Come autumn and the cakes get nice and hearty! Here's la pinza in Veneto and the recipe...
In Italy's north-east region of Veneto within the provinces close to Venice, La Pinza begins to make an appearance in bakeries and on kitchen tables. Even if this dense, Veneto cake incorporates autumnal ingredients, its 'Prime Time' is around Christmas, especially on the Epiphany in January when a bon fire is lit, an old hag (made of sticks!) is burned and we all look towards the smoke for a fruitful year ahead!
La Pinza is essentially a cake but Italy has a few regional variants including a pizza-style bread from Rome:
In Rome 'La Pinsa' resembles a flat, rectangular focaccia, forerunner to the pizza, and equally topped with tomato, cheese or local affettati or grilled vegetables. Derived from the Latin 'pinsere' - to elongate, the characteristic of this ancient, Roman bread is its proving time, anywhere from 24 to 150 hours! The trick is a minimal amount of yeast and strictly cold water, making up 75% of the dough, so that the proving times may be extended resulting in a 'highly digestible' bread. A mix of soy, rice and soft gran-tenero flours is used according to their ancient tradition.
In Bologna, la Pinza is a Christmas cake made with plum jam layered into shortcrust pastry, the same used in the crostata. The end result is a flattish, oval-shaped cake, looking a lot like strudel which the Bolognesi love for breakfast with a cappuccino or caffelatte.
In Trieste, la Pinza resembles a giant, crusty bread roll, but sweet. Traditionally eaten at breakfast on Easter Sunday, this is an easy recipe which doesn't require hours to make and strangely enough is enjoyed beside a gelatinous, homemade meat broth, known as gelatine di carne.
In Venice, La Pinza (or pinsa in dialect) is made from what you have in your kitchen cupboard. In a typical Veneta larder you'll find polenta flour, stale bread, raisins, figs, nuts and grappa. Add pine nuts and fennel seeds if you have them, but these are not essential, in fact none of it is! La Pinza in Veneto is a dense, rich cake sliced up and enjoyed with a glass of wine or mulled wine - vin brulè. The longer you leave the ingredients to 'soak' before baking, the denser the cake turns out but as you may already know, every family in every town has their own recipe, so all kinds of pinze versions are found in autumn and around Christmas.
From our blog post: Christmas in Italy
'Christmas ends on the 4th of January with the last celebration - the Epiphany.
'L'Epifania tutte le feste si porta via.' - The Epiphany takes away all festivities.
Throughout autumn and winter in Italy's northern provinces, wood cuttings and garden trimmings are saved to be piled into cleverly constructed bonfires for the eve of the Epiphany. 'Panevin' means 'bread and wine' in local dialect with 'la vecia' - the old lady who represents the old year who is placed on top of the bonfire to be burnt away for new beginnings full of hope. Village families gather around the fire with cups of mulled wine and simple foods like salami and bread. In the Veneto province, a traditional, dense Christmas cake is made every year from bread, raisins, pine nuts and dried figs, la pinza. It's a beautifully rural tradition where young and old gather together to cheer the lighting of the bonfire with a watchful eye on the direction of the billowing smoke. If it blows west we're in luck with a plentiful year ahead.'
La Pinza Veneta Recipe
If you'd like to have a go making Veneto's traditional pinza, here's the recipe I've translated from Venetian dialect according to Venice's official events page (it doesn't get more authentic than this!)
'Ricetta della tradission venessiana:
Impastare insieme mezzo Kg di farina gialla da polenta con 100gr di farina di frumento, 2 uova, 200gr di uvetta, 200gr di fichi secchi ridotti in pezzettini, una busta di lievito, una manciata di semi di finocchio, mezzo etto di strutto, un po’ di latte per bagnare la pasta (che dovrà risultare piuttosto tenera, dato che la farina gialla per cuocere ha bisogno di assorbire tanto liquido). Mettere il composto in una tortiera ben unta di burro e cuocere in forno a fuoco moderato. Far la prova de’l steccadente par controlar el punto de cotura; quando ch’el vignarà fora suto, vorà dir che la pinza la xe cota. Se la magna freda o tepida.'
- Traditional Venetian Recipe:
Knead together 500g of yellow polenta flour with 100g of wheat flour, 2 eggs, 200g raisins, 200g chopped dried figs, a sachet of quick yeast (7g), a handful of fennel seeds, 50g of lard and enough milk to moisten the dough (which should be quite soft as the polenta flour will absorb a lot of liquid).
Add the dough to a well-buttered cake tin and cook in the oven at a medium heat (170°). Do a toothpick test to check the stage of cooking; when it comes out dry, la pinza is cooked. You can eat it cold or warm.
To make the traditional stale-bread version, leave 600g of bread overnight to soak in 2 litres of milk. Add 500g of raisins, 500g of dried figs, 200g of sugar, a sprinkling of fennel seeds and boil in a saucepan on a low heat until the mixture becomes dense. Then, bake the cake in a square, buttered tin at 180° for an hour until a toothpick comes out clean. The cake remains very moist without any air bubbles.
As you can see, it's a wonderful way to use up your stale bread and if you do have a bottle of grappa in your cupboard, as all Veneto homes do, a glass added to the dough is welcome too!
Enjoy your pinza!