Sometimes I wonder if I'm sane, at least when it comes to cooking and baking. How many would start a 6-7 hours baking project at 7 PM after a long day at work and a dentist visit? Or maybe I just don't know the right people... apart maybe a few of you fellow food bloggers. Why did I take up this project anyway? Well, since we were celebrating a little Christmas party at work I decided to bake something. I had seen the recipe for gubana, an Easter bread from Friuli (NE Italy), on Carol Field's The Italian Baker. OK it ain't a Christmas cake but I like it much better than the more famous panettone, pandoro or pandolce (from Genova). I fell in love with this twice rolled up cake and its nutty, alcoholic filling the first time I tasted so once I had the recipe I HAD to try it.
I didn't really need to bake anything for the party to be honest. I mean, everyone else was just bringing Pfefferkuchen and similar stuff bought at Christmas markets, wine (for mulled wine) and so on. But I had to show them.... I'm bake and I'm proud... no sorry I meant, I bake and I'm proud. After all I take a slight snobbish pleasure from showing my "do you have to let bread rise?" colleagues (only some of my co-workers are like that, to be fair) what I can come up with... after all, be honest, don't you too?
Before starting I checked a few other gubana recipes on the net and on one of my Italian baking books. The dough is always quite similar, the stuffing, as I'll discuss below has some constant points but can be played around a bit to fit your tastes. I took Carol Field's recipe, for 2 gubanas, as a guide and slightly modified it. So to start, for the dough I proceeded as follows:
I took 1 Tbs active dried yeast (half or even less than what indicated by other recipes), and dissolved it in 3/4 cups of milk and 150 grams (ca. 1 cup) flour mixed together. I waited till the first bubbles appeared (10 minutes) and added the remaining ingredients: 2 eggs and 2 yolks, 150 grams sugar (1/2 cup plus ca. 3 Tbs), 500 grams all-purpose flour (slightly more than 1 lb.), one heaped tsp salt, the zest of two lemons, the flesh of one vanilla pod and enough milk to make a soft dough (about 3 Tbs). In the dough also went 110 grams unsalted butter (about a stick): one could add then straight away but this would slow the rise of the dough so many advise to add it at the end of the first rise. The dough rested and rose for the next 2 hours. Now, I either have a super active yeast or most recipes in baking books simply exaggerate how much yeast one needs. I expected my dough to need more than 2 hours, since I halved the yeast and since my kitchen was quite cool, but no, after the given 2 hours the dough had doubled nicely.
While I waited I prepared the stuffing. Now, this stuff smelled so nice I was actually tempted to eat it on it's own. The stuffing consist of many ingredients falling into five categories: dried fruits, nuts, alcohol, "binding agents" and spices. Every recipe I found had variations in the stuffing so I'm writing what I used, possible additions/variations and what I would have used if I had had all ingredients at hand.
Nuts: I used 200 grams (7 oz) hazelnuts (tasted, skinned and chopped), 150 grams (5.3 oz) walnuts (toasted and chopped), 40 grams (1.4 oz) pinoli and 30 grams (1 oz) almonds (blanched, skinned and chopped). While a bit of almonds and pinoli pop up in every recipe hazelnuts and walnuts vary much in proportion: some recipes use one or the other, some a 8:1 ratio of hazelnuts:walnuts. I was quite happy with my choice.
Dried fruit: 180 grams raisins (1 cup) which I let stand in the alcohol mix (see below), 70 grams (1/2 cup) candied orange peel and the zest of a lemon. While raisins and orange peel are always present in al recipes their quantities can be slightly reduced to include some dried figs or/and dried plums, both shredded. I would have added some figs, reduced the candied peel and maybe added the zest of an orange, but I had no figs.
Spices: I followed Carol field and added 1 Tbs cinnamon. This is often left out in other recipes with one exception where I also found 1 tsp of nutmeg and cloves each in the mixture.
Binding agents: in this case I was also quite conservative and used the book's recipe. I added 4 Tbs apricot jam, 2 Tbs cocoa powder and 160 grams (1 1/2 cups) crumbs which I had obtained from stale brioche bread. The crumbs can be made from plain biscuits, home-made bread or, in the worst scenario, plain commercial bread crumbs. The cacao can be substituted with shaved chocolate (I would have, but no chocolate). The jam appears seldom and is in a few cases substituted by honey, but I love apricot jam so in it went.
Alcohol: now here comes the fun :-)). I was intrigued by Field's mix so I used it almost as is. Here it is: 3 Tbs Malaga (or Marsala, sweet Sherry), 2 Tbs grappa (or aquavit, schnaps, etc), 2 Tbs rum, 1 Tbs amaretto liqueur and 1 Tbs kirsch (or better maraschino). Most Italian recipes use only 2 or 3 alcoholic ingredients, usually grappa, marsala and verduzzo, a sweet wine from Friuli. The mix IMO gave a great aroma to the stuffing.
So, stuffing ready and dough risen I first of all mixed the butter in the dough (those 110 grams I mentioned before). Once the dough was smooth again I divided it into two parts, each for one gubana. To roll the gubana I first rolled the dough into a 50x30 cm (20x12 inches) rectangle. From my experience I learned that the dough should be thin but not too thin, otherwise it will tear while rolling (you'll still be able to patch any tears with the dough from the ends). I spread half the stuffing on the dough leaving about 2 cm free round it, which I brushed with warm water, and rolled the dough like a jelly roll, ending with a long "cigar". I then rolled this around itself into a spiral to resemble a snail. I covered the gubanas and let them rise 2 hours (they should not double). Now if you have a small cake or charlotte mould you might be able to let the gubana rise so that it keeps a more "vertical" shape. I don't so mine spread and got wider more than tall.
After the two hours I brushed them with egg white and poked some holes with a skewer at regular intervals to let steam/alcohol escape. I baked them in a preheated oven, first 20 minutes at 190C/375F and then 25 minutes at 160C/325F. They rested another 5 minutes in the hot oven and then went onto cooling racks. At the end it was 2 AM so I decided to go to bed and taste the cooled cake in the morning, but not before Saami woke up for some mid-night milk. At breakfast I cut into the cake revealing the nice (and delicious) swirl pattern. At work gubana no.2 got a very warm welcome. I was happy if maybe sleepy :-).