This was a bit of a haphazard baking experience. I’d wanted to make some biscuits or cookies that included citrus peel, as I’d recently made some. I also wanted to try some more recipes from the American Academy in Rome’s Biscotti book.
It’s a handsome, nicely-designed book, and I know from working in the Academy kitchens that their biscotti and cookies are very good. But, like The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, Biscotti is a recipe book that really needed more testing, to make sure the recipes were scaled correctly for a domestic kitchen. Many of the recipes have large yields and rely on you having a proper food mixer. I don’t want to bake for 40 people, nor do I have a Hobart (I wish!).
So I read the Biscotti di miele (honey cookies) recipe with some trepidation. It “Yields 60 cookies”. It doesn’t involve fat or eggs. It seems to rely on having a mixer. It uses baking soda, but doesn’t seem to have enough acid for the alkali sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to react with – just some grappa. And even if it did, it says to rest the dough “in a cool place overnight (not in a fridge”). Which is confusing – won’t the soda just react with the grappa when they’re first combined, producing then dispersing the leavening CO2, then have not efficacy at all once it’s rested? Oh, and its summer here in Rome now, 35C-ish (that’s mid-90F, for you 19th century types) – so there is no “cool place” in my flat, beyond the fridge.
Still, I liked the sound of the flavours – honey, almonds, peel, some spices, so I plunged in. So this is my first attempt at a more domestic, less fussy version of these cookies. It’s not quite right, but the flavour is good. As I didn’t have any grappa (yuck), I changed the baking soda to baking powder, which is already combination of acid and alkali, designed to react and create leavening CO2 when heated. I also jettisoned some of the original recipes spices – cloves (because I find them a bit pungent, and too Christmassy) and nutmeg (because I didn’t have any).
125g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp almond essence
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
260g plain/all-purpose flour
60g candied peel (I used my famous vodka-soaked kumquat zest, now candied), finely chopped
65g raw almonds, finely chopped, or indeed ground in a food mixer
50g (ish) milk
60g icing sugar + water for icing
1. Melt together the honey and sugar, cooking until the sugar crystals have dissolvde.
2. Put aside to cool, adding the almond essence.
3. Sieve together the baking powder, flour and cinnamon.
4. Add the chopped almonds and peel to the honey.
5. Combine the gloopy honey mixture and flour. Ideally done in a mixer, but it’s possible by hand.
6. Bring to a dough. Add milk if it’s too dry.
7. Form a ball and rest, wrapped in plastic, for an hour or so.
8. Roll out the dough thinly – less than 5mm ideally.
9. Cut with your cookie cutters of choice.
10. Bake on sheets lined with parchment for around 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 180C, until golden brown.
11. Place on a wire rack to cool.
12. While cooling, brush with a simple icing made from icing sugar mixed with water to achieve a runny consistency.
13. Allow the cookies to cool completely and the icing to set.
14. Eat, dunked in milky tea.
So yes, although they still feel somewhat experimental, these cookies were still delicious – particularly for the slight crunch of almond and the chewiness of the peel, the latter complimented by the cinnamon.
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