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The Epicure Abroad

Focaccia and Cookies: A Day in the Kitchen

ITALY | Friday, 6 June 2014 | Views [837]

At 5:00 this morning another of my culinary dreams came true – I baked my first real focaccia. Though it was still dark out and I hadn’t quite yet rubbed the sleep from my eyes, the sight of several loaves baking already assured me that there was no place I’d rather be (not even my bed).

With the guidance of a local baker, I combined the traditional ingredients to make the dough, substituting olive oil where I would have used butter in my usual bread recipe and kneading it by hand rather than throwing it in my KitchenAid. Once the dough was prepared, I slathered on a layer of a creamy Italian cheese called Stracchino to make a simple pizza and popped it in the oven. After several long minutes of waiting as delicious smells emanated from the oven, the timer finally rang; while the foccacia was still hot, we took it down to enjoy by the ocean for a sunrise breakfast.

Keeping with the baking theme, I spent the late afternoon in another kitchen, this time baking lemon cookies. With a little lemon juice, some zest, flour and sugar, a batch of cookies was in the oven in a matter of minutes. I was having so much fun cooking with the baker (a delightful man named Fausto who whistled while he worked) that we decided to make some lattice-topped pies while the cookies baked.

When they came out of the oven, Fausto immediately handed me one to taste, which I was all too eager to do. The outside of the cookie was coated in sugar and lemon zest, forming a crisping exterior that crunched before giving way to a soft, warm center, pale yellow with bright specks of lemon zest. The flavor was subtle, the aroma fresh. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten.

Apparently my feelings were obvious and moments later I was sent away with a white paper bag filled with a dozen of them. I took them with me to snack on by the water. Sitting there with the warm bag of cookies on my lap and the sound of the ocean hitting the rocks nearby, I realized I was in one of life’s perfect moments. It’s a memory I will hold on to forever.

It is impossible not to fall in love with Cinque Terre, but as a tourist, this sort of love is often one-sided. I am eternally grateful to the Parco Natzionale for enabling me to meet the people of Cinque Terre on this trip, especially to enter into their kitchens, where the heart of the culture lies. With the warmth of the oven, the comforting smell of yeast, the familiarity of forming dough with my hands, I’ve felt at home here making the ravioli, the focaccia and the cookies.

The kitchen is governed by a universal language and a desire to share. That these people have allowed me, a perfect stranger, to come into their homes and bakeries to cook with them and to taste the recipes that have been in their families for generations means more than any words can express. I can’t wait to bring these recipes home with me to share with my family.

Tags: baking, bread, cookies, kitchen

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