September 28, 2019 10:15 am
The Danubio (Italian for Danube) is a typical Neapolitan dish, which can be either sweet or salty. It is a leavened pie, made of several buns of “pan brioche” stuffed in different ways. The simplest explanation for its name is linked to the structure of its surface, which refers to the homonymous river, rippled by the waves.
Although the name seems to suggest a Central European origin, its history and diffusion are rooted in Naples. The story about the origins of the Danubio is quite controversial: some people say that it was invented by Mario Scaturchio’s maternal aunt, whose origins were Austrian. The Scaturchios, famous Neapolitan confectioners, had moved to Naples from Calabria in search of fortune at the beginning of XX century.
In 1905 Giovanni, one of the ten Scaturchio brothers, opened a pastry shop in Naples, at 19, piazza San Domenico Maggiore. The pastry shop, already known for its “Pastiere”, “Babà”, “Sfogliatelle riccie”, “Roccocò”, “Struffoli” and “Susamielli Calabresi”, began to produce new pastries in the 1920s: the Strudel, the Sacher cake, and the “Buchteln”, a cake filled with plum and apricot jam, which was later Neapolitanized in “Briochina del Danubio” (Tiny Danubian brioche) and then in “Danubio”.
According to other sources, the Danubio had already appeared in Naples decades before, notably during the reign of the Bourbons. As a matter of fact, in 1768, King Ferdinand IV married Maria Carolina of Habsburg-Lorraine, who brought a group of Viennese chefs to court. As a consequence, the Austrian tradition merged with the Neapolitan one. Among the most renowned culinary products of the time there was a delicious pie, stuffed with ingredients such as salami and scamorza: basically, it was one of the many variations of what would become the Danubio. Indeed, this pie ideally represented the transformation of an ancient Austrian cake made of tiny buns stuffed with jam called “Danubiana” (in reference to the finest Hungarian flour it was made with), which was also known as “Brioche al pizzico” (pinched brioche).
This version of the Danubio is an extraordinary match of flavours that can accompany many dishes and be enjoyed on many occasions. Its special feature is the contrast between the sweetness of the brioche and the salty filling, creating a perfect combination of taste and goodness.
In the Neapolitan cuisine, it is baked on feast days and on special occasions, when it even stands up to challenge the undisputed supremacy of the “Casatiello”. In its salty version, each bun contains a different ingredient (salami, cooked ham, bacon, sausage, provola, scamorza, that is the same ingredients of the Casatiello).
As with many other leavened cakes, such as the “Panettone”, the Danubio also requires a long and laborious process that includes three leavenings at different stages of its preparation: the minimum time is 4 hours. Several experts agree that the best results are obtained by leaving the dough to rest in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours, as it happens with the brioche.
As far as the filling is concerned, the only limit is imagination: cherry, orange or berries jam, cream, chocolate, or a mix of different ingredients can be placed in each bun.
Picking the sweet or salty version is almost irrelevant for the dough, which is the same, regardless of the incorporation of a pinch of salt or sugar. The filling does the rest: the salty Danubio usually requires cold cuts and cheeses.
Among the current reinterpretations of this famous Neapolitan pie, it is worth mentioning the gluten-free and lactose-free sweet versions. The latter is a very fragrant leavened cake, made of several buns filled with chocolate, custard or jam. It is better to eat it warm: one can heat a portion for a few minutes in the electric oven at medium power before serving it. Each guest can pick one bun and eat it … no cutlery is needed!
Agnoletti, V., La nuova cucina economica, Vincenzo Poggioli, 1803.
Ausilio, C., Storia e ricetta del Danubio partenopeo. Corolla di squisite palline, vesuviolive.it, 12/09/2015, https://www.vesuviolive.it/cultura-napoletana/cucina/109267-storia-e-ricetta-del-danubio-partenopeo-corolla-di-squisite-palline/.
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“The salty Danube”, 22/11/2013, https://federico2ndgenuineitalian.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-salty-danube-il-danubio-salato.html.
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Written by Valentina Russo, PhD student in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.
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