It all began with a hand that came into a picture frame. Until then my pictures of breakfast were always the same: I would shoot them from above, a cup of tea or coffee, a little plate, some fresh fruit, a yoghurt, sometimes a slice of a homely cake. I would stand perched on a chair and I would snap my picture in the soft morning light. I would enjoy my breakfast alone, sometimes in silence, reading a book or more often already checking emails demanding an answer.
Living in the countryside influenced my perception of holiday breakfast, too. It would be slower, I would savour the calm hours, stretched in a corner of sunshine as a cat, but on my table there would be almost the same unchanged elements: a toast with jam, a cappuccino if dad was around, perhaps an orange juice. But the picture was always the same.
Then a hand entered the frame.
When our friendship turned into that warm feeling that now makes us talk with a plural, I found also a new habit: breakfast in town, in Florence. During working days nothing changed except for one more mug and one more plate on the table, matched by sleepy chats of two people slowly coming to life. But Sunday was a special day, our day to invent. We would often treat ourselves with a breakfast in a bar.
It was so unusual for me. I slowly abandoned the anxiety of not knowing how to deal with all that breakfast choice in the glittering counter of a city bar and found my favourite: a macchiato, a cappuccino sometimes, and a warm Tuscan bombolone.
A warm bombolone, filled to the brim with thick Italian custard, is one my childhood fondest memories: it was the protagonist of gleeful breakfasts with my cousin Margherita during our summer holidays at the seaside. More recently, bomboloni became the symbol of the excitement to stay out till late with my friends, when the evenings ended with a hot bombolone and a sprinkling of sugar on my lips: I would lick it up before calling it a day.
During our breakfast at the bar, I would sit at the table waiting for him. After a few minutes Tommaso would reach me bringing the bomboloni, still warm and irresistible with those grains of sugar, then he would bring the two cups of cappuccino, walking slowly not to spill the milk foam. I could not help, I had to take a picture of that breakfast, too. I would search for the right soft light, then I would style cups and bomboloni in a captivating composition. Sometimes I would move his hand, asking him to hold the cup, then I would quickly snap a photo.
Looking back at those first pictures I realized that a hand was now into the frame, a tangible metaphor of how the man who lent his hand to my breakfast pictures was now finally into my life.
After a year and a half, we still treat ourselves with a breakfast at the bar once in a while, a small luxury that has become a habit for the city days. So many loving memories in a plump ball of fried dough.
Bomboloni alla crema
Here is the recipe for the bomboloni made with sourdough starter. This is the Tuscan version of a sweet treat diffused and loved throughout Italy: so no eggs or cream in the ingredient list, just a simple and poorer dough that produces a soft ball of fried goodness, which you can fill with jam, custard or chocolate, or even leave empty and sprinkle with extra sugar.
I chose to knead the dough by hand, I took an hour and I loved to be wrapped by the sweet butter aroma, living the recipe turn after turn, ingredient after ingredient. You can obviously opt for a stand mixer and halve the kneading time. The outcome? you will reach more quickly the final moment, when you’ll lick the sugar from your lips.
The recipe for the Tuscan bomboloni is inspired by the one told by Giovanni Righi Parenti in his book, La Cucina Toscana, adapted to the use sourdough starter instead of brewer’s yeast.
Ingredients to make bomboloni
- 150 g 5,3 oz of sourdough starter
- 150 ml 5,07 fl oz - 2/3 cup of warmish water
- 450 g 3 ¾ cup - 1 lb of strong wheat flour strong (mine was 400 W)
- 100 g ½ cup - 3 ½ oz raw cane sugar
- Grated zest of 1 organic orange
- 1 pinch of salt
- 70 g 2,47 oz of butter at room temperature
- 500 ml 2 cups of good, cold pressed, peanut or sunflower seed oil
- 100 g ½ cup of sugar
Ingredients to make the Italian custard
- 300 g 10 3/4 oz - 1 ¼ cup of fresh whole milk
- 200 g 7 ¼ oz - 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of fresh cream
- 60 g of egg yolks, about 3
- ½ vanilla bean
- 150 g 5 3/8 oz - 2/3 cup of caster sugar
- 30 g 4 tablespoons of corn starch
- 15 g 2 tablespoons + ½ teaspoon of rice starch
- Dissolve the starter with half of the water. Add flour, sugar and grated orange zest. Knead quickly and gradually add the remaining water. Knead on a wooden surface for about ten minutes, until the dough will be quite smooth and homogeneous. Add the salt and knead again for about then minutes. The dough should be smooth, elastic, well hydrated and soft.
- Add the butter cut into small pieces and knead again until it has been completely absorbed: it will be messy and sticky, use patience and a scraper, remove the butter from the working surface and add it back into the dough, until it will become smooth again, elastic and fragrant. It will take 15 to 20 minutes.
- Shape the dough into a ball, lay it in a bowl greased with some olive oil and cover with a damp cloth. Let it rise in a warm place, such as the oven with the little light on, until it doubles. Depending on the temperatures it might need up to 8 hours, as in my case.
- When the dough has doubled remove it from the bowl, flatten it lightly and a fold in two. Form a ball again, lay it into the bowl and let it rise covered with a damp cloth for an hour and a half, until it doubles again.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, roll it out gently in a 1,5 cm (0,6 inches) thickness and cut out many round circles with a 5 cm pastry ring.
- Let them rise covered with a tablecloth for an hour and a half.
- Now it's time to fry bomboloni in hot peanut oil: deep fry a couple of bomboloni per time, turning every 20-30 seconds, until they are golden. Lay them on a kitchen paper, then sprinkle them generously with sugar.
Make the Italian custard
- Heat the milk with the cream and the seed scraped from the vanilla pod on low heat. When it starts simmering, remove it from the heat.
- In a saucepan, mix the sugar with the egg yolks and starches, then pour the milk gradually, stirring constantly.
- Put the saucepan back on low flame and stir continuously with a whisk until it thickens. Let it cool completely covered with a plastic wrap before using it to fill bomboloni.
Fill the bomboloni
- Fill the bomboloni with the Italian custard using a pastry bag. Dust them again with sugar and enjoy them for breakfast. You can even warm them lightly before enjoying your bomboloni.
Today I told you a special story to introduce Storie di Cucina, the new book series which will be published in Italy by Corriere della Sera. A book a week, some of the most inspiring food writers, from Laurie Colwin, for the fist time translated in Italian, to Ruth Reichl, M.K. Fisher, Joanne Harris Michael Pollan and Isabel Allende.
For those who love a good story, for those who love food, these books are highly unmissable.