Saturday, February 26, 2011

Schiacciata a la Fiorentina (Mardi Grass Cake from Florence)

Schiacciata (“skya-CHA-ta“) means “squashed” and for Florentines it refers to a flatbread that is spread and cooked in a rectangular pan. It is what the rest of Italians call focaccia.  And like focaccia, there are several sweet and savory versions of schiacciata topped with herbs, onions, olives, hams, etc. But “Schiacciata alla Fiorentina” is a totally different specialty that has nothing to do with the focaccia you may know. Instead, it is fragrant and airy sweet yeasted bread that is popular in Florence on the days leading up to Easter, especially during Carnevale. The cake is typically baked in a rectangular mold and then decorated with powdered sugar with the silhouette of lily flour (fleur-de-lis), the symbol of the city. It is simple, but an elegant cake that can be enjoyed alone or filled with whipped cream, pastry cream or any filling of your choice.
  • 500 grams (4 cups; 17.64 oz) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Large eggs at room temperature
  • 250 grams granulated sugar (1 cup; 8 oz)
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoon for the pan
  • Grated zest and juice of one orange
  • 3 tablespoon powdered sugar (to 4 tablespoon) for garnish
  • Cocoa powder for decoration
Oil a 9-inches by 12-inches pan with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. 

To make the biga:
Sprinkle yeast over ¼ cup of warm water (110°F) in a large stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). 
Add the rest of the water and 325 grams (2 ½ cup) of flour. Mix in stand mixer until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and the dough is soft, shiny and elastic (7-10 minutes). 

Let it rest, covered with plastic wrap, until it doubles in size (about 1 to 2 hours). 

To make the cake:
Beat the eggs with the sugar until yellow and creamy. 

Add the zest and juice from an orange. Add the olive oil little by little and continue mixing until everything is combined. Add the rest of the flour and the salt and continue mixing until the flour is incorporated scraping down the sides of the bowl. 

Add the biga and mix everything together until fully incorporated. 

This can take between 10 to 15 minutes. It should form a smooth, yet loose ball. 

Scrape mix into the oiled baking pan. 
With your fingers, even the dough to a uniform thickness, cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles its size (3 – 4 hours). 

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes at 375° F. Let it cool. Cover the cake with powdered sugar. 
For decoration, you may cut out a stencil of a Florentine lily and lay it on the cake before its sugar coating for a traditional and very handsome design.