Tag Archives: biscuits

Red wine and chocolate ring cookies, or Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato

These are a long way from authentic ciambelline al vino – ring cookies that are normally made plain or flavoured with fennel or anise seeds. But hey, I love chocolate. Chocolate doesn’t seem to play a big role in Italian biscotti etc, but as we’re moving house soon, and I have a large pot of cocoa in the cupboard that needs using up, I thought I’d try chocolate ciambelline.

Plus, we had a bottle of red wine that also needed using up. This cost us the princely sum of €1.50 so was clearly seriously and definitely hardcore cooking wine; or very desperate-at-the-end-of-an-evening-wine; or Withnail wine (“This is a far superior drink to meths!”).

We also had a bar of chocolate and did chop it up and add it to the mix, but it caused problems with the rolling: the chips kept severing the dough. So if you do it, I’d recommend either chopping the chocolate up into small pieces (I’m talking chips of a just a few mm) or leaving it out completely. Ditto, some slithers of almond would be nice, but they’d have to be small or they’ll compromise the structural integrity. You don’t want a hull breach. (Sorry, going a bit Star Trek.)

Kitchen

Anyway, ciambelline are classic Italian cookies that are often served with a digestivo after a meal. They’re related to taralli, which are almost like hard-baked bagels (and, indeed, they’re boiled in water before baking), and tarallini, which are smaller versions thereof. I’ve generally encountered savoury taralli and tarallini, but in one seafood restaurant we like in central Rome, they serve you a Vin Santo desert wine with a few small, fennel-seed flavoured sweet ring biscuits that they call tarallucci.

So, as with so many Italian nouns relating to food, usage is fairly mutable! (Depending on region, slang, dialect, inclination, family etc.)

So anyway. Here’s my recipe. Bear in mind, these sorts of recipes are traditionally made with the whole qb approach: quanto basta, “how much is enough”. I always prefer to use grams but if you do make these, and you feel your dough isn’t quite right, just follow your instincts and adjust the amount of liquid or flour.

360g flour
50g cocoa
150g sugar
160g extra virgin olive oil
160g red wine
(Optional: 50g dark choc, cut in small pieces, or some small slithers of nut)

Red wine and chocolate ring cookies, or Ciambelline al vino con il cioccolato mix

1. Combine the wine, oil and sugar.
2. Sieve in the flour and cocoa, stirring.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
3. Form a dough. Add more flour if it’s too wet, more oil or wine if it’s too dry.
4. Rest the dough, for about half an hour, to let it relax.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
5. Preheat the oven to 180C.
6. Form balls, about the size of a walnut. I went for a scaling weight of 30g, but ciambelline are often bigger, so you could go for 60-80g. Whatever you prefer.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
7. Roll the balls into sausages.
8. Form the sausages into rings, pinching together the ends.
9. Dip the top in granulated sugar.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
10. Place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment.
11. Bake for about 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
12. You can crisp / harden them more by leaving them in the oven, switched off, while it cools. Though these harder ones may need stronger teeth / liquids for dipping and dunking.

Now of course, there’s something else about these ciambelline that’s so far going unsaid. It’s the elephant in the room of this recipe. If you don’t have appreciate scatological humour, browse away now! If you’re not easily fazed, scroll down and highlight the black.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
So yes, they look like poo. Especially when I was making them. All that cocoa and glistening olive oil – poo, or at least joke-shop plastic turds. And when I rolled them in the sugar, I couldn’t help thinking of the saying “You can’t polish a turd… but you can roll it in glitter.” But then, thought I, worry not: what could be more perfect in Rome, a city that’s totally and utterly and liberally decorated with dog mess, than a ciambelline of that resembles these pavement obstacles? (Our v borghese neighbourhood is especially bad – worse than Paris in the 1980s, and that’s saying something.)
Sorry.

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Pine nut cheesecake, or cheesecake della nonna

Pine nut cheesecake, cheesecake della nonna

If you’re in a Roman restaurant and they offer you desert, it’s quite likely you’ll encounter torta della Nonna – that is “Grandma’s tart” or “Grandma’s cake”. I’m not sure about the labour laws, but all this pudding-making must keep granny pretty busy.

Sources vary, but torta della nonna is either a Florentine or a Ligurian dish. Though surely any nonna has her own torta? There are variations, but most commonly in Rome it’s a tart made with a sweet pastry crust and a filling based on custard and/or ricotta. Its defining feature is pine nuts, pinoli.

This post isn’t, however, about torta della nonna. As I had some leftover cookies that had been smashed on their journey to and from the park for a picnic on Sunday, I thought I’d make a cheesecake with a della nonna twist: ie, with the addition of pine nuts.

A note on the cookies
I made some cornmeal cookies – they were basically like a digestive, but with a slightly different crunch, and a few spices (cinnamon, ginger). They worked well, but you can use whatever biscuits you like: digestives are most typical for UK cheesecakes, US recipes use graham crackers. My friend Juli-from-Jersey said the cornmeal cookies reminded her of snickerdoodles, though they’re cookies with a name so ridiculous I can’t quite bring myself to discuss them.

I won’t include the cornmeal cookies recipe, but will say digestives are so easy to make you don’t need to reach for some plastic-wrapped stuff from a factory. I’ve included a simple recipe at the bottom of this post. If you do use this recipe, I’d add some cinnamon and ginger to the crumb base mix.

A note on the candied peel
Only use your own candied peel, or other hand-made stuff. Don’t use that yucky sticky stuff you get in tubs from the supermarket. Peel is easy to make. Honest. Just Google it, if you’ve not tried before. I’m still using some of my candied-vodka-infused-kumquats-from-the-garden-peel.

A note on cheeses
Often, cheesecake recipes will just say “cream cheese” in the ingredient list. It’s a bit vague. Though perhaps it doesn’t matter what cream cheese, as a baked cheesecake mixture seems pretty forgiving. Here I used mascarpone and robiola. The latter could be replaced with something like Philadelphia, if you really had to. You could also do, say, half-half mascarpone and ricotta. I might try that next time as you can get stupendous fresh ricotta here in Roma.

Pine nut cheesecake slice, cheesecake della nonna

Ingredients
Base:
40g hazelnuts
120g cookies/biscuits like digestives
60g butter

Cheesy bit:
250g mascarpone
200g robiola
2 eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
100g caster sugar
30g candied peel
60g pine nuts

To serve:
30g pine nuts
Icing sugar

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
2. Toast the hazelnuts until starting to brown.
3. Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fairly fine, then add the cookies and grind to a medium crumb.
4. Melt the butter in a pan, then combine with the hazelnuts and cookie crumbs.
5. Push the crumb mix into the bottom of a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
6. Combine the cheeses, eggs, sugar, and zest, blending well by hand or with a handheld zizzer.
7. Finely chop the candied peel and add to the cheese mix, along with the pine nuts.
8. Pour the cheese mix onto the crumb base.
9. Bake for around 50-60 mins until the top is browning and even cracking slightly, and firm to the touch.
10. Remove the sides of the tin, and leave to cool completely.
11. When the cake is cool, toast the extra pine nuts and sprinkle on top, dusting the whole lot with icing sugar.
12. You could serve it with some whipped cream, for added deliciousness. We didn’t as it’s hard to get nice cream here in Roma, despite the cornucopia of other wonderful dairy products.

Extra! Free! Digestive biscuits recipe
90g butter
120g wholemeal flour
120g oatmeal
40g caster sugar
Pinch salt
Pinch baking soda
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 200C.
2. Rub butter into flour, stir in the rest and bind with beaten egg.
3. Roll and cut out rounds.
4. Prick with a fork.
5. Put on baking sheet, sprinkle with oatmeal and bake in a hot oven till browned.

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Biscuits and cookies – a note on terminology and etymology

Broadly, I’d say in the UK we use the word “biscuit” in the sense that the word “cookie” is used in the US.  For us Brits it means, generally, a small, flat (ish), sweet baked good that’s hard and rigid. Something you’d nibble and dunk in a cup of tea. They can be round or square or rectangular. They aren’t made with yeast, but could be made with chemical raising agents such as baking powder or bicarbonate of soda.

We do also use the word “cookie” in the UK, but I tend to use them fairly synonymously.

Which probably isn’t very helpful, as, for reasons revealed by a spot of etymology, they are technically somewhat different.

The word biscuit is from the 14th century Old French word bescuit. It literally means “twice-cooked”, or twice-baked and derives from bes bis  + cuire  to cook, from Latin coquere. The Italian word biscotti has an identical meaning. And indeed, the classic biscotti, the hard slices that you dunk in a digestivo or coffee – biscotti di prato, cantucci, cantuccini and tozzetti – are the best example of this process, as you bake the dough in a loaf form. You bake the dough in a loaf form first, then slice it, then bake the slices to crisp them up.

The word cookie on the other hand derives from the Dutch koek, meaning cake, in a diminutive form: “little cake”. Cookies are more technically, therefore, derived from a more cake-like dough or batter, often dropped in spoonfuls on a baking sheet, not manually moulded like a firmer biscuit dough.

Anyway, I’m going to keep my biscuits and cookies in the same category. But I will put crackers – basically savoury biscuits – in a separate category.

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