It’s called many things throughout Tuscany: Pan co’Santi, Pan con Santi, Pan di Santi; but they all mean the same thing and that is Bread of the Saints. A special walnut, raisin and black pepper bread made only during the fall for the feast of All Saints, or Tutti Santi, on November 1st, it can be a round loaf or a flat bread. The original feast day that gave birth to Halloween, which has taken Italy by storm in the past 5 years, All Saints Day is a national holiday with banks and stores closed all over Italy, followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd when Italians flood to the cemeteries to take flowers to the graves of their loved ones.
With the exception of the Feast of the Assumption, which they celebrate by closing up shop and going to the beach (or in the case of Siena, running a Palio) in Italy every special holiday has it’s own bread, dessert or pastry. They take a break during the hot months and so pan co’santi beginning in late September is the first herald of the food year. It is one of my favorites and a welcome change in the morning with a cup of coffee or a cappuccino. Most of the bars and stores offer at least one type, whether round loaves or baked flat like foccaccia. I like the flatbread sprinkled with sugar, crispy and chewy, nutty and sweet. They’re both great as a simple dessert with fruit and cheese.
My friend Stefano Valenti has a lovely tradition of making and selling special pan co’santi loaves to his friends and family. While he’s fourth generation in a baking family, he no longer bakes for a living, but he spends the week before Tutti Santi purchasing the expensive ingredients and taking orders. On the 30th of October he bakes dozens of loafs and on the 31st he and his girlfriend, my trusty assistant Sira, set up shop at home and welcome everyone as they come to purchase and pick up the loaves they’ve ordered. A lovely tradition to hang onto in troubled times in Italy!
Here’s a simple recipe, be sure to pack it full of raisins and walnuts and black pepper. Happy All Saints Day and Buon Appetito!
2 ¾ cups flour
1 teas sea salt
2 teas black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1½ teas active dry yeast
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup warm water. Mix the flour, salt & pepper together, make a well and add the yeast and olive oil. Beat the wet ingredients with a fork, gradually incorporating all the flour until it forms a ball. Add the raisins and walnuts and knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. Put the ball in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled. Take the ball out, knead it again for a few minutes, then shape the dough into an even round loaf, place it on parchment paper on a baking sheet and allow it to rise for 30 minutes, then bake it at 400° until brown. It will be done when tapping on the bottom produces a hollow sound. Remove it from the oven and brush the top with a beaten egg yolk.
To make a schiacciatta, or flat bread, instead of forming it into a round loaf after the first rising, let it rest for 30 minutes and then punch it out onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Sprinkle it with sugar and bake it immediately until golden brown.