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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.
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.