romesick (adj.) - to feel nostalgia for the Eternal City.
Every so often a strong feeling of longing for Rome comes over me. I miss all of its chaos, history and beauty. I miss that intoxicating smell of fresh baked goods, car exhaust and espresso. I miss the blue sky that has no equal anywhere else in the world. And of course, I miss the food. Oh how I long for my local bar in Rome. Every morning I would trot down the stairs of my apartment building, take a left, another immediate left and make my way up to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The cafe that occupied the corner was my destination. The barman would see me coming up the street and would start the makings of a cappuccino, then would reach into the pastry case and grab a maritozzo, handing it to me at the exact moment that I sidled up to the bar. The rhythm of life. Tradition. Habit. I loved it. A maritozzo is a delicious, yeasty roll. Airy and not too sweet, it goes perfectly with a cappuccino. I am a purist so I take my maritozzo plain, but the more traditional way to eat it is stuffed with whipped cream. Restraint really does get thrown to the wind when it comes to dining in Rome. Of course you can get a yogurt with fruit for breakfast, but why would you when you can have a sweet bun stuffed with whipped cream?
I was thrilled to see that Katie Parla included a recipe for maritozzi in her book Tasting Rome. My first attempt was not the best. I think the milk was too warm when I added the yeast to it and the buns never rose as much as I would have liked. The second attempt was better but somehow, here in the States, a bun overflowing with whipped cream seems inappropriate for breakfast (damn Puritans). So I improvised and combined a Roman tradition with one of the most quintessential American desserts (after the apple pie). And thus was born the Strawberry Shortcake, Italian Style. I used the maritozzi in place of the shortcake and went for a very lightly sweetened whipped cream (1 T of powdered sugar for 2 cups of whipping cream). Despite the fact that the size of the maritozzi made for an enormous serving size, the plates all came back to the kitchen empty. The kids actually ate theirs like a panino. It wasn’t pretty but the consensus was that it was delicious.
Many recipes for these sweet rolls include raisins and candied fruit, but I think the plain ones are the best and the ones you most often find in cafes in Rome. The maritozzi will inarguably take longer to make than your traditional shortcake (there is 2 hours of rising time involved), but I dare say, the commitment is worth it. I encourage you to try baking them - the process is therapeutic and the results are so satisfying.
Maritozzi - from Katie Parla’s Tasting Rome
For the Sponge
1/2 cup warm milk (105ºF and 115ºF)
1 1/4 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon sugar
For the Dough
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
For the Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk
Make the Sponge: In a medium bowl, whisk the yeast into the milk, then add the flour and sugar and stir to combine. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and set aside until puffy, about 20 minutes.
Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, salt and eggs on low speed.
Switch to the dough hook. Add the sponge, mix for a few turns, then add half of the flour. Mix on low until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining flour and mix again on low until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 10 minutes, then run the mixer on low for 10 minutes to stretch the gluten. Meanwhile, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into twelve equal-sized pieces (each about 2 1/2 ounces) Using one hand, roll each piece into a tight ball, pressing it against the counter to ensure a smooth, tight, surface. Next, using both hands, roll each ball into an elongated loaf shape, fatter in the middle and tapered on the ends, about 4 inches long, similar to a small football.
Place each maritozzi on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 1/2 inches apart. Cover with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Make the egg wash: Whisk the egg with the milk in a small bowl. Immediately before baking, brush the tops of the maritozzi with the egg wash.
Bake until deep brown, 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.