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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.
When I’m looking for something different to serve my friends with a glass of wine on a nice summer afternoon, I bake red wine taralli. This is a slightly sweet taralli, made with a full-bodied red wine such a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Barolo, Zinfandel, and Primativo etc. The wine is very important in this taralli, as the entire flavor is dependent on its aroma. The richness of the taralli reaches its best when dipped in a glass of the same red wine. This taralli is not a hard biscuit style taralli, but is more the texture of a cookie.
Perfect for a wine tasting party, red wine taralli can be served with your dessert selections. Other taralli such as black pepper, fennel seed or red pepper flake taralli compliment wines.
In Italy they have a saying, “ You can resolve any argument over a glass of wine and a handful of taralli”.
Red Wine Taralli
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 6 Dozen
5 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup red wine, full bodied
1 cup oil
2 tablespoons water
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the oil and wine and knead until the dough is smooth.
Roll them into 6” x 1/2″ thick pieces. Shape them into loops and press the ends together with your thumb. Brush them with the egg wash.
Bake at 350ºF for about 20 minutes. Don’t let them brown too much; check the bottom; if they are slightly brown they are done.
Note: These cookies are usually dunked in red wine. They can be stored in a metal container for more then 2 weeks. They can also be frozen.
Traditional Italian food of Easter typically includes: capretto o agnello al forno (roast lamb), carcioffi fritti (fried artichokes), pizza rustica (a pie stuffed with ricotta, sausage and hard boiled eggs), la colomba di Pasqua (a dove-shaped sweet bread). Taralli, cassatelli, biscotti di pignoli, pena di Pasqua (sweet bread with hard-boiled, pastel colored eggs baked in the center), and torta di ricotta (Ricotta cheese cake) are prepared in every Italian home.
Chocolate Easter eggs are a special treat for children in Italy. The “uovo di pasqua” – a large decorative chocolate egg that comes with a gift inside are beautifully wrapped in elaborate and colorful decorative foils weighing from a few ounces to about 18 pounds. Stores are filled with “uovo di pasqua” creating a psychedelic and festive atmosphere. In past times, parents would take the gifts to their cioccolataio (chocolate maker) and it would be placed inside the chocolate egg.
The taralli is a treasure from Apuglia and are eaten any time of the day. Simple yet delicious recipes are created with eggs and flour. Fennel seed, black pepper, red pepper flakes and wine added and formed into oval or round shapes. In southern Italy, taralli come in many sizes and flavors. These are typically referred to in Neapolitan dialect as “scaldetelli” little boiled things. Many, but not all taralli are dipped in boiling water before being baked creating a nice sheen on the outside. Some are baked and brushed with egg wash. Taralli are biscuits or snack food, but can also make an appearance as a dessert after a meal is over and dunked into wine. In our family they are the star of the Easter desserts along with the Ricotta Torta and Torta di riso. They are traditional desserts that make each and every day special and holidays a delight for everybody. The Italians have a saying “no matter what the argument it can be resolved over a glass of wine and handful of taralli”.
The Easter egg taralli (as I call them) are only made at Easter and have no other flavoring. Typically, taralli are not frosted, but there is a version called “Charmel” that are lightly frosted with a confectionary glaze and sprinkled with tiny colorful sprinkles. Egg taralli are hard, but as light as clouds. Our recipe for egg taralli are boiled and then baked turning a warm caramel color. I make large quantities of them and serve them in an Italian hand painted bowl from Apuglia. Taralli dunked in “Vino Santo”, a sweet Italian white wine coming from the Tuscany is like floating in air. Very appropriate for Easter!
Easter Egg Taralli
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes at 400ºF or until light brown
Yield: 5 Dozen
7 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil
Add the salt to the flour in a large bowl. Mix the egg and oil into the flour and form a ball. This step can be done in a mixer. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel. Let it rest in a warm place for an hour.
Roll out pieces of dough into 6” x 1” cylinders. Take each piece of dough and bring the ends together to form a doughnut shape. Press the ends together with your thumb.
Fill a large saucepan with water and let it to come to a boil. Drop them one at a time into the boiling water. When they rise to the top, remove them to a dry board or kitchen towel. Make a cut along the outside edge of the doughnut. This allows them to rise.
Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 400ºF oven until they are a light golden brown. The taralli will be hard on the outside, but light and airy on the inside. They are not sweet, but more like a biscuit. They will store in an airtight container for weeks.
Serve them with “Vino Santo”, a white sweet wine from the Tuscany.
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.