As much as I love Rome and love Italian food, something I do miss dearly from my London days is variety and decent international cuisine. Yes, there are some sushi restaurants in Rome, there is a very good Ethopian restaurant not far from our flat, we have located a Vietnamese that isn’t half-bad and a Thai place that is do-able, but still, restaurants offering international cuisine tend to be few and far between in Rome and most offer food that has been tailored to the Italian palate (a vegetable stir-fry I once had and that consisted of vegetables that had basically been cooked to death is a stellar example, or the many Chinese restaurants serving the rice or noodles before your meat or fish course – similar to the Italian distinction between the ‘primo’ dish of pasta or risotto and the ‘secondo’ meat or fish course).
Similarly, for a country that starts its day with sugar-laden pastries, breakfast ‘cookies’ and little cakes and has the biggest per-capita ice cream consumption in the world, I find it surprising how little variety there is when it comes to baked goods and other desserts. Yes, there is an infinite variety of different types of cakes, cheesecakes, jam-filled tarts, all types of cookies and biscuits in various shapes and forms (and I hear that what we can buy today is only a fraction of what Italian pastry chefs are in theory capable of), but overall, the flavour profile seems fairly limited. And in a way, you could level the same cristicism at the UK or Germany (and likely plenty of other places) where it can be sometimes be difficult to locate exciting desserts and cakes, unless you venture into a Michelin-starred restaurant.
All of which is to say that every once in a while I get a deep craving for something new and exciting. While Ale and I are currently in London for my friend (and old room-mate) Verena’s 30th birthday and I am filling up on all the food I cannot easily find in Rome, a few weeks ago this craving had me rifling simultaneously through my cookbook collection and my spice cabinet to try and come up with something to satisfy my yearnings. I initially wanted to make curry-spiced ricotta fritters I came across in one of my new cookbooks but as I am not a big fan of deep-fried things, I decided to use a similar idea but in an enriched dough instead. Alessandro is not big on garam masala which meant I got to enjoy this entire couronne by myself, slicing a large piece for breakfast each day for a good portion of the week, the perfect indulgent fall breakfast that managed to satisfy, at least temporarily, my cravings for new flavours.
Garam Masala Couronne
Makes 1 small couronne about the size of 1 pizza, enough to feed 4 people for breakfast
Note: while garam masala is a spice most people associate with savoury cooking rather than with desserts, the spices it is made up of (coriander, cumin, tumeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, ginger, dill seed and cardamom) lend themselves well to sweet preparations and many of them, whether individually or in combination with other spices, are in fact quite common baking ingredients.
140ml milk plus a little extra milk to brush the couronne before baking
150g plus 25g wholemeal einkorn flour
8g fast action yeast
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
For the filling
15g melted butter
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground fennel
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
For the glaze
10 heaped tbsp icing sugar, 2-4 tbsp milk
1. Combine the milk, oil and caster sugar in a sauce pan and warm-up on a small flame until the milk is hot but not boiling. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and mix in 150g of the flour. Let mixture sit covered with a teatowel somewhere warm for at least 1 hour.
2. Mix the remaining 25g of flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix this with the yeast mixture. The dough will be very sticky at this point but don’t despair – even the stickiest dough can turn into a perfectly smooth and round dough ball with the right amount of kneading and in particular folding (to work the gluten and incorporate air into the dough). This will take 10-20 minutes if kneading by hand but will be much quicker with a standmixer.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 195 degrees (180 degrees for a fan-assisted oven).
4. Roll out the dough to a thin rectangle (ca. 1/2 cm thick). Pour the melted butter over the dough rectangle and distribute evenly with the help of a spoon or a pastry brush.
5. Whisk together the sugar with the spices and scatter evenly over the melted butter.
6. Start rolling the long side of the rectangle towards you, pinching the ends together. Cut the dough roll along its length in half, twist the two strands of dough together with the cut side facing upwards and arrange in a circle on a lined baking tray, pinching the ends together to form a couronne, folding the ends underneath the couronne for a neat finish. Let rise for another 20-30 minutes until doubled in size. At this point you could cover the tray with clingfilm and place it in the fridge overnight before baking the couronne in time for breakfast (if so, give the couronne time to come to room temperature before baking it, ca. 30 minutes maximum, enough time to heat up your oven).
7. Once risen and ready to bake, brush the couronne with milk using a pastry brush. Bake for 15-20 mins until light brown in colour.
8. While the couronne is still warm, whisk together the icing sugar with the milk and quickly brush this over the couronne for a sticky and shiny glaze.
Heidi from 101 Cookbooks posted a recipe for a Pumpkin Loaf with brown butter and garam masala a couple of years ago that sounds wonderful as well if you want to experiment a bit with garam masala.