity of a continuous discovery.
That was my second time in Ireland, a week in August for the university summer break, a breath of fresh air between the exams of advertising and semiotics.
I was travelling with my friend Laura, companion of many road trips. We decided to have breakfast in that coffee shop, curious to see how would feel to eat as a local. I still remember how it was called: three item special. An inviting name, though we probably misunderstood the real meaning of special at the moment. With the help of a not too trained English we ended up ordering two three item specials and three other additional dishes from the menu selection.
We sat slightly intimidated at the table and we waited. Soon after two waitresses came out from behind the counter and began to bring our breakfast. Beans with tomato, scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, toasts, butter and jam. Then a moment of embarrassment: we run out of space on our table. They looked at each other, then they took a look around and decided to move a table and add it to ours to have extra space. And they kept on bringing the smoked ham, cakes and scones with jam.
We not hold back laughter, while the other regulars of the small coffee shop in Kilkenny looked at those two naive tourists with a mixture of disbelief and tenderness. Needless to say, the breakfast came out of the cafeteria with us well hidden in backpacks in the form of snacks and sandwiches for lunch. Too abundant, too far from our habits, but perhaps for that very reason so indelible in my memory.
As you might have heard, the Italian breakfast is quite another thing.
First of all, in most cases – except for individual preferences – breakfast is sweet and not salty, and then it often verges on the routine and monotony. I know people whose names I won’t make now – mum – that have been eating the same breakfast for thirty years: scalding caffellatte with three fette biscottate at dawn every day. Every day. Also for Christmas, even for her birthday, in winter and summer, that’s her breakfast.
We felt it was the right time, after a year of Italian Table Talk – already a year! – to cover the topic of breakfast and tell you about our preferences, our rituals and our memories related to the first meal of the day, which according to experts – and according to my mum – is also the most important one. Valeria wakes us up with the raisin buns of her childhood, Emiko has instead baked a tray of little cherry tarts which can put a smile on the face of the most surly person, while Jasmine made a classic cake perfect in its simplicity, the torta margherita. I am presenting today an classic of the breakfast at the bar, the Italian croissants known as cornetti.
If you follow me on Instagram (do you follow me on Instagram? nooo? You can find me as JulsKitchen if you ask) you may have noticed that I like to vary breakfast, from crepes to bread pudding cake, from yogurt with fresh fruit and cereals to rice pudding. I do not have a tradition and I’m very careful not to fall into the routine: I enjoy changing, as far as possible, to wake up with a bit of curiosity. It is a different matter when it comes to breakfast at the bar.
Having breakfast in a bar in Italy can be stressful if you’re not used to it and you suffer from the usual performance anxiety that hits you in the most important public occasions.
At first comes the choice of the sweet pastry you are going to eat or dip in your cappuccino: I usually come closer to the counter and I start pointing out the various croissants. Which kind of croissant is that? apricot jam. That one? wholemeal and honey. That over there? chocolate. There instead? custard and apple. Then I understand by the impatient tone of the waitress that I have asked too many questions, so I begin by saying with little certainty: then I’ll take a croissant with… moment of reflection during which I mentally try all the combinations… nothing inside. Is there a plain croissant? And I grab with an apologetic smile the delicate croissant, often still warm, that the waitress hands me wrapped in a paper towel.
Then it comes the time to order coffee.
Usually in the bar at breakfast time there is a large crowding all around the coffee counter: the usual, macchiato, ristretto, corto, a cappuccino, a latte macchiato, a long coffee. Wall Street at end of the day is much more quiet than a bar at breakfast. Requests are made in a tone that ranges from brisk to pleading, this being me when trying for the fourth time to order a coffee and someone else next to me gets his order before me.
Then, with your coffee in the balance in one hand and the croissant – the empty croissant – in the other, you move towards a table if you’re lucky, or you press yourself in a corner of the counter to finally enjoy your breakfast. It is probably clear that I prefer to have breakfast at home, with all the calm of the world, without having to fight for my coffee. Though the still warm croissants have more than a reason to be appreciated, especially if you are lucky enough to find those made as they should be made, with good butter. Making them at home takes time and patience, especially in flaking, but every once in awhile I assure you it is worth a try.
Cornetti, the Italian croissants
This is an easy recipe to bake at home the same cornetti you might get in an Italian café, with their shiny surface, not too sweet nor too buttery. Unlike the French croissants, the Italian cornetti have more sugar in the dough. Among the ingredients to make the cornetti dough, you also find eggs, vanilla seeds and orange peel, that are instead absent in the croissants you would get in a Parisian bistro. This makes the Italian cornetti sweeter, slightly denser but definitely more aromatic.
As a consequence, if you could potentially pair a French croissant with ham and cheese, you could not do the same with an Italian cornetto, which is better enjoyed plain, simply dusted with icing sugar, or filled with pastry cream, jam or chocolate spread.
With this recipe, you will get 20 Italian croissants.
Should they be too many for you to have in one go, you can decide to bake all of them immediately, and freeze the leftovers once baked. Otherwise, you can bake just a few cornetti and freeze the rest immediately after shaping them.
If you freeze them once baked, you can remove them from the freezer and warm them in a hot oven just before breakfast: doing this, they will thaw immediately and in a few minutes, you will get hot cornetti.
If you prefer to freeze them immediately after shaping them, remove them from the freezer the night before, and arrange them, well-spaced, on an oven tray lined with parchment paper to raise. In the morning, bake them as in the following recipe.
Cornetti, the Italian croissants
- 250 g (2 cups) bread flour
- 250 g (2 cups) all purpose flour
- 8 g (1 1/2 tsp) fine sea salt
- 24 g (1 1/3 cake) fresh compressed yeast
- 100 g (1/3 cups) whole milk
- 80 ml (1/3 cups) water
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 organic orange, zest grated
- 60 g (4 1/4 tbsp) butter, room temperature
- 250 (1 cup + 2 tbsp) butter, room temperature, to laminate the croissants
- 2 tablespoons whole milk, to brush the croissants
For the vanilla syrup to brush the cornetti
- 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 100 g (1/2 cup) water
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- The day before, add the bread flour, the all-purpose flour and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Dissolve the yeast in the milk, whisk well and add it into the flour, then add the water and the lightly beaten eggs. Knead at low speed for about ten minutes with the hook attachment.
- Add the butter cut into small pieces, then the sugar mixed with the seeds of the vanilla bean and the grated zest of the oranges. Knead for ten more minutes with the hook attachment at low speed, until the butter has been completely incorporated. You should get a smooth, elastic dough: eventually it should form a ball and clean the sides of the bowl, remaining attached just to the bottom of the bowl.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and scrape it into a plastic bag that has enough space to allow the dough to double. Store it in the fridge for 24 hours.
- Prepare also the butter sheet to laminate the croissants, so that the day after you will have all the ingredients ready. Use the butter at room temperature and with the help of a rolling pin gently spread it in between two sheets of parchment paper, about 3/16in (5mm) thick, to get a square sheet, as regular as possible. Store it in the fridge.
- The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a well-floured surface.
- Roll it with a rolling pin on a disk slightly larger than the butter sheet.
- Place the butter in the centre of the dough and gently pull the four sides of the dough over the butter, to close it inside as in an envelope.
- Seal the edges.
- With the help of the rolling pin and some flour, roll out the dough so that it could triple its length, keeping the same width.
- Now make a three-fold: mentally divide the dough into three equal parts and fold on the middle part the right side, then the left one.
- Seal the edges by pinching the dough together.
- Rotate the dough, keeping the folds the sides, and roll out again the dough in a rectangle sheet so that it quadruples its length, keeping the same width.
- Now is the time to give a four-fold: mentally divide the dough into four equal parts and fold the two outer parts on the two parts inside.
- Fold again to close the dough as a book. Seal the edges by pinching the dough together.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for about one hour.
- After this time, remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a 3/16in (5mm) thick rectangular sheet.
- With a sharp knife or a pizza wheel, cut out two long strips, then long and narrow triangles. You should get 20 pieces, and each triangle should weigh about 2oz (60 g).
- Wrap the triangles on themselves from the short side, keeping the tip of the triangle under the cornetti so that it won't open while rising. Arrange the cornetti in a tray lined with baking paper, keeping them well spaced.
- Let them rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until they have doubled their volume.
- While the croissants are raising, prepare the syrup to brush them once bakes. Pour the water in a small saucepan, add the sugar and the open vanilla pod and bring to a simmer on low flame. Simmer for about 5-8 minutes, until the syrup becomes thick and slightly golden. Set aside to cool down.
- When the cornetti have doubled, heat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Just before baking the cornetti, brush them gently with milk, then bake them for about 15-17 minutes, until golden brown.
- As soon as the cornetti are out of the oven, brush them with the vanilla syrup. Serve them immediately, or wait until they are slightly warm.
Not to lose a single post by the Italian Table talk girls, these are our Social Accounts:
- Emiko, her blog is Emikodavies.com, @emikodavies on Twitter, and her Pinterest
- Valeria, her blog is Life Love Food, @valerianecchio on Twitter, her FB Page and her Pinterest
- Jasmine, her blog is Labna.it, @labna on Twitter, her FB page and her Pinterest
- Juls, my Twitter @Julskitchen, FB page and Pinterest
The hashtag to follow the conversation on Italian Table talk on Twitter is #ITabletalk (easy, isn’t it?). We are curious to hear which is your favourite breakfast and how you deal with routine!