Go Bananas for Gubana!
Italy has a wealth of spectacular celebration breads: the Tuscans have Panforte, the Milanese have Panettone, and the Friulians have Gubana. This lesser-known cousin originates from Fruili-Venezia Giulia; a land of contrast with lush green valleys, rugged mountains, golden sandy beaches, sophisticated cities, robust industry, and fascinating history. Fruili-Venezia Giulia is situated to the north-east of Venice close to the Austrian and Croatian borders. This region is renowned for its fragrant grappa, sweet prosciutto, Montasio cheese and some of Italy’s finest white wines. This sweet stuffed bread is traditionally served at Christmas and Easter, and for other celebratory occasions, with a drizzle of Grappa. The traditional Presnitz pastry, served within the same region to celebrate Easter has a puff pastry style base, instead of sweet bread, but the filling is very similar. As with most traditional breads there are broader relationships and the Slovenian ‘Potica’ (Guban’ca) and the Croatian ‘Povitica’ share a similar lineage. From the 15th Century Gubana was produced by peasants to form part of the loyalties they owed the landowners; this was not an uncommon practise and the Catalunyans followed a similar tradition with loaves of Fougasse. In the 1400’s Gubana was served to the visiting Pope Gregory VII
A few years ago I bought a copy of Carol Field’s ‘The Italian Baker’, which is now 30 years old but is very thoroughly researched, from a quaint little second-hand bookshop on Long Island. Whilst perusing the pages on a rainy afternoon I stumbled upon a recipe for this curious Italian bread and a glowing synopsis. Despite Field’s efforts to introduce the Gubana into the USA, it remains a relatively unknown entity outside Italy.
The Gubana is a brioche-style enriched dough flavoured with orange and vanilla with a filling containing nuts, raisins, cocoa, candied fruit and Grappa, Rum and Marsala. It is rolled like a Swiss Roll and then spiralled into a snail shell shape. Over the years many variations of the traditional Gubana have been introduced and so the contents of the filling are open to some interpretation. My version of the recipe uses a 50/50 ratio of dough to filling, to ensure that every mouthful contains a good amount of the chocolate-y nutty filling! I personally don’t really like the combination of dark chocolate with lemon and so I have omitted the lemon zest from my version of the Gubana. I have also not included pine nuts because I find it difficult to find good quality and affordable pine nuts in the UK at present. Some recipes for Gubana do not include cocoa powder or chocolate, such as Massari & Achille Zoia’s recipe in their book Cresci, however I like to think that most celebrations merit chocolate! I have replaced the sugar in the dough with honey as the flavour is richer and it prevents the sweetness from becoming cloying. Although breadcrumbs can be used in the filling, I find that crushed Amaretti biscuits (good quality ones) or brioche give a lovely flavour. The filling benefits from some time to mature, and so I recommend that it is made 24 hours in advance to allow the raisins to plump and the flavours to become rounded.
The list of ingredients is rather epic…but I promise that it is worth the effort, and there are simplifications which can be made. As long as the total volume of alcohol remains constant you can use whichever mixture of the ingredients you prefer: Grappa is possibly the most significant, Marsala enriches the filling, and the Amaretto enhances the almond flavour. If you would prefer not to use any alcohol you could substitute it with freshly-squeezed blood orange juice. If you don’t like dark chocolate or cocoa powder you could substitute it with white chocolate.
(makes a 22cm bread)
Although I have taken 3 days to make the Gubana, it only really requires about 35 minutes each day and if you need to complete it in a shorter timescale simply increase the fermentation/proving temperatures to speed things up so that you could bake the Gubana within 2 days. You can refrigerate the stuffed and rolled Gubana for 24 hours before baking if required; remember to bring the Gubana back to room temperature before baking.
Evening of Day 1: Making the Sponge and the Filling
The filling can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated until needed (bring back to room temperature before using).
90g 00 Flour or Strong Bread Flour (such as Shipton Mill No.4)
90g Sour Dough Culture
110ml Full Cream Milk at room temperature
Mix the ingredients in a large bowl (the mixture will resemble lumpy porridge). Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it in a cool room for 10-12 hours. The mixture should have doubled in size after 10-12 hours and will have glistening bubbles on the surface.
100g Almonds (with skins)
50g Plain Chocolate
90g Brioche (crumbed) or Amaretti Biscuits (crushed)
40g Apricot Conserve
40g Candied Orange or Candied Clementine (finely chopped)
8g Cocoa Powder
¼ tsp Cinnamon
Scratch of Nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 180C and place all of the nuts onto a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for a few minutes. The nuts will burn easily so keep an eye on them. Once you can smell them they will probably be ready. Remove them from the oven and leave them to cool.
Put the chocolate and the nuts into a food processor and pulse them into a coarse mix (not a powder, you want a few pieces to give texture). If you don’t have a food processor, simply grate the chocolate and finely chop the nuts. Put the nuts and chocolate into a mixing bowl.
Crush the Amaretti biscuits (if using) in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or in a food processor to form a coarse crumb (a few larger pieces for texture). Add the brioche crumbs or the crushed Amaretti biscuits (whichever you are using) to the mixing bowl with the nuts and chocolate.
Add the spices, candied orange, cocoa, apricot conserve, raisins and the alcohol to the nuts, chocolate and crumbs. Stir everything together, cover the bowl and leave at room temperature for 24 hours (if possible) before using.
Morning of Day 2: Making the Dough
40g Orange Blossom Honey or Lavender Honey
A few drops of Vanilla Extract or the seeds from ¼ vanilla pod
5g Malden Salt
1 Large Egg
1 Large Egg Yolk
220g 00 Flour or Strong Plain Flour
70g Unsalted Butter (chilled and cut into small cubes)
1 Egg lightly beaten for glazing
Stir the honey, vanilla, salt and eggs into the sponge mixture.
Add the 220g of flour and mix to form a tacky ball of dough (this will take about 2 minutes).
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes
Tip onto a work-surface and knead for 5 minutes (it will be a little tacky to start with but don’t add more flour, just use a dough scraper to remove any sticky dough from the work-surface).
Cover the dough and leave it to rest for ½ hour.
Knead the dough for 4 minutes (don’t be tempted to flour the dough if it gets sticky again, just use your dough scraper)
Remove the butter cubes from the fridge and leave the dough to rest for 15 minutes
Test the gluten development of your dough using the window pane method, if the gluten is not fully developed knead the dough for a further 3 minutes.
Stretch the dough and scatter the butter cubes over it. Roll the dough up and knead for a couple of minutes. If the dough becomes oily, stop kneading it and place it in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.
Continue to knead (and rest in the fridge if required) the dough until the butter is completely incorporated.
Put the dough into a clean mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave it in a cool place (11-14C), until the dough has doubled in size (this can take 8-12 hours at cooler temperatures). You can refrigerate the dough at this stage for up to 36 hours, until you are ready to use it.
Morning of Day 3: Making the Gubana
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work-surface and roll it into a rectangle measuring approx 27cm x 45cm. If the dough is resisting being rolled-out, leave it to rest for 10 minutes and then continue. Check regularly that it isn’t sticking to the work-surface. Lightly dust the work-surface with flour as required, which will prevent the dough from sticking.
When you have a 27cm x 45cm rectangle, spread the filling over the surface as evenly as possible and leaving a 0.5cm boarder around the edge of the rectangle. Press the filling firmly into the dough using your hands.
Roll the rectangle (from the long side) into a tight Swiss Roll.
Gently stretch the Swiss Roll until it measures about 65cm.
Coil the Swiss Roll into a spiral, dampen the last end and seal it to the spiral.
Carefully lift the spiral onto the lined baking sheet.
Drape a piece of oiled cling film over the spiral and leave it to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 190C
Paint the top of the spiral with the beaten egg.
Bake the bread for 10 minutes at 190C, and then reduce the temperature to 170C and bake for a further 30-35 minutes.
Keep an eye on the bread, if it starts to over-brown, cover it with foil and continue to bake.
This is a dense loaf and therefore requires a long baking time to ensure that all of the layers of dough are cooked.
Remove from the oven and leave the bread to cool for 45 minutes before slicing and eating!
Gubana is best served warm with coffee or as a dessert with a dollop of cold mascarpone. It keeps well too so don’t thwo away any leftovers- if you’re lucky enough to have any!