A Little Crumb - La Michetta

The MICHETTA originated during the Austrian occupation of Milan, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire reigned in Lombardy, after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.  As is the case, the occupiers, in this instance the Austrians, brought with them new foods which the Milanese adapted, and then transformed to make their own. One of these delicacies was a bread with the evocative name of “Kaisersemmel”, or "Emperor’s sandwich”, which was a sandwich weighing 50 to 90 grams in what was a traditional rose form. To spite the occupying Emperor and his Habsburg troops who guarded the city, the Milanese renamed the bread with the diminutive of “micca", "mica", or “Michetta" which originally meant “crumb”.

But, the primary transformation that took place and made it what it is to this day,  had to do with the “architecture" of the bread. In the humid climate of Milan, the Kaisersemmel didn’t retain the freshness it had in the much drier climate of Vienna, where it would stay fresh and fragrant till evening. In Milan, the dough quickly absorbed the ever present humid air, making the bread stale and gummy very quickly. The intuition of the master bakers in Milan was to figure out a way to hollow out the bread, in effect emptying it, which immediately lightened it, and enabled it to maintain its crisp outer shell, ensuring a longer lasting and more fragrant and digestible bread.

My personal fascination with the Michetta has much more to do with nostalgia for my youth, and for a Milan that no longer exists for the most part. I don’t think you would be wrong if you said that the Michetta is the equivalent of a bagel for the native NY’er, in that it became essentially synonymous with the locale. In Milan, during the years I was growing up, most bakeries had few choices when it came to your everyday bread. So, the Michetta was paired with everything from Nutella (which was still relatively unknown outside of Italy), to your classic salami and Mortadella lunch time fare. These sandwiches became a scrumptious daily ritual in all school cafeterias and bars (bars in the Italian sense, that is to say, more like a café here).

In terms of shape, even though all Michette look slightly different, the general form is quite distinct and recognizable to anyone who grew up around them. They all have a distinguished oval octagonal form with a puck like growth coming out of the top, similar to the way the top of a bowl of stiffly beaten eggs look when you pull the egg beaters out of the bowl. And, as I mentioned above, the crust is very light and thin, and on the inside it is mostly hollow with pockets of moist, fragrant, and chewy wonderfulness. So, for the history, for the wistfulness for a youth gone, and most importantly, for the rush of feelings I get when I take that first bite, I love them and I decided to paint them.