Looking at my food habits, breakfast is the meal that can best describe my path, my growth, my life from childhood to adulthood. It is the only meal that remained stable and consistent for a given period of time that corresponded somehow to a phase in my life, and that adapted to my changes and evolution as a person through adolescence and maturity.
I never skipped breakfast. Ever. Even when ill, I would be more inclined to have a small breakfast and nothing else for the rest of the day rather than chicken soup. The reason is, I tend to wake up in the morning extremely hungry –rather, I usually wake up because of hunger. Few things make me suffer as much as going to get a blood test on an empty stomach in a crowded hospital. I haven’t had my blood checked in years, I just can’t stand the torture.
Many consequences derive from this state of things. First, I have never been a huge fan of the oh-so-Italian ritual of the bar breakfast with cornetto and cappuccino. Second, that I have never been very inclined to eat a classic Italian home-breakfast made of caffelatte and cookies. No, my breakfast has always needed time and quantity. Time as not necessarily time to make it, but definitely time to eat it.
Growing up in the nineties, I started with cereal since when I was a little girl. Kellog’s had just begun to enter the Italian households and kids were going crazy for Choco Pops and Frosties, including me. What I immediately noticed, though, was that my hunger never allowed me to follow serving suggestions: I always needed a top up. When mum noticed that the boxes were finishing only halfway through the week, she thought to set some rules on cereal consumption. She started to buy those with less sugar, which I hated, to alternate the sugary, chocolaty ones.
Then something happened. I just can’t recall the exact moment, but I started to go to ballet and count calories. I knew exactly the nutrition of all the packaged little breakfast cakes and cookies we had in the house, a breakfast staple for the rest of my family as for many families in the country, but not for me. Cereal boxes were banned from my table. I started to eat dry toast (fette biscottate, yet another big classic) and fruit yogurt, and I kept having these same things for years until I got so tired of it I would had rather eaten shredded paper.
Bran cereal (those terrible All Bran sticks) entered my life at that point, together with all the insecurities of adolescence. They tasted like cardboard, and splashing them with skimmed UHT milk didn’t help their cause. However, in my mind, they were the best option I could get to keep me full and “healthy” (read “thin”) at the same time. I know, sad. I still had a long way to go. We’ve all been there.
In all those years, there was a big gap that now seems inconceivable: I wasn’t drinking any coffee. I started to drink coffee when I was 21 or something, deep into University life. Before then, I was drinking juice, or just plain water or milk. Coffee consumption started as a necessity to stay awake during those long nights studying for exams, and never stopped since, becoming a fundamental part of my breakfast ritual on the way. One could say I became mature in my food habits only at the threshold of mature age. I am not proud to say that the amount of coffee I drink has increased exponentially, especially in the morning, but it is still something I am not ready to stop, prevent, or give up. The bubbling moka pot (serving 9, according to Mr. Bialetti, but actually making the two of us barely satisfied) is a pleasure nurturing my body and soul.
When did I stop eating bread, ricotta and honey, like I was at college, and start eating muesli and oatmeal? Probably during the graduate year in Bra. The international atmosphere and the multitude of food habits made me crave for diversity, for foreign flavors, for novelty. I began with muesli and yogurt, being perhaps the easiest step; then, I embraced the warming creaminess of oatmeal during those cold snowy days in Vermont, encouraged by J’s presence. What I found was a revelation about myself, too: those two breakfasts were the ones I felt most mine, the ones which suited me the best –they nourished me, satisfied my slight sweet tooth and my cravings for health and balance.
Realising and accepting that my ideal breakfast will never be “Italian” meant becoming aware that origin doesn’t necessarily describe tastes or inclinations. That I was allowed to prefer something else; that liking oatmeal more than cornetto was completely fine and acceptable; that there are no set rules, but only preferences, moods, and exceptions. Like these buns, for example. They are an evidence of these exceptions.
Raisin buns are part of the frame in any memory of any bakery window I can recall from childhood. Little ones, almost bite-size, or large spongy ones, or even long, aubergine-shaped ones, I loved them all equally. Mum would buy one ore two from time to time at the local bakery, together with the rest of the bread shopping, and I was alowed to have one for breakfast the morning after, slathered with strawberry jam. Grandma was also used to get a large pagnottella con l’uva every Wednesday, the kind that had polenta in it, soft and doughy as a pillow, and she would save half for me every time. I liked raisin buns more than any packaged cake. It was my special breakfast treat, alongside a sporadic slice of leftover crostata my mum would bake twice a year. They were nothing fancy, these little buns: simple, slightly buttery and not too sweet white bread dough, enriched with raisins and glazed with some egg wash. But they were exactly what I liked –sweet but not sugary, soft but not cake-y.
Throughout the years, raisin buns have always been the ones which got my attention when in the mood for something different and a bit special –now, together with pancakes. They are another small link to my roots and memories, which I like reviving from time to time in my kitchen, wherever I am.
So here are a recipe and some thoughts I wanted to share for this month’s Italian Table Talk, dedicated to the rituals of breakfast, where together with these buns you’ll find Emiko‘s delightful cherry crostatine (and some tips on the perfect breakfast in Florence), Jasmine‘s home-y and comforting torta margherita, and Giulia‘s classic Italian cornetti.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Brush the top of each bun with the egg wash. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until buns puffy and deep golden. Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.