Bracciatello bread is a somewhat forgotten recipe from the Romagna tradition.
It is a doughnut, usually not very sweet, typical of Easter breakfast.
And although it finds a place among cupboard cakes in Romagna cookbooks, it is an almost-bread.
The ciambella version, with raisins or chocolate chips, is recent.
Originally it was almost certainly a dry cookie that has changed over time. Sometimes it looks like a large, round loaf, and sometimes as small as a roll. Whatever its size, it always has a hole in the middle.
The bracciatello bread (brazadèl, in dialect of Romagna)
It has an ancient history dating back to the Middle Ages.
We have lost the story and origin of the name of the bustrengo, the pantry-emptying sweet of the peasant families of Romagna. But we know something more about bracciatello bread.
In the Dizionario Romagnolo Ragionato under the voice Brazadèl, text by G. Quondamatteo, we read:
“bracciatella is a 13th-century entry, and the sweet is documented, as bracidellus, in a 10th-century medieval Latin note. The name is said to derive from the fact that it was spontaneous for primitive sellers to use their arms to hold them comfortably and on display.”
Historical sources agree that the name is related precisely to the medieval custom of selling these doughnuts in markets using the characteristic central hole to insert them into the seller’s arm in the guise of a bracelet.
A tradition that persisted in the twentieth century, when street vendors sold the bracciatello at village festivals as a sweet for children.
The crown doughnut tradition
That tradition was widespread throughout Romagna, from the Apennines to the Riviera, although unevenly.
In some areas, it was a typical gift for toddlers at confirmations and baptisms.
Giving a basket of bracciatelli (plural name) to pregnant women was also considered auspicious.
But the tradition of brazadèl is linked to Easter when farmers would bring their bread to bake in the village oven and eat it at Easter breakfast with eggs, cheese, cold cuts, and honey.
In the same way, in other parts of Romagna, people baked and ate the semi-sweet Easter loaf.
The bracciatello bread originated as probably a cookie, neither sweet nor savory. Sugar was an ingredient too expensive for a traditional peasant recipe.
Little by little, it became bread with a few spoonfuls of honey in the dough. That is the reason why it was considered a sweet. Some older people still remember the bracciatello cookie version.
The version enriched with raisins and sometimes chocolate chips is recent history.
Shape and cooking
A feature of this semi-sweet bread lies in its shape, which can have different sizes, and in its baking, plural!
If you opt for a bread shape, it bakes in the oven and reminds the Trentino Easter crown and the Neapolitan casatiello (although the bracciatello bread has no filling).
In addition, it seems that a fried version also existed, but I have found no traces of this tradition.
Finally, the variant I will call braccialetto (bracelet), which I decided to share, looks like a bagel.
You know the New York City bagel, the one with the hole in the middle?
The bagel has European origins and came to the United States with German and Polish immigrants. And also of all Jewish Europeans who, over the centuries, sought refuge first from Russian pogroms and then from Nazi concentration camps.
Finally, the little bracciatello bread recalls a bagel even in its double baking: firstly, it has to boil in water, and only then it browns in the oven.
It sounds unbelievable, but it is!
If you are not new to the blog, you know that I often talk about the history and traditions of European cuisine that followed the migrants in America.
My bracciatello bread recipe
The tradition of bracciatello bread, sweet or semi-savory, large or small, is disappearing.
It survives here and there in a few towns in Romagna, where there are still a few willing bakers who prepare it for Easter.
I am sharing the recipe that Graziano Pozzetto reports in his book Cucine di Romagna because, among the many I have read, it seems to me the most truthful and respectful of the peasant tradition from which this dish comes.
The book mentions the bracciatello bread “a corona”, which is supposed to remind one of Christ’s crown of thorns, in both large and small versions.
I chose the latter, which, in my opinion, is the most convivial.
A basket of stuffed bracciatelli can become an appetizer, snack, or aperitif.
But they also go well in a picnic basket.
I hope that the bracciatello, cousin of the bagel, will find new fortune.
Buona cucina, Monica
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If you use lard, the bracciatello bread will be flakier. If you use olive oil, it will be more like a bread. Choose whichever way you like. I like them both.
Easter Bracciatello bread, recipe from Romagna
List of the Ingredients
00 flour, 500g
honey, 30 g
lard, 40 g
or olive oil, 50 g
brewer’s yeast, 7 g
lukewarm milk, 150 ml
fine salt, a very generous teaspoon
Knead the ingredients on the cutting board or in the mixer.
Make about 10-12 pieces of dough.
Form rolls about 1 cm wide and 15-20 cm long. Join the ends together and form a circle.
Let rest for about 20 minutes under a towel.
At this step, the bracciatelli do not grow much.
Leavening takes place in water first and in the oven later.
Cook 2-3 pieces at a time in unsalted boiling water for about 3-4 minutes.
If they end up at the bottom of the pot, do not move them until they rise to the surface by themselves.
Drain and soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes.
Place on a baking sheet and brush the surface with olive oil (my choice) or some egg yolk.
Bake in preheated oven at 180C degrees until they turn color, about 30 minutes.