I cannot quite pinpoint which book it may have been where my eyes first glazed over Italian pastry recipes. I think it actually was a flood of books I brought home all at once, I’d scramble to the ends of each book and try to absorb every ingredient and method. The style in which the author wrote the recipe, I was, and am still elated. My heart nestled into Italy, it was the mentor I had been looking for but didn’t know existed. This cookie that looks like what I first knew as biscotti, seemed to be an Italian classic, (I suppose as most Italian recipes are), lots of cookbooks had their variation of it. Seemingly alike, it took quite a handful of trials and reading to discover the difference. Biscotti means twice cooked and in Italy there are two types of biscotti; tozzetti being softer and more cookie like. And cantuccini being made from a bread-like dough, dry and crisp. This recipe falls under the tozzetti category.
Classically enriched by egg yolks, being that the land had more eggs to offer than butter at a time, this recipe is delightfully and nutritiously rich. In what to me feels to be relatable to human digestion, being easy on our metabolism. Still, lots of sugar is necessary for the sharp tooth this cookie is known for. Making it a sublime treat. Any mix in additions to the dough will be lovely. I can imagine showcasing chocolate, and other ideas being pine nuts, rosemary, anise, or candied orange and melon. I think when you try an ingredient and it strikes you that would be a delight savored over a morning coffee ritual, or a weekend 4pm break, working your way slowly through the cookie studded with the ingredients that first drew the inspiration, all along the while sipping a sweet glass of Vin Santo to celebrate yourself and the moment.
It’s summer now, I am enamored with Sicily, and these almonds I brought home from a local Italian market. Flatter and wider in shape they looked interesting. The flavor to me was remarkable. Still fragrant and plump of the mediterranean air scented with oregano, tomatoes and fennel growing abound. I imagined biscotti and as I gathered my ingredients I threw in lemon and vanilla feeling it was the right melody I most felt like savoring along with my special almonds. It’s likely you too have the remaining ingredients already in your cupboard, really just flour, eggs and sugar. The cookie is strong, sweet and soft when warmed by the tongue but resilient to all else. I like that the yolks keep it from being crisp like many biscotti’s I’ve had before. This biscotti in that sense fills you like a meal. It’s a delightful breakfast and a joy to hold in hand with a to go cup of coffee on the train as I make my way to work.
Tozzetti with candied lemon, vanilla and mandorle
2 tsp vanilla paste
450g flour sifted with 4 ½ tsp baking powder and 1 tsp fine salt
1 tbsp butter, melted
200g mandorle (Italian almonds)
2 tbsp finely minced candied lemon
Pinch of flaky salt
Preheat oven to 375ºF, if convection 350ºF. Blanchir the eggs with sugar and vanilla. Sift in flour mixture. Mix in the butter, almonds and lemon peel. Work with hands to make two strong logs. Set atop parchment paper and a strong baking tray, bake for 25 minutes until lightly golden. Turn oven temperature down another 50º. Cool for three minutes, and using a tea towel and a serrated knife, saw the log along a slight angle, making tozzetti shapes. It’s an important time to do this now while still hot from the oven, otherwise it will prove difficult. Arrange slices back onto the baking tray and return to oven for five minutes. Flip the tozzetti to their other sides, and bake another five minutes. Turn the oven off, set the door slightly ajar and allow the rich glory to cool completely as the oven does.
Tozzetti with candied fennel and mandorle
The same as above, simply take away the candied lemon and vanilla. And mix in the candied fennel along with the almonds.
For candied fennel:
1 fennel bulb, trimmed of outer leaves
300 g sugar
300 g water
Dice fennel into small cubes of equal size.
Meanwhile make a simple syrup, by bringing the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add cubed fennel and turn down the heat to a lively simmer. Continue on until fennel is plump and full of sugar, Drain and set aside fennel to cool. Either discard or reserve syrup for other uses, perhaps a dash in your seltzer. Or drizzled on your morning cantaloupe.
I am part of the summer
my bare feet spread on the warm wooden floorboards
a sense of temperature warmly like the womb
And like me, the frayed screen awry
our curling hairs
Soft wind, humming engines, play and flighted notes, a field of cilia sways
My water glass round, of the overgrown mint and the bouquets of fennel fronds set aside …
The stone building is warm, I am warm