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Baptism Cakes

by Maria Linardi last modified 2008-06-20 15:12

Let's celebrate ItaliaPlease's arrival into the world with a traditional Italian baptism feast.

Baptism Traditions

All over Italy the baptism of a child is the excuse for festivities. After the ceremony the proud parents open the doors of their house to family and friends where they all tuck in to a delicious spread of cakes and pastries. While wedding, communion and confirmation parties usually take place in restaurants, baptisms tend to be celebrated in the safety of the family home thereby protecting the new-born child from the outside world and placing him or her at the centre of attention. Indeed where better than the home environment to officially introduce the child's godparents to the assembled company?

Not forgetting that in the past many people couldn't afford to splash out on another big meal so soon after the wedding. (This was especially true in the case of a girl.) Therefore the house was cleaned, the best linen brought out and the table laid with cakes, cookies and confetti, the sugar-coated almonds that Italians use to mark all their major celebrations. All washed down, of course, with the finest desert wines.

A Baptism Menu
The first thing you notice about baptism feasts is that everything tends to be home-made. Indeed in many parts of Southern Italy it's considered bad luck to buy a baptism cake.
Here are some of the mouth-watering pastries and cakes on offer: canestrelli - wafer-thin waffles; pane degli angeli - an extremely light sponge; ladyfingers served with confectioner's cream and glazed almonds or dipped in chocolate and flavoured with rum. Here are the basic recipes for two of these specialities. Each region and pastry cook has its/his own version and take on them.

Buon appetito!  

Pane degli angeli

Standing high on its plate the 'angel cake' is the centre-piece of the baptism feast. Each guest is given a piece in honour of the newly arrived angel in the house. For best results use a high-sided copper cake tin.  

150 g of flour
150 g of icing sugar
10 egg whites
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of vanilla essence
½ teaspoon of almond essence
175 g of caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190° C. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl. Put the egg whites in a copper bowl and add the vanilla and almond essence. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then gradually whisk in the icing sugar. Now carefully fold in the flour and sugar. Spoon the mixture into a high-sided copper cake tin. Take any air out by cutting through the mix with a knife. Bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is spongy to touch and has risen well. Let cool for 30 minutes before removing from the tin. Sprinkle icing sugar on top and serve with an aniseed liqueur.

Canestrelli are waffle-like biscuits and date back to the 1800s when they were served with coffee. Pellegrino Artusi speaks highly of them ("Pellegrino Artusi was born in Forlimpopoli on 4 August 1820, the son of a well-to-do grocer with revolutionary and patriotic leanings. After university he founded a bank in Florence and, having considerable earnings, was able to dedicate himself to his hobbies and passions, of which cookery and food writing held a foremost part. He is best remembered for his work La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well) which was published in 1891).
The recipe we bring you comes courtesy of a certain Maestro Angeliero, a "purveyor of royal comforts" from Liguria.

200 g of flour
100 g of butter
100 g of sugar
1 egg
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt
10 g of dark chocolate

Sift the flour and sugar together and add the cinnamon, salt and beaten egg. At this stage Mastro Angeliero suggests splitting the dough in two parts and then adding the chocolate to one of the parts. Make small rounds with the dough.
Authentic canestrelli are made using waffle-irons which are heated and then greased with butter. Place the rounds, one at a time, between the irons and press. Put the iron over a hot flame and turn until the biscuits are golden brown. Remove the biscuits, using a knife if necessary. Serve with a Muscat such as Moscato d’Asti [ita]

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