Looking at my food habits, breakfast is the meal that can best describe my path, my growth, my life from childhood to adulthood. It is the only meal that remained stable and consistent for a given period of time that corresponded somehow to a phase in my life, and that adaped to my changes and evolution as a person through adolescence and maturity.
I never skipped breakfast. Ever. Even when ill, I would be more inclined to have a small breakfast and nothing else for the rest of the day rather than chicken soup. The reason is, I tend to wake up in the morning extremely hungry –rather, I usually wake up because of hunger. Few things make me suffer as much as going to get a blood test on an empty stomach in a crowded hospital. I haven’t had my blood checked in years, I just can’t stand the torture.
Many consequences derive from this state of things. First, I have never been a huge fan of the oh-so-Italian ritual of the bar breakfast with cornetto and cappuccino. Second, that I have never been very inclined to eat a classic Italian home-breakfast made of caffelatte and cookies. No, my breakfast has always needed time and quantity. Time as not necessarily time to make it, but definitely time to eat it.
Growing up in the nineties, I started with cereal since when I was a little girl. Kellog’s had just begun to enter the Italian households and kids were going crazy for Choco Pops and Frosties, including me. What I immediately noticed, though, was that my hunger never allowed me to follow serving suggestions: I always needed a top up. When mum noticed that the boxes were finishing only halfway through the week, she thought to set some rules on cereal consumption. She started to buy those with less sugar, which I hated, to alternate the sugary, chocolaty ones.
Then something happen. I just can’t recall the exact moment, but I started to go to ballet and count calories. I knew exactly the nutrition of all the Mulino Bianco little breakfast cakes and cookies we had in the house, which were a breakfast staple for the rest of my family as for many families in the country, but not for me. Cereal boxes were banned from my table. I started to eat sad, dry toast (fette biscottate, yet another big classic) and fruit yogurt, and I kept having these same things for years, until I got so tired of it I would had rather eaten shredded paper.
Bran cereal (those terrible All Bran sticks) entered my life at that point, together with all the insecurities of adolescence. They tasted like cardboard, and splashing them with skimmed UHT milk didn’t help their cause. However, in my mind they were the best option I could get to keep me full and “healthy” (read “thin”) at the same time. I know, sad. I still had a long way to go. We’ve all been there.
In all those years, there was a big gap that now seems inconceivable: I wasn’t drinking any coffee. I started to drink coffee when I was 21 or something, deep into University life. Before then, I was drinking juice, or just plain water or milk. Coffee consumption started as a necessity to stay awake during those long nights studying for exams, and never stopped since, becoming a fundamental part of my breakfast ritual on the way. One could say I became mature in my food habits only at the threshold of mature age. I am not proud to say that the amount of coffee I drink has increased exponentially, especially in the morning, but it is still something I am not ready to stop, prevent, or give up. The bubbling moka pot (serving 9, according to Mr Bialetti, but actually making the two of us barely satisfied) is a pleasure nurturing my body and soul.
When did I stop eating bread, ricotta and honey, like I was at college, and start eating muesli and oatmeal? Probably during the graduate year in Bra. The international atmosphere and the moltitude of food habits made me crave for divertity, for foreign flavors, for novelty. I began with muesli and yogurt, being perhaps the easiest step; then, I embraced the warming creaminess of oatmeal during those cold snowy days in Vermont, encouraged by J’s presence. What I found was a revelation about myself, too: those two breakfasts were the ones I felt most mine, the ones which suited me the best –they nourished me, satisfied my slight sweet tooth and my cravings for health and balance.
Realising and accepting that my ideal breakfast will never be “Italian” meant becoming aware that origin doesn’t necessarely describe tastes or inclinations. That I was allowed to prefer something else; that liking oatmeal more than cornetto was completely fine and acceptable; that there are no set rules, but only preferences, moods and exceptions. Like these buns, for example. They are an evidence of these exceptions.
Raisin buns are part of the frame in any memory of any bakery window I can recall from childhood. Little ones, almost bite-size, or large spongy ones, or even long, aubergine-shaped ones, I loved them all equally. Mum would buy one ore two from time to time at the local bakery, together with the rest of the bread shopping, and I was alowed to have one for breakfast the morning after, slathered with strawberry jam. Grandma was also used to get a large pagnottellacon l’uva every Wednesday, the kind that had polenta in it, soft and doughy as a pillow, and she would save half for me every time. I liked raisin buns more than any packaged cake. It was my special breakfast treat, alongside a sporadic slice of leftover crostata my mum would bake twice a year. They were nothing fancy, these little buns: simple, slightly buttery and not too sweet white bread dough, enriched with raisins and glazed with some egg wash. But they were exactly what I liked –sweet but not sugary, soft but not cake-y.
Throughout the years, raisin buns have always been the ones which got my attention when in the mood for something different and a bit special –now, together with pancakes. They are another small link to my roots and memories, which I like reviving from time to time in my kitchen, wherever I am.
Makes about 6 small buns
- 1 3/4 cup stone ground bread flour
- 8 gr active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp granulated raw cane sugar (or caster sugar)
- 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 40 gr unsalted butter, softened
- 40 ml warm milk
- 40 ml warm water
- 1 egg, whisked, for washing the buns
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add soft butter, water and milk and stir energetically using a wooden spoon until all the ingredients come together into a dough.
Dust a surface with some flour and knead the dough for a couple of minutes, until it becomes smooth and you can shape it into a ball. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Punch down the dough and knead again for a few minutes, until the dough gets stretchy and smooth again. Let rest for 30 minutes with the same damp towel on top.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. Grab the dough and cut it into 6 pieces using a sharp knife. Shape each piece into a ball and place it on the lined baking sheet. Allow some space between each bun. Cover again and let rise for a final 1 hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Brush the top of each bun with the egg wash. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until buns puffy and deep golden. Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
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