Easter in Umbria is not for those with a delicate constitution. A cheese-egg-meat-wine-chocolate binge starts at 9 am on Easter Sunday with breakfast and ends into a food induced coma sometime at 5 pm. By then, some of the aunties are passing around giant mounds of broken chocolate eggs and slices of colomba just in case you have developed a new appetite. They are ruthless.
The Torta di Pasqua, a leavened bread rich with cheese, eggs and all sorts of delicious fats, is essential to the celebrations. There is no feeling of Easter unless we stuff ourselves ad libitum with slabs of torta filled with capocollo or salami.
In Umbria, in the week preceding Easter, people is divided in two groups: those who make the torta di Pasqua- – and those who buy it.
Those who buy belong to the weaklings with an office job or lack of baking skills. They might go to great lengths to acquire a proper torta di Pasqua at the bakery, but here in the countryside they are considered rather uncool, gastronomic losers.
The true to their roots Umbrians have been busy with their torta for a week already, hoarding eggs and cheese, sorting the bread pans and cleaning the wood fire ovens. Later they will claim that their torta is better than the one of their sister or neighbor. Or daughter in law, who is incapable per definition.
The rivalry centered around the torta is ancient. In a rural society with a relatively recent past of food deprivation, making the best torta was a matter of pride and social achievement. Until recently, only the better families could afford to make several breads and indulge in generous amounts of eggs and cheese. It was not uncommon for affluent families to produce 10-20 and up to 50 breads.
My friend Daniela – who is a scholar of local traditions – tells me that the fishermen wives from the Trasimeno lake used to chant the quality of their torta to their neighbor across the corridor while busy kneading the heavy Dough. Children were enrolled to help transporting the leavened bread to the communal oven for baking and were rewarded with a “bucciotto“(pl. bucciotti), a cheese bread doll which was made with the scraps of dough.
A widow or otherwise needy woman would be gifted with flour and other ingredients to be able to make her own torta and show her pride. This way she was also enabled to give her children the opportunity to join the rest of the village at the ovens and get their edible toy. In their simplicity, the village people understood the difference between sharing and charity.
With this beautiful story not only I wish you all the best for Easter and for any other spring celebrations you are taking part. I also invite you to make a few bucciotti for your children. The torta di Pasqua it’s an addictive, wholesome treat when made with best quality ingredients. I use artisan flour, local cheese, organic eggs. The bucciotto is a labor of love which will cheer any picnic and garden party in the months to come, irresistible and sugar-free!
Recipe for 6-8 bucciotti:
Prepare a dough for torta di Pasqua as explained here. Split the dough and use half to make one torta di Pasqua loaf as depicted in this photo:
Transfer the rest of the dough onto a floured worktop, sprinkle generously with additional flour and roll the dough into a 2.5 cm( 1 inch) thick ropes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and cut the ropes of dough to make the head and body, shaping the dolls as depicted in the drawing:
Use peppercorns or other edible ingredients to make the eyes of the dolls and the mouth or a few buttons like I did. Let it rise covered in a draft-free area until doubled in size, one to 2 hours.
Brush with egg wash or a little milk if you like and bake in preheated oven at 200C (390F) for about 30 min or until golden and dry inside. Don’t forget to bake the torta di Pasqua loaf for the adults too and enjoy with plenty cured meats! Buona Pasqua!