Maritozzi are the Mediterranean equivalent of brioche bread buns, and, in true Mediterranean style, they are made with extra virgin olive oil rather than butter. They are quintessentially Roman, and some historians claim that the recipe is the direct descendant of an old form of bread, usually sweetened with honey and raisins, common in historic Rome centuries ago. The name is a funny take on the word marito, or husband, as it seems that maritozzi used to be gifted to the bride-to-be by their fiancé, and occasionally used to hide a small jewel as a present. Nowadays, maritozzi are a much more mundane breakfast bun, ubiquitous in Roman bars and bakeries, but rather common throughout the entire Lazio and Marche in central Italy. It is surprisingly versatile, in that it can be served with or without the cream filling, with a plain dough or enriched with candied citrus peel, raisins, pine nuts or even with small chocolate chips. The making requires relatively long proving slots, but it is rather simple and does not require any special skills other than patience: the result, on the other hand, is absolutely eye-catching and incredibly mouth-watering.
I like to decorate the ‘smile’ of whipped cream with pieces of fresh fruit, but you can also sprinkle it with chocolate shavings, chopped nuts or hundreds and thousands. I strongly recommend enjoying maritozzi the way Romans do in the summer: swapping the whipped cream for a generous scoop of gelato. You will thank me later!
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- 50 g (generous 3 tbsp) lukewarm water
- 2 tsp clear honey
- 2 tsp dry yeast
- 50 g (1/3 cup) strong bread flour
- 40 g (¼ cup) sultanas (golden raisins)
- 200 g (scant 1½ cups) strong bread flour
- 50 g (¼ cup) superfine sugar
- 50 g (generous 3 tbsp) whole milk
- 60 g (2¼oz) egg (about 1 large egg), at room temperature
- zest of 1 organic orange
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 30 g (2 tbsp) pine nut kernels
- 1 egg yolk, for brushing
- 1 tbsp whole milk, for brushing
- 200 g (scant 1 cup) whipping (heavy) cream (35–40% fat), cold
- 30 g (2 tbsp) confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- slivers of fresh fruit, to decorate (optional)
- Pour the water into a medium bowl, add the honey and mix well with a silicone spatula until the honey is fully dissolved. Add the yeast and stir the mixture until the yeast is fully dissolved too. Add the flour and combine with a silicone spatula to make a smooth paste. Clean the sides of the bowl well with the spatula and gather the paste at the bottom of the bowl: any leftover on the sides of the bowl is likely to dry out and form flecks of hard dough that will be difficult to dissolve later.
- Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to prove, away from cold draughts and direct sunlight, until doubled in volume at room temperature. The oven is the ideal place to prove the preferment. This should take about 1 hour at 20°C (68°F). The preferment is ready when small bubbles are visible on its surface.
- Meanwhile, place the sultanas in a small bowl, cover with boiling water and set aside to soak.
- Place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the sugar, milk, egg, orange zest, vanilla, oil and the proved preferment. Start mixing on medium speed. When the dough comes together evenly, sprinkle in the salt and continue mixing on medium-high speed for about 15 minutes until the dough wraps around the hook and comes cleanly off the sides of the bowl. Take the dough out of the bowl and roughly stretch it over a clean, dry worktop.
- Drain the sultanas, squeeze out any excess water, and sprinkle them over half of the dough. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the same side. Fold the side without filling over the other side of the dough and press down with the palm of your hands to incorporate the filling. Repeat the folding and pressing a few times until the filling is evenly distributed within the dough. The dough is very sticky at this point, so you will need a scraper to help you lift it off the worktop. You can also add the filling directly to the bowl of the mixer and let the machine incorporate it into the dough. This looks like a quicker method, but it is not as effective at distributing the filling as the manual route, and it often leads to squashed sultanas and broken pine nuts. Transfer the dough into a large, oiled bowl, cover it with clingfilm and leave it to prove until doubled in volume. This should take about 3 hours at 20°C (68°F).
- Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with baking paper and set aside.
- Drop the proved dough on to a clean and dry worktop. Cut the dough in half with a knife or a scraper, then halve each part twice more until you get 8 equal chunks, about 60g (2¼oz) each. Work the pieces of dough one at a time: while holding a piece with your fingers, gently stretch it and fold it in half over itself a few times, then shape it into a ball and seal the bottom by pinching it firmly. Place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet, sealed side down, and repeat for all the dough. If you find the dough too sticky to handle, wet your hands with a few drops of water.
- Cover the tray with clingfilm or place it in a clean proving bag, and let the dough prove once more until doubled in volume. This should take about 1½ hours at 20°C (68°F).
- When the dough is almost ready, place the shelf in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 180°C (350°F/Gas mark 4).
- Beat the egg yolk with the milk and delicately brush it over the top of each maritozzo with a pastry brush. Bake for 17–18 minutes or until the top is a deep amber colour, then take the tray out of the oven and let the maritozzi cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days or freeze for up to a month.
- While the maritozzi cool, pour the cold cream into a metal bowl, add the sugar and vanilla and start whisking on low speed with a handheld electric whisk to combine. Increase to high speed and keep whisking until the cream starts to thicken and the whisk leaves visible marks in the cream. Reduce the speed to medium and as soon as the cream goes from shiny to completely dull, stop whisking. This should take about 2–3 minutes. Spoon the cream into a piping bag fitted with a 10mm (½in) plain nozzle, seal the back and the tip of the piping bag with plastic clips and keep it in the fridge until ready to use. If using a disposable piping bag, no nozzle is necessary: leave the tip sealed until needed and cut it off just before piping.
- Once the maritozzi are at room temperature, cut a deep slit in the top, at a 45° angle, stopping 5mm (¼in) from the bottom: you want the slit to go almost all the way through the bun, without cutting it in two. Hold the slit wide open with one hand and with the other fill the opening with a generous amount of whipped cream. Ensure that the bun is at room temperature throughout before piping in the filling, as a warm crumb will melt the cream. Smooth the top of the cream across the open slit with a spatula or a knife.
- Arrange the buns on a serving plate and very lightly dust with icing sugar. Decorate with slivers or slices of fresh fruit, if you like. Store in the fridge for up to a day.
Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes by Giuseppe Dell’Anno (Quadrille, £20), Photography © Matt Russell