“A brioscia cu’ tuppu” (sicilian brioche): origins and traditions of one of the symbols of Sicilian pastries
When you see the “brioscia cu’ tuppu” (Sicilian brioche) for the first time you inevitably think: okay, what is this? Is it really eatable or is it a strange work of art to be admired and photographed for Instagram?
Well yes, Sicilian brioche is instagrammable without a doubt, but it is also eatable, and how! It is one of Sicily’s most famous and photographed preparations, a symbol of Sicilian confectionery culture.
It is one of the most representative recipes and is generally filled with ice cream. Yet, if you move to the eastern side of the island everyone will say to taste it with delicious homemade granita. Lemon granita, pistachio granita, coffee granita, almond granita, chocolate granita, mulberry granita, cinnamon granita, or orange granita (even with the addition of cream!).
A real treat, with an unforgettable shape and taste. But let’s find out more about the history, trivia, recipes and anecdotes of the iconic brioscia cu’ tuppu!
A brioscia cu’ tuppu (Sicilian brioche): here are some goodies!
Brioscia cu’ tuppo is a summer must-have, paired with ice cream or granita, but it often replaces lunch as well.
Before delving into the story, we want to clarify a few things. The Sicilian brioche has nothing to do with the French croissant and is not a common brioche. You will hardly find it beyond the Sicilian border. In northern Italy, for example, brioche is different in preparation, taste, texture, and even appearance.
Having clarified that brioche col tuppo is a typical recipe from the land of Sicily, we can say that it has a very long history behind it and that, over the centuries, it has been subject to contamination and evolution at the hands of different peoples who have inhabited the island.
What characterizes it is precisely the “tuppo.” A kind of hat put on top that somewhat resembles the chignon of ballerinas. Could this be why some people enjoy resting it on their heads before eating it?
This “tuppo,” in ancient Norman, was called toupin and in Gallic toupeau, terms that flowed into the modern French toupet and, clearly, into the Sicilian, “u tuppu.” But to what is the choice of this name attributed?
Anecdotes and legends about its origin
Eaten by everyone, brioche cu’ tuppu has unclear origins. According to one legend, the origin of the Sicilian brioche recipe is attributed to a cook from Catania who worked for a noble family and decided to prepare it for their breakfast.
It was an experimental, visionary recipe whose peculiar shape soon spread among the aristocratic families who frequented the house, passing from hand to hand, from house to house, and replacing traditional bread to accompany sorbets and granitas. Okay, that might be plausible.
Yet, there is another legend that deviates from the more elegant and delicate version of a ballerina’s bun and attributes the shape of the “tuppo” to a woman’s breasts. Precisely, to that of a woman from Messina who inspired Santa Teresa di Riva in the province of Messina. After all, there is already a dessert that recalls this shape and was invented in the eastern part of the island: the minne di Sant’Agata.
Okay, but there is another legend that mixes the cards. A legend that starts from a famous tongue twister of Sicilian folk tradition: «Cu lu tuppu `un t`appi, senza tuppu t`appi. Cu lu tuppu o senza tuppu, basta chi t`appi e comu t`appi t`appi».
Literally, «With the hair gathered at the nape of my neck I did not have you, without hair gathered at the nape of my neck I had you. With hair up or without hair up, as long as I had you, however I had you». With irony is told of the love between two young people thwarted by the girl’s mother. The girl, who wore her hair pulled back in a bun, cut it off because of the pain she felt, and her mother, moved by compassion, agreed to the engagement.
The history of the Sicilian brioche (and granita!)
Is it correct to call it Sicilian brioche? Actually, it is not really; the correct term is Sicilian “brioscia.” Yes, because brioscia was invented in Sicily and only later did the French borrow the name brioscia, turning it into brioche. Brioche is, in fact, made with a different shape and with a different kind of dough, and even in other Italian regions if you ask for a brioche you find yourself holding something completely different in your hands.
Traditionally, brioscia cu’ tuppu is accompanied by another great specialty: granita. The origins of granita are attributed to the Messina area and date back to the time of Arab rule. The Arabs brought to Sicily the recipe for “sherbet” (sorbet), a frozen drink flavored with fruit juices or rose water. In the Middle Ages, this sorbet was stored in so-called “nevaroli” during the winter months, where snow from Mount Etna and nearby mountains was collected.
Just go to one of the many pastry shops in the Messina area to enjoy it with an excellent Sicilian granita, famous in that area for its historic goodness and invented at the hands of the legendary cook Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli.
Trivia about granita
During the summer months, the ice formed was scooped out, grated and covered with fruit or flower juices. During the 16th century, a change was made to the Arab recipe, discovering that snow could be used along with sea salt to help freeze and preserve food.
Thus was born the pozzetto, a wooden vat with a zinc bucket inside that could be turned with a crank: the cavity was filled with a mixture that froze the contents of the pozzetto by subtraction of heat while the rotary motion prevented the formation of too large ice crystals. Granita prepared in this way replaced “rattata” (hence, “grattatella,” very similar to granita but less homogeneous) over the centuries until the twentieth century where the manual well was replaced by the ice cream maker.
By the way, here are some recipes for making delicious homemade granita!
Sicilian brioche variations and recipes
Originally, among the ingredients in the traditional recipe was lard, as butter was too expensive an ingredient and therefore used only by noble and wealthy families. Today, in most cases, it is replaced by butter, which makes the brioscia much lighter.
We can say that the Sicilian brioche can be bought and enjoyed in any pastry shop, bakery, bar or ice cream shop on the island and it is more common to find it made with butter, a lighter and less fatty ingredient than lard.
It must be said, however, that depending on the location, substantial differences can be seen. Even in size.
In the Catania area, for example, brioche has a larger texture and is less leavened than in the Messina area, where it is much softer and leavened. In Messina, then, brioches are much larger and it is easy to find them flavored with orange or lemon.
In the Palermo area, brioches are without the “tuppo”, are not flavored, and are slightly smaller in size. The texture is more elastic and fluffy and they are mostly enjoyed with homemade ice cream rather than granita.
Many people also fill them with savory ingredients. A typical homemade recipe, for example, is to stuff them with butter and ham. Children are fond of them!
The recipe for brioscia cu’ tuppu
Our recipe is the most classic and traditional one. It only takes a few ingredients such as butter, milk, water, flour, sugar and eggs to make the perfect dough for the renowned brioche cu’ tuppu. Remember that to really appreciate it, it should absolutely be tasted fresh out of the oven. Here is the recipe for making a unique Sicilian brioche!
What about you, have you ever tasted our delicious brioche col tuppo or tried to make it? If you have other recipes to share with us, please leave us a comment!