La Befana Sweet Charcoal
"L'Epifania tutte le feste porta via!"
The 6th of January, marks the end of the Italian Christmas holiday season. From North to South, children celebrate the arrival of i Re Magi (the three kings), bearing gifts for baby Jesus, and celebrate a strange figure, La Befana, a kind witch bringing nice gifts to good children and coal to naughty ones.
Unlike Santa, la Befana doesn't have a reassuring smily face, she doesn't wear a nice red and white costume, but just scrappy old clothes, she doesn't ride a fancy sleigh, but mounts on a broomstick. She flies during the night under the weight of a sack filled to the brim with toys, candies and chocolates to fill the stockings left by children near the fireplace on the night between the 5th and 6th of January.
Unlike Santa, la Befana does not bring presents to everyone, she only rewards those who staied away from trouble during the previous year. Her sack contains also quite a bit of ash and coal for bambini monelli (naughty children), so a week before the Epifania, children start being anxious and a bit worried in case they might find just coal as a punishment for their naughty behavour.
When my mother was a child, this was an even more special day since, not only she was generally a well behaved child who was 99% sure she would get a nice present from the good witch, but she was also the daughter of a local policeman. At the time, in Modica the council celebrated 'la Befana dei Vigili Urbani', literally 'the Befana of the Traffic Police Forces', with a big party and lots of sweets and presents for the kids of the local policeman, a way for the community to thank them for their daily work.
This is why she still cares so much about recreating that special atmosphere for her grandchildren and prepares two nice Befana stockings by the fireplace for Sofia and Leo, they usually find a small present, some chocolate, candies and she also like to jock including some coal .....but it is a treat as well since it is made of sugar:)! Sometimes she buys it ready from a pastry shop but when she has time she makes it herself.
Here is her recipe:
200 gr powdered sugar
500 gr caster sugar
Food coloring (she prefers vegetable charcoal powder)
She takes an iron skillet and starts preparing some caramel with 200 grams of caster sugar and adding a little water, just enough to let the sugar melt completely, then brings it to a boil until the sugar turns into caramel. She whips the egg whites until stiff peaks form and incorporates the food coloring, the reamining 300 grams of caster sugar and the powdered sugar.
Then adds the egg white mixture to the boiling caramel, stirring thoroughly and letting it cook a few more minutes over a low heat. When it starts getting bigger in volume, she removes the mixture from the heat and pours it onto a baking tray.
She lets it cool down, then cuts it into rough pieces oif different sizes.