16 August 2015, Palermo
The first thing you forget about a person is their voice, the sound that you heard, or so I have heard. I told myself that I would be alright as long as I could remember yours. I know I left without giving many explanations, but the longer my journey becomes, the more I know that you are the only person to whom I want to recount every detail of my trip. In fact, I have already started to do just that.
I reached Sicily by boat, full of the spirit needed to gather in the history and the solitude that I thought I would find here, like in every other island. But Sicily is not just any island, it is the birthplace of a history that embraces all other histories, and maybe for this reason, you cannot feel alone here.
The first things I saw in this splendid and independent land were the sea and the flag, on which I saw a surprisingly familiar symbol: the three-legged spiral that some say contains all the energy and life of the earth.
As soon as I got off the ferry, I knew that I would have to walk a great deal, if I wanted to see everything, since everything does need to be seen: the cathedrals, the roofless deconsecrated churches that have trees growing in the middle, the markets. Like a volcano that you look at like an unpredictable friend who reminds you of all the things that are out of our control, and yet also teaches you not to be afraid. The marks left by the passage of peoples through the centuries, which only here has formed something that is neither pure Greek nor pure Arab, nor pure anything else in nature. It is something new, and it has a new name. A new, rich identity.
What I had not understood when I got off the ferry is that walking too far under a sun to which I was not yet used can lead to total exhaustion in double quick time. A woman in her seventies arrived to help me, with an almond granita. Her husband, appealing to Sicilian tradition, convinced me to add a brioche to it. And I start to laugh, thinking of that evening, who knows if you even remember it, the first time that you invited me to your house. You had said that you would cook, but the power had been out in your street for a few hours, so you forced me to eat bread with a tub of ice cream for dinner, to avoid it melting in the freezer: the bread was essential to “make it a proper dinner”. I did not yet know what my career might be, and I burst out laughing thinking what you would have said if you had found out, And without knowing why, you burst out laughing too.
And so, while I was eating my brioche with granita, in a beautiful sun-drenched square in Sicily, under the concerned eye of my adoptive “parents”, I became aware that I still remembered the sound of your laugh perfectly, and so once again, I knew that I was alright.
Always (and wherever) yours
Journeys into flour 8 - Sicilia
Sicilian brioches with almond slushee
First, melt the yeast in tepid water, and add the sugar and the honey, mixing it all together well. Allow the butter to soften. Place the sifted flour in a deep pot, along with the yeast with milk and sugar, the seeds of the vanilla (extracted from the stick with the point of a knife) and the grated lemon rind: mix it all together energetically. Add the softened butter, and the whole eggs and the one yolk, one at a time such that the paste can absorb them completely. Once it becomes smooth and homogenous, add the salt: work the paste for a few more minutes, until it becomes elastic and bright. It will now detach easily from the sides of the pot: form a ball of the paste with your fingers, cover with a bit of flour and leave it to rise covered with a cloth or clingfilm, for around an hour.
Then work the paste again, folding it over on itself more than once, from the outside to the inside. Leave it to rest in the fridge for another 30 minutes. Now you can start to create pieces: using your floured fingers, remove pieces from the ball of dough, and form them into little balls of around 60grams each, plus other small balls (which will be needed for the “tuppo”) of around 2cm diameter. Place the large balls on a plate lined with baking paper: press your index finger gently onto the middle of each brioche, and then gently place one of the smaller balls into the indentation. Re-cover the plate with transparent film, and leave the brioches to rise for an hour and half in a cool place, or a cold oven. Mix the remaining egg yolk with a little milk, and brush the mixture onto the surface of each brioche. Cook at 200°C for 20 minutes. Once the brioches start to colour, turn the oven off and leave the brioches to finish cooking in the oven.
Now we can prepare the slushee that they will be served with. Break the almond paste into the lightly tepid mineral water, and mix until it has completely melted. Now add the sugar, and continue to work it until it becomes nice and creamy. If you have an ice-cream maker, you can prepare the slushee immediately. Otherwise, the process will take a little longer: place the mixture in a steel container in the freezer for 40 minutes. Now you can use a whisk to break the ice crystals, working from the top to the bottom. Once done, place the contained back in the freezer. Repeat the operation every 30 minutes for 4 hours.
Cut the brioches in half, fill each up with the almond paste, and enjoy a traditional Sicilian breakfast or snack!