On November 11th in Venice, St. Martin is celebrated: an ancient popular tradition, once among the most important festivities of the year. It was a sort of peasant New Year's Eve, a day in which people ate and drank a lot before starting the fasting period that would last until Christmas. Today it is no longer like that, and although the holiday has not disappeared from the calendar of celebrations, it is very much felt especially by children, who always celebrate it with great participation and enthusiasm.
The feast of St. Martin has to do with the sense of charity, with the last sun of winter, with nursery rhymes, racket and sweets, a joy that all Venetians share.
The origins of the feast
What is the reason for this ancient celebration? To an ancient legend.
It is said that in the fourteenth century Martin, originally from present-day Hungary, was a young man educated by the family in Pavia, where he was forced to move from an early age, his father being a Roman officer. Initiated to military life in an enlistment school, the young man approached Christianity whose doctrine married above all the thoughts of sharing and closeness to others, and feelings of charity and humility. On November 11, Martin was in the vicinity of Venice on his horse: it was a cold and rainy day. On his way he met a poor man covered only with a few rags and so cold. At that point the young man did not hesitate to draw his sword to cut his warm cloak and share it with that unknown need. He shared the only thing he had, finding himself completely without money or anything else. Legend has it that after a short time from that charitable gesture a warm sun split the gray clouds giving a blue sky and a radiant day: this is where the expression "the summer of St. Martin" would come from to define the last warm days of November before the arrival of the cold winter.
The cult of the Saint is celebrated in the homonymous church of Castello where a bas-relief on the facade recalls the episode of the cloak.
From this legend was born the custom of celebrating, just on November 11, charity and closeness to the most needy: on that day spread the habit, in fact, for the poor people to go under the windows of peasant houses making noise in the hope of getting hot chestnuts, wine and some coins.
With the centuries the meaning of the feast has changed becoming a tradition celebrated especially by children who, crowned with cardboard wreaths and covered with funny red capes like Martino's one, go around the city banging pots and lids in search of sweets and delicacies from inhabitants and shopkeepers, singing the typical nursery rhyme:
"St. Martin went to the attic to see his fiancée, his fiancée was not there, San Martin with his ass on the floor, and with our bag, we sing you St. Martin!"
Let's prepare the dessert of St. Martin: the recipe
The feast of St. Martin is also celebrated at the table with the preparation of the traditional cookie. You will surely have happened to catch a glimpse in the windows of Venetian pastry shops of the great cookies in the shape of a knight on horseback: it is the re-proposal in shortcrust pastry of the legendary episode of the Saint and the poor stranger. The cookie, obtained with a special pastry cutter, is made with a very simple and crumbly short pastry enriched then, once baked, with decorations of various kinds: from royal icing to chocolates, from colored candies to sugary candies.
Let's get to work!
For the shortcrust pastry
- 250 gr of flour 00
- 125 gr of butter at room temperature
- 150 gr of caster sugar
- 1 yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 1 generous pinch of salt
- 1 vanilla berry
- Grated peel of 1 untreated lemon
For the real ice
- 175 gr of icing sugar
- 30 gr of pasteurized egg white
- A few drops of lemon juice
- Dye to taste if you want
- Colored candies
Cut the cold butter into chunks and put it in a robot or a planetarium together with the flour. Blend together for a few minutes for the so-called "sandblasting". In this way you will obtain a crumb dough. Then add sugar, eggs (both yolks and whole yolks), salt, lemon peel and vanilla seeds. Operate the robot again until you get a very compact mixture: it will take just a few minutes. Transfer the mixture on a floured pastry board and knead very quickly until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous.
Council : Be careful, the shortcrust pastry must never be worked for too long, in order to avoid that the heat of the hands heat the butter too much, leading to an uneven and difficult to work compound.
At this point form a rectangular and flattened dough. Wrap it in the film and let it rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Forming a brick and not a loaf of bread will help you then in the preparation of the dough. After the time of rest, remove the film and transfer the dough on a floured pastry board. Using a rolling pin, roll out a sheet about 8 millimeters thick. Try to create a homogeneous sheet. Transfer it on a sheet of baking paper (better if a micro-perforated mat) and press on the shape of San Martino. If you don't have this particular pastry cutter, I leave at the bottom of the article the appropriate image, so you can print it, cut it out and then place it on the sheet and make the shape with the tip of a knife. To have a uniform baking, cover the cookie with another sheet of baking paper.
Tips: after shaping the cookies freeze them and then bake them from ice. This technique will help the cookies to keep their shape perfectly during baking and they will be perfect!
Bake in a static hot oven at 165 degrees for about 15 minutes. Don't bake too long and don't exceed the heat of the oven or the cookie will dry and harden too much. When it is baked and well golden bake it and let it cool to room temperature.
Once cooled the cookie is the most fun moment: the decoration. Please, it must be cheerful and succulent!
First let's prepare the royal icing: in a large bowl put together the egg white and the lemon drops. Start assembling with delicacy. Then incorporate the sugar a little at a time until you get a smooth compound that is not too liquid. Use the pastry bag with a very small spout, about 1/1.5 millimeters, and pour into the ice. If you prefer, add some dye to your liking. At this point give space to creativity and have fun with the decoration. Before the ice hardens, add the candies, chocolates and candies. San Martino is ready to be enjoyed.
If you are very greedy, you can cover the cookie with melted chocolate before decorating it.
And you, what part of San Martino do you choose to eat?
Below is the image to save, print and cut out to prepare your sweet San Martino.
Happy St. Martin to all!