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Cornetti & Brioches: Breakfast in Italy

Cornetti are crescent-shaped pastries (the word corno means horn, as in cow's horn), while brioches are round. Either -- together with a cappuccino -- makes up the standard Italian breakfast.

They are fairly complex, made from a dough that is allowed to rise, and to which eggs, sugar, and butter or margarine are added. The sources I worked from have one begin with the preparation of brioche dough, and give three different sets of amounts (the steps are the same in all three cases).

One important thing: The ingredient list includes butter, which goes into the bough at the beginning if you're making brioches. If you instead decide to make Cornetti, the butter is added subsequently. Therefore, read the instructions carefully before proceeding.

First recipe
For the biga:
1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
A scant ounce of live yeast (20 g; use baker's yeast of the kind sold in supermarkets)
A little warm water or milk
For the dough:
3 3/4 cups (450 g) flour
1 1/4 cups (250 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
6 or 7 yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
The grated zest of a lemon
A pinch of salt
A little milk
Second recipe
For the biga:
1 cup (120 g) flour
A scant ounce of live yeast (20 g; use baker's yeast of the kind sold in supermarkets)
A little warm water or milk
For the dough:
3 1/8 cups (375 g) flour
1 1/4 cups (250 g) unsalted butter; this can be doubled
2 tablespoons sugar
4 whole eggs
A pinch salt
3rd recipe
For the biga:
4/5 cup (100 g) flour
1/2 an ounce (15 g) live yeast (use baker's yeast of the kind sold in supermarkets)
A little warm milk
For the dough:
2 1/2 cups (300 g) flour
1 cup (200 g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (60 g) sugar
2 whole eggs and 3 yolks
A pinch of salt

To make the biga: dissolve the yeast in a little warm water or milk. Combine the yeasty milk with the flour, adding more liquid if necessary to obtain a smooth soft dough. Put it in a lightly floured bowl, make an X in its surface, cover it with a cloth, and put it in a warm place to rise.

Preparing the dough: You can work either by hand or using a mixer. Sift the flour into a bowl, then add the salt, the sugar, the vanilla or lemon zest, and mix. Scoop a depression into the mixture and fill it with the eggs, and then work everything together either by hand or with the beater, adding, if need be, a little water; you should obtain a homogeneous, very elastic dough that comes away from the sides of a bowl (or your work surface if you're mixing directly on it). Break the butter, which should be soft, into bits, and incorporate it. Then incorporate the biga, kneading the dough energetically and throwing it down on your work surface, until bubbles appear in the dough and it becomes shiny. At this point shape it into a ball, put it in a slightly flowered bowl, with a flowered cloth to cover, and set it in a cool place for a couple of hours (not warm).

When the time is up return the dough to your work surface and knead it for a few more minutes, then return it to the bowl and put it in a cool place overnight. Pastry chefs prepare the dough in the evening to have it ready the next morning.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE DOUGH?

Brioches

To make brioches you'll need the dough, and egg, and a little butter and flour. You'll also need brioche molds, which are small cups with scalloped edges. You could make rings of paper if you don't have them, but a muffin tin should also work. Assuming you have the molds or the muffin tin, melt a little butter and brush the insides of the tins, then flour them lightly, upend the tins, and shake out the excess.

Divide the dough into balls weighing about 2 ounces (55 g), and pluck a bit the size of a cherry from each. Shape the larger pieces into balls by rolling them between your palms, and put them in the molds, which they should only fill about half way. Poke the middle of each with your fingertip, and fill the resulting holes with the little blebs of dough. Cover the molds with a cloth and put them in a warm place to rise; in the meantime preheat your oven to 460 F (230 C).

Once the brioches have completely filled the molds beat the egg and brush the egg over them, taking care not to collapse them. Bake them for about 10 minutes, then remove them from the oven, unmold them, and let them cool.

Cornetti

If you're making cornetti, do not add the the butter in the dough at the outset, because it should be added once the dough has risen. You'll need a scale here; for every 100 g (about 4 ounces) of dough you'll need 40 g of unsalted butter. So the dough/butter relationship is 10 to 4. The butter should be in one piece, and should be soft when you begin.

You'll also need a little flour, a little sugar, and a whole egg or some syrup made by boiling down sugar and water.

Begin by rolling the dough out into a square or circle that's large enough to wrap around the butter. Put the dough in the middle of the sheet, wrap the dough around it and roll it out again. Fold the dough into quarters and roll it out again, as if you were making puff pastry, and repeat the process once more. Finally, fold it up, put it on a plate, and chill it for about 15 minutes.

When the time is up remove it from the fridge, roll it out, fold it up, and chill it 15 minutes more. Then lightly flour your work surface, put the dough on it, and roll it out to form a rectangle about 5 inches (12 cm) wide, 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick, and as long as it gets.

Once you've finished rolling out the sheet, cut it into triangles 4 inches (10 cm) wide at the base and the height of the sheet (5 inches). Starting with the base of the triangles, roll them up, turning them so the tip in the middle faces up, and lay them on a lightly buttered, floured cookie sheet, bending the ends forward to give them a crescent shape and leaving some space between them lest they expand and coalesce as they bake. You can, if you want, put spoonfuls of marmalade on the triangles of dough before you roll them up (the most common flavors are orange and apricot).

When you are done cover your cornetti and put them in a warm place to rise. When they have, brush them with beaten egg or sugar syrup, sprinkle them with a little sugar, and bake them in a preheated 400 F (200 C) oven for about 15 minutes.

Cornetti Bis

Or, the second recipe:

  • 5 cups (500 g) flour
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) first-rate unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1/2 ounce (15 g) live yeast (use baker's yeast of the kind sold in supermarkets)
  • An egg
  • A tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Make a biga by dissolving the yeast in a little warm water and working 1/2 cup less a tablespoon (50 g) of flour into it. Put the biga in a warm place to rise. Put the rest of the flour on your work space and mix the salt and sugar into it.

Scoop a well into the flour, crack the egg into it, and work the egg into the flour, adding just enough warm water to obtain a fairly soft dough. Work the biga into the dough and continue to knead it, throwing it down onto your work surface, until it become quite elastic and no longer sticks to your hands or your table. Put the ball in a lightly flowered bowl, cover it, and let it sit in a cool place for at least 6 hours (or over night).

Once the time is up, knead the dough for a little longer, then roll it out and dot half the sheet with the butter or margarine. Fold it up into quarters and roll it out again as if you were making puff pastry dough. Give it two more turns, fold it and chill it 15 minutes, give it a last turn, fold it and chill it, and then make the cornetti as described above.

A fresh batch of these will be a fine way to celebrate Valentine's Day morning, or any other romantic occasion. For the evening, assuming you haven't already got something planned, check out the recipes on the Valentine's Day page

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