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Taralli usually don’t have sugar added and are almost never frosted. They can be found in bakeries that make bread call “Panetteria”. These bakeries produce biscotti, bread and taralli. Panettone is about one of the few exceptions although they are considered sweet bread, they are also found just about anywhere.
I’ve written about taralli a few times because they are so much a part of Italian everyday cuisine and there are so many versions. Usually they are not frosted and eaten as a snack or with wine. They are not breadsticks (Grissini), but even in high-end restaurants they can be one of the bread offerings or in bars served with wine. Sometimes they are very small and called “tarallini”. Italians add just about anything they want to the dough, but some are traditional such as pepper (red or black), rosemary and fennel.
Taralli are found all over Italy and are also an Easter specialty. Charmel are one of the few that are frosted with a very light glaze. My grandmother usually made them at Easter and they are on my Easter recipe list. I remember her rolling and forming the traditional doughnut shaped dough and dipping each one in boiling water. They didn’t look like much at this point, but after baking it was almost a miracle when they came out of the oven puffed and beautifully golden. I usually serve Ricotta Torta for dessert on Easter but a large bowl of Charmel taralli are there for an added dessert. Although taralli are most often served with a glass of wine, because Charmel are glazed they don’t pair well with wine.
Homemade taralli are far crispier and flavorful then the store bought variety, which tends to be a little like eating dry cardboard. Even in Italy the packaged taralli just don’t beat the ones made in a “Panetteria” or homemade. Since the recipes make a large amount and last for weeks, making them at home is worth the effort. I usually store them in a tin because you don’t want moisture to get at them. Whether you make them for Easter or just to have around to munch on, taralli are a delicious snack food.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes @ 450º F (variation 10 minutes @ 375ºF)
Yield: 1 dozen
Dry Dough Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons, heaping baking powder
Wet Dough Ingredients
8 egg yolks
2 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoon sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
12 egg yolks
1 teaspoon shortening, melted
1 cup confectionary sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
2 drops of lemon juice
2 drops of lemon extract
Sprinkles or jimmies (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
Add lemon juice and extract to the confectionary sugar. Slowly add in the milk until all confectionary sugar is mixed in and frosting is smooth. It should not be too thin or it will all drip off the cookies and dry transparent. The frosting should be thick enough so that it sits on the top of the cookie.
Place frosted taralli on counter or flat surface until glaze has hardened.
Beat the eggs and oil together. Mix the dry ingredients and add it to the egg mixture. Knead the dough and let it rest for 1/2 hour on the counter covered. Knead the dough again for another 10 minutes and let it rest for 10-15 minutes more on the countertop covered.
Roll out pieces of dough to 6” x 1”. With a sharp knife make a slit all along the outside edge of the strip and form into a donut shape; press the ends together with your thumb.
Bring a pan of water to a boil, and boil the taralli until they float to the top. Place them on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them for 10 minutes at 450º F. They should be golden brown.
Follow the same direction as above except bake @ 375º F for 10 minutes.
When completely cool, frost them with a layer of glaze flavored with lemon extract.
Making as much in advance when having guests for a party or dinner is part of my meal plan. I want to have fun also and enjoy my guests after all that is why I invited them in the first place. But I also want to have a “wow factor” dessert without have to work in a hot kitchen for hours. I don’t want any last minute thing that I have to do to finish it off either. This tart fits all my needs but also makes it look like I’ve spent hours preparing it. If you have a food processor the crust is quickly prepared and there is no rolling out the dough. You just press it in with your hands and mix all the filling ingredients and into the oven it goes. It can be made the day before so that you can concentrate on all the other dishes you are going to prepare.
Cherry Crumble Tart is not sweet and the binder of crushed amoretti is typical of Italian desserts. The only thing you have to watch for is that it has the right amount of sweetness. If you use another biscotti such as ladyfingers that are less sweet then you might have to add a little sugar. I generally use what ever biscotti I have in the house. This tart can be made with other types of fruit such as apples, pears, maybe even figs, although I haven’t tried figs yet.
Ciliege torta della Nonna
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes @ 350º F
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups flour
3/4 cups hazel nuts, ground (ground almonds can be substituted)
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
6 tablespoons water, ice cold
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter, for greasing the pan
5 amoretti or ladyfingers, crumbled
1 1/2 lbs. dark cherries, fresh or frozen, stones removed
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup currant jelly
Place the flour, hazelnuts (or almonds) and baking powder in a bowl. Put the unsalted butter and sugar in a food processor. Pulsate the ingredients until they are fluffy and add the egg. Add the dry ingredients and mix until it looks like cornmeal. Add 1/2 of the water and process for 30 seconds. Feel the dough; it should stick together, if it doesn’t add the remaining water. Place the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator while you are preparing the filling.
Rub about 1 tablespoon of butter onto a spring form pan. Press 2/3 of the dough on the bottom and up the sides to about 1” of the side of the pan. The remaining dough will be crumbled over the top.
Put all the filling ingredients in a bowl and coat the cherries well. Taste for sweetness. The type of cookies that you use will determine if additional sugar is needed. Spread the filling in the prepared crust.
Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the cherry mixture.
Place the tart into the middle of the oven and bake for 1 hour.
Release the spring form the pan and allow the tart to cool. Serve the tart warm or room temperature with a spoon full of creme fraiche over the top.
There aren’t too many desserts that are not high in calories and fat. Also something you can make that is fast and pretty. Ricotta truffles are easy to make and you can use a variety of coatings according to your taste. It takes very little time and the only requirement is that they must be refrigerated until you serve them.
I like to make them with coconut, pure dark and milk cocoa powder and crushed pistachios. But other coatings such as chopped dates, any kind of chopped nuts or chocolate shavings in any of the different flavors available. It all depends on how many calories you want to add. They are pretty, flavorful and you don’t have to know how to bake to make this dessert. In fact people will ask you what they are made of because you can’t tell that it is Ricotta.
A friend of mine introduced me to these at a lovely Italian dinner in Milano. I’ve also used low fat Ricotta when we have been on a diet using only dark chocolate as a coating and a sweetener, and they can also be served to a diabetic.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 30 balls
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 cup good quality cocoa powder (no sugar added)
1 7 oz. package shredded sweet coconut
1 lb. of whole milk ricotta
Mix equal amounts of ricotta and powdered sugar and place the mixture in the refrigerator until it hardens to the point of being able to roll into a ball.
Roll out into small balls the size of chocolate truffles. Roll 50% of them in the cocoa powder and 50% of them in the grated coconut. Keep them refrigerated until you are ready to serve them.
It is possible to prepare them in the morning and serve in the evening. However, they will only stay a few days in the refrigerator and are never as good as when eaten the same day.
In Puglia almonds are a common choice of nuts to include in pastries and cookies. Pasta di mandorle (almond paste) is often used in cookies here such as amaretti. Mixed and crushed with mascarpone, ricotta or fruit and in torte, they are a versatile nut. They are grown in the south of Italy and used in sweet and savory dishes.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds and the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavorings used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but almond oil is much harder to find. Some Internet sites such as King Arthur Flour and Italian specialty stores carry it. The intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods especially this cookie. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops; a little goes a long way.
It is natural to consider that Ricotta and almonds would be married together into a delicious soft biscotti flavored with almond oil. Almond ricotta biscotti are delicate cookies but with an intense aroma. We always include it on a “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” because they are so perfect for a biscotti wedding cake.
I decorate them with a thin slice of almond on white confectionary sugar frosting flavored with almond oil. I love the way the caramel exterior outlines the white interior of the almond. Adding Ricotta does reduce the amount of time these biscotti can be frozen. The most I would keep them in the freezer is about 2-3 weeks. They are best eaten fresh and last a week or so in a container that doesn’t hold in moisture. Freeze them before frosting and let them completly defrost before frosting them.
Ricotta Mandorle Biscotti
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes @ 350º F
Yield: 4 Dozen
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter
1 lb. Ricotta
2 teaspoons almond extract
BASIC Confectionary Sugar Frosting
1 cup confectionary sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
2 drops of lemon juice
2 drops extract or 1 drop almond oil (if using oil taste before adding another drop)
48 almond slices
Sprinkles or jimmies (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
Cream the butter then add the sugar and eggs. Beat the mixture for 1 minute and add the dry ingredients. When all the ingredients are well blended, mix in the almond extract and ricotta and thoroughly blend. Form the dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Flour your hands, which you may have to do from time to time to keep the dough from sticking. Form balls about the size of small golf balls and place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake them for 15-20 minutes at 350º F or until the bottoms are brown. Allow them to cool completely before you frost them.
Add lemon juice and extract to the confectionary sugar. Slowly add in the milk until all confectionary sugar is mixed in and frosting is smooth. It should not be too thin or it will drip off the cookies and dry transparent. The frosting should be thick enough so that it sits on the top of the cookie.
My grandmother would make biscotti for days before Christmas and hide them in an armoire in her front hall under lock and key. If she allowed any of us to get close to them, they would have disappeared long before Christmas. But if we asked her nicely, she never said no. She took the key out of her apron pocket and unlocked that treasure chest filled with sweet, spiced biscotti and handed you some of your favorites.
She had a small white sideboard with a roll-down top. Here she made all her biscotti and that sideboard was our first stop when we entered her kitchen. We could never understand how so many wonderful desserts could be prepared on such a small surface. When I was young I remember her cooking on a black iron stove and blocks of ice being delivered for her wooden icebox. She was in her element even through she wore herself out during holidays. Her family showed their appreciation by filling her home with all their kids in a flurry of noise feasting on all her specialties made with a strong dash of pride. The variety of cookies, cakes, stuffed artichokes, pasta and breads, that came from that kitchen was like being in Grandma’s Christmas Wonderland. We all loved and looked forward to these holiday reunions.
The tradition continues with members of our family preparing their favorite biscotti for events such as wedding, showers and holidays. Every child in our family begins to take part in this tradition at an early age. You don’t have to encourage them, as they can’t wait to get their little hands in all of that dough. It is a way to bond with the kids and make them part of a family tradition. We know that future generations will enjoy these recipes and get to know a little about Grandma and our heritage.
An Italian family can have many versions of the same biscotti and every person takes great pride in their recipe. Pizzetts are a family recipe that is used on almost every tray we make. Pizzette are a double chocolate biscotti scented with spices, roasted almonds, orange zest, expresso and chocolate chips. They are the star attractions on our cookie trays for Christmas and every special event. You can make these cookies in advance and freeze them for up to 2 months unfrosted.
My Christmas greeting to all my readers and let me know if pizzettes are on your Christmas dessert table.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 minutes @ 375ºF
Yield: 4 Dozen
4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup roasted almonds, cut in half
4 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate. chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
2 teaspoons baking powder
Zest of one orange
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup warm water, orange juice or coffee
1/2 cup vegetable oil
12 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn sryup
2-3 tablespoons Brandy or Cointreau, Grand Marnier or tablespoon Kahlua
Mix the cocoa powder into the water or juice. Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl including the nuts, add orange zest, almonds and chocolate chips. Make a well in the center and add the eggs and the water cocoa mixture. Slightly beat the liquid while in the center well and begin to bring in the dry ingredients (you may have to add a little more liquid if it is too dry). Gradually add vegetable oil to form the dough. You may need to wet your hands with oil. The Dough will be thick and will have an oily glaze. Place the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut small portions and roll out the dough in the form of a cylinder. Pat down the top and cut into 1” slices on a diagonal to form a diamond shape. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake 375º F for 8-10 minutes. Do not over-bake the cookies as they will be become dry and hard.
Melt the chocolate with the butter over a double boiler or in a microwave oven. Add the liquor a little at a time. Taste and add more if needed. The original recipe did not include liquor and is fantastic just with the chocolate, butter and a little syrup.
Frost the cookies when they are completely cool.
You ask, what could be more decadent, and I say absolutely nothing. Cartellate are traditionally made during Christmas. They are traditional Pulgiese fried pastries filled with roasted almonds, honey, spices and chocolate.
Apuglia is a peninsula that forms the heel of the “boot” of Italy and has had many conquerors. The Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Argonese, Spanish, the German emperors, Burbons, Turks, Venetians and more. Referred to as a melting pot – each left their mark on the region. You can see the influences in the clusters of white stucco flat roofed dwellings. But the influences of these cultures are also evident in the food and none more then Cartellate.
I have eaten many Cartellate in Puglia. I can honestly say my aunt’s recipe is the best. She came from Peschici, Foggia and called them “Cluster”. Cartellate is dough mixed with wine, formed into a wagon wheel shape and fried. The pockets in the wheel are the receptacles for honey or mosto cotto (a syrup made from fruits or grape skins), spices, nuts and chocolate.
The Cluster I have had in Puglia are delicious and the syrup is mostly made with honey or mosto cotto mixed with lemon zest and walnuts. Some have no nuts and might have a sent of cinnamon. My aunt Rafaela filled hers with roasted almonds, chocolate, spices both cinnamon and clove melted in honey. The combination is positively addicting.
In earlier times my family only made them at Christmas, but as time passed and the love of cartellate overtook us, we began to make them the star of our Thanksgiving desserts. They were never included in the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” trays for weddings as they are usually dripping with honey, but today we also make a separate tray of cartellate for weddings.
These cookies are a labor of love and not easy to make, but the good news is that you can place the shells in a brown paper bag and keep some for Christmas. I make the filling and store it in a glass container so that they are ready to fill and take center stage with the rest of our Christmas biscotti. The only problem is that having them around until Christmas challenges your will power.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 5 minutes each
Yield: 30 Cookies
2 1/2 lbs. flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 jigger of Sherry or Marsala
Tepid water to mix
1 quart Canola or peanut oil
48 oz. honey
1 lb. roasted almonds, cut in half
12 lb. dark chocolate chips, good quality
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cloves, or to taste
Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a board, and make a well in the middle. Put in the shortening, eggs, Sherry or Marsala and, if needed a little warm water. Mix until you are able to form a ball. Knead until the dough is smooth and place it in the refrigerator for about 1 hour covered with plastic wrap. You can also mix the dough in a food processor but add the almonds in by hand.
If you have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough to its second to the last level, or you may roll out a piece with a rolling pin as thinly as possible. Using a pastry cutter with a fluted edge, cut strips out about 2” wide and 8” long. Holding the dough at one end, begin to pinch the dough about 3/4 inch apart, creating small pockets along the strip. Bring the dough around from one end crimping the dough together pinching it along the strip to form a circle. These pockets will hold the filling. The cookie looks like a cartwheel, which is the definition of “Cartellate” The cluster cookie should be about 4” round; however they can be made whatever size you want them to be.
Secure the ends with a toothpick so that they will not unravel during frying. You can keep them overnight and fry them the next day. This is important because you don’t want them to puff up too much closing the pockets during frying. Otherwise they will need at least 4 hours drying time.
Fry a few at a time in hot oil. Remove when they turn a deep golden color. Allow the shells to drain on paper towels or on a rack. Remove the toothpicks and fill them or place them in a paper bag or box until you are ready to fill them.
To make the filling, melt all of the ingredients together in a saucepan, taste for seasoning and place in the refrigerator. The filling will get hard, but will stay in the shells better if somewhat cool.
Start by placing a tablespoon of filling in each cluster cookie. When this step has been completed, go back and keep filling each cookie until you have used all the filling.
The filled cookies will stay a week or more. If you want to make the cookies in advance, place them in a paper bag and they will stay for several days to a month. Never store them in a sealed container or wrap them with plastic wrap.
One of my friends on Foodbuzz was looking for ideas on how to use Ficoco, which is fig jam with cocoa. Sugar was expensive so many desserts were made with jams or mosto cotto (grape syrup) to sweeten cakes, cookies etc. Itlians have many jam or fruit filled cookies that ficoco would be perfect for, in fact figs were also used to make mosto cotto.
I have several stuffed cookie recipes that we make and one is “Ravioli Dolci”. This cookie is a recipe from Apuglia. Ravioli Dolci is a fried cookie that does not have a long shelf life, in fact this is best eaten the day they are made.
Ravioli Dolci di Puglia
Prep Time: 1 1/4 hours
Cook Time: 1 second per batch, about 3 at a time
Yield: 26 Dozen
8 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup shortening
1 shot glass of Marsala wine
Warm water, as needed
Canola or peanut oil for frying
8 oz. size bottle of honey or mosto cotto
1 lb. roasted almonds, finely chopped
1/2 lb. chocolate or chocolate chips, chopped
Ground cinnamon, to taste
Ground cloves, to taste
A teaspoon of any variety of jam or Ficoco.
In a pan on medium heat, melt all of the ingredients together, taste for seasoning and place it in the refrigerator.
Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a board and make a well in the middle. Put in the shortening, wine and if needed a little warm water. Mix until you can form the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and place in the refrigerator for about 1 hour. You can also mix the dough in a food processor.
If you have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough to the second to the last level. Or you may roll a thin layer of dough with a rolling pin. With a round cookie cutter, cut circles about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place a small amount of jam or of the roasted almond honey mixture with the tip of a teaspoon in the center of each circle. Fold over like a half moon and crimp the edges with a fork.
In a deep pan filled with oil, fry about 3 at a time until they are golden brown. They turn brown very quickly; only about a second per batch.
Allow them to cool and sprinkle confectionary sugar over the top.
Cranberries are native to North America and it is known that Indians served cranberries at the first Thanksgiving dinner and served them with venison. They are an amazing fruit growing under sand and wetlands. European settlers actually gave them their name even though the Indians were eating them long before they came to North America. Massachusetts and Wisconsin are the largest producers of Cranberries in the world.
I spent my summers on Cape Cod where there were cranberry bogs in our back yard. After the harvest was over there were many berries lying on top of the bog that got left behind. We would collect them and make muffins and mix them with apple pie – they add a little tartness to the pie that I really like. They are only available in Switzerland in November for a few weeks and to my surprise I am able to buy Ocean Spray cranberries. I buy several bags and freeze them for the year. The European varieties don’t have the same flavor and are much smaller. For more information on cranberries log onto the Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. web site. http://oceanspray.com/
We tend to think about cranberries only during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I freeze them and use them as a salsa for meats, in apple pie and crumble, and cranberry bread. I dry them in the oven and toss them in my homemade granola, muffins, biscotti and scones. I make cranberry sauce year round serving it with venison, chicken and pork. Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C and are also full of antioxidants.
Cranberry Walnut Bread
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour @ 350º F
Yield: 12 slices
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons all purpose flour, for dusting the berries
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely broken, save 3 for decoration
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons orange zest or
2 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups cranberries
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Other things needed
Parchment paper, cut the size of the bottom of your loaf pan
Cream the butter, sugar and eggs until they are fluffy. Add the sour cream, orange zest, and orange juice.
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients a little at a time. Using the 2 tablespoons of flour – toss the cranberries into the flour coating them. Fold in the berries and walnuts by hand. Place the parchment paper at the bottom of the load pan. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan with parchment paper at the bottom and three place whole walnuts on the top of the batter. Drop the pan onto the countertop a few times so that the batter settles evenly.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour at 350ºF. Test with a toothpick; it should come out dry when done. Remove it from the oven to a rack and allow it to cool before removing from the loaf pan.
When I first visited Apuglia, I was taken by the beauty of the shoreline. I was on a search to discover the place of my heritage, to understand a little more about my grandparents as I thought I would also discover a little about myself.
Since my family has been in the food business from the time my grandfather immigrated from Vieste (FG) Italy, food was where I jumped in first. The traditions and approach to food can be a starting point for anyone searching for answers about their heritage as so many traditions are wrapped around how people eat and go about it. I wondered if any of the recipes my family made would be exactly like those in Vieste or if they had been changed to satisfy the taste of the now American family. I write often about these recipes, but one that I found when writing up my family’s recipes was taralli and the important roll they play in Italian cuisine.
When I went through the soiled and hand written recipes of my aunts and grandmothers, I found many taralli recipes. Taralli with fennel and anise seed, black or red pepper flakes, made with egg or baking powder, wine or beer. They were boiled then baked, or just baked. This amazed me because although my family are experts at making Italian biscotti, they never made taralli, with the exception of wine taralli and egg taralli at Easter.
Taraill should be named the national biscotti. They are served with an aperitif, in a breadbasket, as a dessert, by hungry children as a snack and dunked in wine over a conversation or for breakfast. Taralli are eaten any time of the day by everyone young and old. They can be found in every market and bakery and in most homes. It became my quest to learn how to make taralli at home.
The Pugliese have a saying “Tutto finisce con taralli e vino”, no matter what the argument it can always be solved with a glass of wine and a handful of taralli.
Black Pepper & Fennel Taralli
Prep Time: 1 hr. 15 min.
Cook Time: 20 minutes at 375º F
Yield: 7 Dozen
8 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 ounce dry yeast (1 package is 1/4 ounce or 7g)
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, crushed by hand
3 tablespoons fennel seed, whole
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup oil
12 oz. can beer
2 tablespoons water
In a small bowl add the warm water and dry yeast. Let it rest in a warm place for 15 minutes until it foams. In a separate large bowl, add all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the middle and add the egg. Gradually add oil, the yeast mixture and beer alternating with the flour mixture until the dough is formed. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth and workable. Cover the dough with a towel and let it rest on the counter for at least one hour.
Form the dough into a cylinder about 1/2″ thick, and cut them into pieces about 6″ long. Take each 6” long piece of dough and bring the ends together to form an oval shape. Press the ends together with your thumb. Brush the taralli with the egg wash and place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake for 20 minutes at 375º F. They should be lightly brown on the top.
NOTE: They will last about 1 month stored in a paper bag or a metal container. Do not put them in a humid place.
Planning starts early for an Italian wedding with grandparents, aunts, cousins all allocated different jobs, including the preparation of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”. This is by far one of the most important jobs of all. Italian weddings tend to be large and huge amounts of biscotti are made by all the members of the future bride’s family. Imagine what the kitchen looks like with everyone having a specific task to perform and making dozens of biscotti for weeks before the wedding!
The bride takes the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” and offers them to the wedding guests who fill their napkins and handbags. Everyone including each child gets their share of biscotti to take home. Then of course the critique begins as to which biscotti are the best. OURS are always the best as our family truly are experts in the preparation of this most enjoyable and important tradition.
“Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” is a biscotti wedding cake. It is layers of different biscotti arranged in a pyramid decorated with icing covered almonds called “Confetti” and ribbons. It takes center stage at Italian weddings. Members of the family bring the biscotti together the day before the wedding and arranged and wrape the torta with great fan fair, this is an event in itself. Of course, it is hard not to taste them as you are constructing the torta.
The layers can be placed such as described below, or you can randomly place them making sure that the bottom layers are sturdy cookies that can take the weight of the ones placed on top.
Placing doilies in between the layers helps to stabilize the cookies. If making larger trays another way of doing this is to dip the bottom of each biscotto into confectionary sugar frosting and attach it to your torta construction. This will keep the biscotti from moving or falling. In this case you would not use the doilies except to cover the bottom of the tray.
“Confetti”; candy covered almonds in colors symbolic of life’s events are randomly placed throughout the torta. Confetti arrangements placed on top of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” are saved as mementoes. The nuns of Santa Chiara in the region of Abruzzi are famous for their confetti confections. The colors are traditional and represent the following:
Pink or blue-Children, girl or boy
Silver and Gold-Wedding and Anniversaries.
Bottom layer: 2 varieties of firm biscotti such as a sliced biscotti and sesame seed cookie.
Middle layer: 1 variety placed on a dolly
Top layer: 1 variety of lighter weight biscotti
And so on.
Biscotti can be frozen for up to 2 months. The cookies are prepared in advance; frosted and assembled the day before the wedding. Once the biscotti are baked and completely cooled they are placed in freezer bags or plastic containers and frozen. When you are ready to use them you must completely defrosted them before applying the frosting. Place the cookies in boxes in order to transport to the location where the torta will be constructed.
The tray is then placed on large sheets of cello wrap. It is important to place the cello wrap in both directions so that the cookies are completely covered with the wrap. The cello wrap is then brought up over the biscotti and tied with colorful ribbons.
Bomboniera or small decorative boxes or packets are often filled with the “Confetti” and given as gifts at Italian weddings. Today we often prepare Bomboniere filled with biscotti rather then passing them out.
Everything in Italy has a story and this is no different. Chiacchiere means to chat in Italian. Because I never stopped talking as a kid, my grandmother would always say to me “chiacchiere, chiacchiere, chiacchiere” – meaning chatter, chatter, chatter. When you eat ciacchiere they crackle and crunch as you bite into the fragile, crispy fried pastry making a lot of noise, spreading crumbs all over the place and sprinkling you with confectionary sugar. They are eaten once a year, preceding Lent. Chiacchiere encourages chain eating.
The Venice Carnevale takes place at the end of February and is the most famous in Europe. Carnevale is celebrated with colorful festivals all over Italy. Masquerade balls, entertainment, music, spectacular papier–mâché floats and of course “dolci traditionali di Carnevale”. This deleciate cookie is referred to as ”Fritelle de Carnevale”.
I have found about 17 names so far for this cookie. Chiacchiere is the name used in the region of Lombardy, Cenci in Campania, Frappe in Emilia Romana, Crostoli in Venezia. They are also called Bugle, Strappole, Lattughe to name but a few regional variations. So what is in a name? It is as important as the recipe and those of us who adore this cookie can easily get into a heated discussion about its origins and its name. But the fun part is resolving it with a glass of white wine and a bowl full of Cenci. Like every Italian family, our recipe came from my grandmother, who was born in Avellino, (Campania, Italy). She called them Cenci.
Our version of this cookie preparation is made of strips of sweet dough cut into various shapes and fried in hot oil. They are dusted with powdered sugar once they are cool. They can be formed in a bow, or tied in a knot, or flat pieces of dough fried crispy. Every region, village and family tends to have its own recipe. Some recipes call for Marsala, Grappa or white wine mixed into dough. Some are made with yeast-others not.
Chiacchiere is a tradition at Christmas time in our family and the kids plead to be allowed to help with cutting and creating the bows. I find rolling out the dough with a pasta machine works very well. The dough should be very thin and cut into strips with a pastry cutter. I make a small cut in the middle, take one end and pull it through the hole creating a bow.
Many countries have their version of a fried sweet cookie. In Switzerland they are eaten from December to February and are called “Fasnachtchüechli” or “Chnöiblätz” (dough stretched over the knee). Fasnacht is also carnival in Switzerland.
Enjoy my family recipe, but be careful they are addictive.
Prep Time: 1 hour 12 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes each or until golden
Yield: 6 Dozen
4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 cup confectionary sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound butter
2 tablespoon of Whiskey, Brandy, Sherry or Sweet Marsala wine
4 medium eggs, beaten
1 quart oil for frying (Canola oil or peanut oil)
Cream the eggs and butter together. Add the alcohol of your choice and blend. Sift the flour, sugar and salt and slowly add it into the egg mixture. Form the dough and knead until it is smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Thinly roll out the dough. With a cookie cutter, cut the strips about 3” x 5” long. Make another cut in the center of the strip, about 1”, and pull one end of the dough through the cut forming a bow.
In a deep fryer, place a few cookies at a time in hot oil and fry until they puff up and become golden brown. Place them on paper towels to drain or on a cake rack placed over a cookie sheet with a rim. This allows any additional oil to drain out of the cookie.
Once completely cooled, place a few cookies in a bag filled with confectionary sugar and gently toss them, coating them with the sugar.
Store in a paper bag. They will get soggy if they are stored in a sealed container.
There are many articles written about the health benefits of almonds. Low in saturated fat and containing calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Jordan almonds are considered the best and are sweet almonds coming from Malaga. Bitter almonds are grown in the south of France, Sicily and North Africa. See the web sites at the end of this article for more information on the benefits of almonds and their origins.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds but the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavoring are used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but the intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops. Most Italian markets sell these oils and a little goes a long way.
In Italy desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The biscotti originated in the Tuscany and it is thought that they were flavored with almonds from Prato. The cookies are known as “cantucci” and they can be found in every pasticceria in the Tuscany. Cantucci are mostly eaten with a glass of “Vin Santo” a sweet wine. Many restaurants serve small almond biscotti with coffee and some will have a bowl of them on the table at all times. It is probably the most well-known and popular biscotti. Almonds are used in many different varieties of biscotti and also mixed with fruits and chocolate.
Other desserts made with almonds in Italy are a rich bread or flat cake known as “panforte”. A cookie called “Cartellate” is made in Apuglia. It is fried dough in the shape of a cartwheel (cartellate means cartwheel in Italian) and filled with toasted almonds, honey, chocolate and spices. Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor. The base of the liqueur is primarily made from apricot pits. Apricot and peach pits have similar oils and taste like almonds. The original version of Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy and is also used to flavor many Italian desserts and coffee. Marzipan, which is a mixture of sugar and almonds is used in confections. One of my favorites is a candy called “Brocante con mandorle”, (Italian almond brittle). It is very hard and you must to be careful of your teeth when you eat it. Unlike most brittle, this is thick and hard made with toasted almonds, sugar, honey, corn syrup and almond oil or almond flavoring. Colorful sugar candied almonds known as “confetti” are arranged in exquisite decorations for wedding cakes and mixed with trays of biscotti.
Cantucci are use in all of our biscotti trays, they are one of our most asked for biscotti. Cantucci are hard so they make a good base for our “Torta Festiva” or “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”.
Make a full recipe and stored in a metal container, they will last a few weeks. They can be frozen up to two months – they defrost very quickly. You will always have biscotti to serve with coffee when friends drop by.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 2 1/2 Dozen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups roasted almonds, cut in half
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ROASTING THE NUTS
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes. Shake the pan several times to turn the nuts so they cook evenly. Let the almonds cool. Cut the almonds in half.
In large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients and toasted almonds. Make a well in the center and combine the remaining wet ingredients (water, oil and eggs). Oil your hands to mix the dough. Place the dough onto a floured board and work until completely combined. The dough will be sticky to work with. Refrigerate for one hour.
Make loaves about 14” long and 2” wide, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and place them in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and slice on a diagonal 1” apart.
To freeze, do not slice but wrap the whole logs tightly in plastic wrap. Slice the logs when you are ready to serve them. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Cantucci can be double backed a few minutes on each side for a drier harder result.