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spongata di natale

Mon, 9 November, 2020

⯆ JUMP TO RECIPE

Spoiler alert: ‘spongata di natale’ means Christmas sponge. I suppose we would still love it even if it were called ‘Christmas onion’.

spongata di natale cuisinefiend.com

What does ‘spongata’ mean?

I’m always intrigues by names of foods in languages I have limited knowledge of. Plus you can rely on Italians to give their dishes imaginative names with a flourish. Please note: I’ve made the cake, researched the recipe, written up mine but as I write this, I don’t have a clue what ‘spongata’ might mean. Surely it can’t be to do with ‘sponge’? The pastry is nothing even remotely like sponge cakes. Let us see now!

*googles*

Good heavens.

It is to do with ‘sponge’ after all. How awfully boring. The name is derived from the little holes that are pierced in the pastry to let out steam, and from the uneven appearance of the cake when it’s out of the oven and before being iced.

italian christmas cake cuisinefiend.com

Well then, dear friends, I give you – Christmas sponge.

Whatever the name and whether I like it or not, it’s a splendid Christmas creation. It’s like a giant Italian mince pie, inverted and with more nuts than fruit.

spongata, italian christmas bake from Emilia Romagna cuisinefiend.com

Where does spongata come from?

Spongata is a traditional Christmas cake from Italian regions of Emilia and Tuscany. It’s an old tradition of baking those oversized mince pies; originally gifted to Duke of Milan by Jewish merchants in 14th century according to some sources; based on an ancient Roman recipe according to others.

It is truly a pie: rich fruited and nutted filling wrapped in a thin layer of shortcrust pastry. It is served cut into tiny wedges which shows us up, us who gobble whole mince pies in one bite. It is a nice gift, wrapped in parchment, tied with a ribbon, because it lasts exceedingly well. Another one of those confections that the Italians start baking in the middle of November.

spongata di natale, italian christmas cake cuisinefiend.com

How to make spongata pastry

Very easily. It is a simple pasta frolla, short crust, made with flour, butter and sugar but the binding liquid isn’t egg or water – it’s white wine. Some recipes instruct to boil it with sugar into a syrup and then knead into flour but it’s unnecessary faff. Rubbing the butter into flour and sugar, adding wine to bind and hey! presto – sponge pastry.

If you use a mixer to stir the butter into flour and start adding the wine, it will look for a good while like it’s never going to come together – but it will, with the last drop of wine, so don’t be tempted to add more (just drink it instead).

The pastry does not need to rest or chill but can be used straight away, once you have the filling ready.

spongata, italian oversized mince pie cuisinefiend.com

How to make spongata filling

It is not dissimilar from English mincemeat, a combination of dried fruit (except soaked in wine), nuts (and pine nuts, unusual in mincemeat), spices and honey. All that is bound together with breadcrumbs which is an ingenious trick.

The filling, once made, is supposed to mature for three days to let the flavours amalgamate but it’s plenty flavoursome anyway without the wait. Some Tuscan master bakers shape the filling into balls and wrap thinly rolled pastry all around it, so there is no top or bottom pastry, or an unsightly seam.

I am not one of the Tuscan master bakers, so my recipe says: roll out base and lid, spoon filling and cover.

When it comes out of the oven, spongata is not very impressive, like a very flat pie with bumpy top. But, as I always say, icing sugar covers a multitude of faults and once dusted, the Christmas sponges look pretty. And taste fantastic.

Recipe comes from Great Italian Chefs.


spongata di natale

Servings: makes 3 cakesTime: 2 hours

INGREDIENTS

  • For the filling:
  • 40g (1/3 cup) raisins
  • dry white wine, enough to cover the raisins
  • 4 white bread slices
  • 200g (1½ cups) mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios)
  • 30g (1 tbsp.) pine nuts
  • 20g (1 tbsp.) candied citron
  • 200g (2/3 cup) acacia honey
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • For the pastry:
  • 200g (1½ cups) Italian 00 flour
  • 80g (1/3 cup) sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 80g (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 40ml (2½ tbsp.) dry white wine
  • Plus:
  • icing sugar, for dusting


METHOD

1. Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour the wine over them. Leave them to soak, do that as early in advance as you can, even the night before.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

3. Cut the crust off the bread and crumble it into pieces onto a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 20 minutes, until dry and golden. Transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool.

breadcrumbs for spongata filling cuisinefiend.com

4. Chop the nuts and pine nuts roughly, place on the baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Add to the bowl with breadcrumbs.

toasted nuts cuisinefiend.com

5. Finely chop the citron.

6. When the nuts and breadcrumbs are cool, mix them together with your hands, grinding the bread with your fingers. Add the citron, drained and squeezed out raisins and mix again with your hands.

7. Add in the acacia honey, if it’s set, warm it slightly to liquidise. Sprinkle the spices and salt and mix everything together very well, this time using a spoon as it will be very sticky, thick and crumbly.

spongata filling cuisinefiend.com

8. To make the dough, place the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer or food processor. Add the butter and blitz or rub it in with your fingers until it disappears. Keep mixing until the flour starts clumping. Pour in the wine, little by little, still mixing and eventually it will start coming together. Give it a knead, shape into a ball and keep covered with foil so it doesn’t dry. It doesn’t need to rest.

spongata pastry cuisinefiend.com

9. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 6 equal portions (about 65g each). Roll them out very thinly, 1-2mm. If the dough tears, just patch it up. Trim each piece with a pastry cutter to a 20-22cm circle, using a plate or a pan lid as a template. Place them on parchment sheets.

10. If you switched the oven off, turn it back on and preheat to 200C/400F/gas 6.

11. Depending how much space you have, work with 2 or all 3 spongata at a time. Place 3 dough circles on a sheet of parchment. Divide the filling between the dough bases and spread it in an even thin layer leaving a 1cm strip around the edges.

how to fill spongata di natale cuisinefiend.com

12. Place the remaining 3 discs on the filling to cover it. Press the dough or lightly roll it over the filling. Seal the top and bottom and either trim excess pastry with a pastry cutter or roll up neatly to form and edge. Pierce the top dough several times with a skewer to release steam when baking.

how to make italian spongata cuisinefiend.com

13. Transfer the spongata on the parchment onto a baking sheet or bake them in batches. Bake for 15-18 minutes until barely coloured.

sponge-like pastry in spongata di natale cuisinefiend.com

14. Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. To serve, cut into small wedges with a serrated knife.

15. Spongata keeps well at room temperature, wrapped in parchment or cloth, up to a month.

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