Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dolci di Pasqua

In Italy, the Christian holy day of Easter (Pasqua) is the source of many traditions both religious and cultural.  And when I say cultural, I mean food.  And when I say food, I really mean sweets, dolci.  Oh yes, there are the customary fish during Lent and lamb for Easter dinner and even the savory cheese-flavored bread known as pizza pasquale.  But for weeks leading up to Easter the two vital food items in bakeries, pastry shops and grocery stores are chocolate eggs and the sweet and eggy yeast bread called colomba.

The Trastevere shop Innocenzi has window after window
of commercial chocolate and other candy for the season.

Commercial confection companies have saturated the western world with chocolate eggs (and bunnies and chickens), but in Italy there is an older tradition of handmade (fatto a mano) dark chocolate eggs, often with a prize inside (con una sorpresa!).  They are to be found in pastry shops (pasticcerie) all over the country this time of year and range from simple eggs that will fit in a hand to enormous creations a meter high (over 3 feet) with elaborate decorations in piped-on icing or chocolate.   Many include salutations such as Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter) or Auguri (Best Wishes, appropriate even for pagans celebrating primavera–Spring).

These eggs were for sale in the BIO market,
made with organically-grown and fair-trade materials.

The upscale pasticceria Dagnino near Piazza Repubblica
has tempting uova in many styles.

More Easter offerings from Dagnino, including lambs made of marzipan.

Eggs fatto a casa (made in house) at Barberini.

The Trastevere pasticceria Valzani displays un'abbondanza di cioccolato.
The egg below is almost a meter tall and includes a painting of Roman ruins by the sea.

Colomba is the Italian word for dove, the bird associated with carrying an olive branch of peace and adopted as a symbol for the holy spirit by the Church.  The colomba bread now ubiquitous in shops in Italy is similar to Christmas panettone but is shaped from five lobes of dough to resemble a dove.  It often has a very thin, meringue-like top crust sprinkled with crunchy sugar nuggets and sliced almonds (mandorle).  The interior can be plain or studded with chunks of candied fruit, or these days even have chocolate chips.

The somewhat dove-shaped colomba, outside and in.  This one was from Pasticceria Barberini.

Beautifully wrapped Colombe tempt passersby

Colomba in various sizes at Pasticceria Barberini.
Below, our choice.

In the interests of research we have sampled  colomba, pizza pasquale (both savory and sweet), and various forms of chocolate eggs.  The colomba was delicious, and the Lindt foil-wrapped eggs, too.  We’re eagerly awaiting Sunday so we can find out what sorpresa is hiding in our big chocolate egg.

Uovo di cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate egg)
from Pasticceria Barberini in Testaccio.

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