My hometown Perugia is well protected from evil. We have 3 patron Saints to look out for us: San Lorenzo, Sant’Ercolano and San Costanzo.
Nationwide, San Lorenzo is the most popular. One of the Seven Deacons of Rome, and therefore among the first to have been subjected to martyrdom, he is the patron of over 200 towns and villages in Italy. The legend says that the Prefect of Rome condemned him to a slow, cruel death, tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire in the night of the falling stars, August 10.
Sant Ercolano and San Costanzo, who were bishops of Perugia in the early centuries of Christianity, both suffered a more standard martyrdom, decapitation. One must reflect – once again – that being of the wrong religion has never been an advantage in human history. The Saints must be sad to be up there and see that after thousand of years they lost their heads for nothing.
But I digress, so let’s go back to the nice side of the cult. Of the three Saints, San Costanzo – who is celebrated on January 29 – has the most cheerful tradition.
His image is believed to predict marriages <3
If an engaged couple visits the Church of San Costanzo on the day of his feast and the Saint winks at the young woman (and only she can see the wink), the couple will be married within the year.
If not, the young man is expected to gift her fiance of a ring-shaped leavened cake filled with nuts and dried fruit and flavored with aniseed. Il torcolo di San Costanzo, a true symbol of Perugian cuisine, is a wonderful symbol of sustenance and well-being.
During the celebrations, which include a night procession and a fair, thousand of torcolo cakes are baked in Perugia. There are cakes piled high in almost every shop and the medieval streets smell beautifully of sugar and spices.
My recipe is slightly different from the official one (see video below). I like to use artisan flour slowly leavened with a minimal amount of yeast. Also, I prefer organic brown sugar and my home-made candied orange peel. The irresistible aroma and melt in the mouth softness is the same, but more intense and less refined than the modern version. It’s rustic and exotic at the same time, just like I imagine a medieval cake should be.
- 200 g ( 1 and 1/3) strong/bread flour
- 150 g (1 cup) Italian 0 flour, all-purpose, or white stone ground flour
- 200 ml (3/4 cup) water
- 3 g yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
- 3 g /1/2 teaspoon) salt
- 80 g (6 tablespoon) organic brown sugar
- 40 g ( 3 tablespoon) butter
- 50 g (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 70 g (1/3 to 1/2 cup)raisin
- 60 g (1/3 to 1/2 cup) candied citron, diced
- 60 g (1/3 to 1/2 cup) candied orange peel, diced
- 70 g (1/3 to 1/2 cup) chopped almonds or pine nuts
- 2 tablespoon aniseed
- 1 egg for glazing
Combine the flours and yeast in the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer. Stir in the water a little at the time until the dough forms into a firm ball. The quantity of water depends on the strength of the flours. Stronger flours will need more water to form the ball. Alternatively mix ingredients by hand in a large bowl, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Transfer in an oiled bowl, cover and keep in a warm area of the kitchen until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If the the weather is cold and humid prepare the dough one day earlier and let it rise overnight.
Dessolve the brown sugar and salt in a small amount of water. Bring the butter at room temperature. Dice the citron, orange peel and nuts and mix with the aniseed and one or two tablespoon of water or limoncello or brandy.
Transfer the raised dough into the mixer and add the olive oil and butter, mix until well incorporated. Add the aniseed-fruit mixture and stir. Alternatively proceed by hand like in the video.You will notice that at this stage the dough is a lot softer because of the oil and butter. Transfer back into an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise again 3-4 hours.
Roll the dough into a log, twist it then pinch it gently into a ring.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the bread on the paper. Let the dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes. Whisk the egg and use it to brush the bread.
Preheat oven to 180° C (375°F). Bake the bread until the top is golden, about 45 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Serves 8-10.