Pa de Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony’s bread)

While the Fallas festival in Valencia is quite well-known, the Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony)’s celebrations are less flamboyant, more inward looking. A domestic affair, say, for the locals and by the locals.

Happening around the 17th of January, it is a very unassuming celebration: there is a parade where people bring their animals to church to get a blessing, there will be a small market called “porrat” with stalls selling, amongst other yummy things, delicious nuts, figs and confectionery based on those (which are also called “porrat”), and finally one or more bonfires will burn and light up the dark January night, spreading the aroma of pine wood all around the neighbourhood.

All good things!

People who attend the church service are given a small bun of blessed bread too. The animals get a little carob as well:

A dish with five carobs of various sizes on it
A dish with five carobs of various sizes on it

And although I haven’t been able to attend the festival in many years, I somehow still remember that “it must be time” every January. This year I decided to try baking the special bread for the festival (although obviously mine is not blessed!), following a recipe from the “Dolços Valencians” book from Chelo Peiró.

Pa de Sant Antoni - two attempts of plaited wreaths and four small buns
Pa de Sant Antoni – two attempts of plaited wreaths and four small buns

Ingredients

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 125g olive oil
  • 125g whole milk, lukewarm
  • 150g sugar
  • 50g fresh yeast (or 7g fast action sachet)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Juice and zest of a small orange
  • 1 tbsp aniseeds

Preparation

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk.

Separately, beat the eggs, then reserve about 1/4 of the egg mixture in the fridge for later.

Add the remainder 3/4 of the eggs to a big bowl, add all the other ingredients and mix well together.

Knead the dough using your favourite method (i.e. either knead continuously until smooth and soft, or do minimal kneading with rest, etc). It is a sticky dough; it will need patience.

Cover and leave to prove until things start to get going (and the volume increases by about half).

Turn the oven to 180ºC fan (or 200ºC if no fan).

Take the dough out of the bowl, portion and shape as desired (you can make little buns, loaves, or even plaited breads).

Take the remaining egg mixture that you reserved before out of the fridge. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon or two of water and mix again. We’ll use this to decorate.

Place the buns on the baking tray (separate them well enough, as they should puff up and expand), cover again, and leave to prove while the oven warms up.

When the oven reaches the right temperature, and before placing the buns in the oven, brush the top of the buns with the egg, sugar and water mix.

Bake until they get a deep brown crust throughout (you might need to turn them around half way if your oven’s heat is not very uniform). But watch to avoid burning—no one likes burnt buns. It was about 30 minutes here, but each batch needed different times. And I had to take the buns out before the “wreath” was fully cooked. So keep an eye on the oven!

Once you take them out, place them on a rack so they cool down without getting condensation on the base (you might want to use a spatula or a baker’s peel or paddle with the bigger items, as they might be a bit soft when warm, and they could break, the horror!).

You can have them as they are, but they are also really good with a bowl of nice thick chocolate, Spanish style 😋

Reflections

I will admit that even if they are tasty, these are not the buns I remembered eating! I remembered them tasting more of aniseed than of orange or sugar. I suppose like everything local there are always many variations of recipes and no one has published the one I remember!

I think I messed up something to do with the proportions of liquid to flour. This dough was too wet to shape, and it was breaking down as I tried to shape it, which was very sad since I want to learn to make nice plaited breads. I should try again.

I also was not very convinced with the performance of the yeast used here. I don’t know if it’s the yeast itself, my handling of it, the proofing, the amount of sugar, or what, but the result was way stiffer than I wanted. It should have been fluffy and airy, like a nice milk bun.

It’s funny: I have got so used to baking with sourdough starters that now I find it difficult to get the results I want using chemical yeast! I feel it easier to know if your starter is “alive” before baking (it either bubbles or not) than by looking at dry yeast pellets and hoping for the best when you dissolve them in milk. But I do not know yet how to do sweet or enriched breads using sourdough starters—ah, the dilemma!

Fortunately, this problem has a “very simple” solution: practice, and studying the book I gifted myself: Panettone and Sourdough Pastries by Thomas Tefri-Chambelland. The 264 pages of it! I said “very simple”. Not easy! 😂

A pile of Sant Antoni buns and breads
A pile of Sant Antoni buns and breads

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some truly excellent videos.

The first is of last year’s celebrations. It has powder, bonfires, narrow cobbled streets, music bands playing traditional popular songs, firefighters watching out, animals (and their owners) waiting for the priest’s blessing, and stalls with some deliciously looking churros and olives! Ahh! I think I just caught myself salivating! 😋

This other video is from a nearby town, Canals. They feature what they claim to be the tallest bonfire in the world, at around 20m of height, and who am I to dispute their fact? (Feel free to use your internet search engine of choice if tempted!)

The one hundred tons of wood burned nicely in 2018, but in 2020… it collapsed, for the first time in their history, in the most inelegant way towards a house, in what turned out to be a clear sign of the calamitous year 2020 would turn out to be:

The swearing in the video is so magnificent:

HOSTIA PUTA, NANO!!!

I think I could apply it to 2020 when I think back and reflect 😂

This year’s festivities are very cancelled. Hopefully that means there will be lots more things to burn in 2022.

To great fires and lots of health for everyone in 2022!

🔥🔥🔥

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