Tag Archives: butter

Papassini biscuits – and lard

Papassini biscuits

Let’s be honest: lard isn’t a popular ingredient. It’s not fashionable, even in this era of nose-to-tail eating. Even when the media, from Britain’s Daily Bile Mail to the US Huffington Post, is running articles on lard’s virtues. It’s still got an image problem.

And yet, it’s a fat we cooked with for centuries, especially here in northern Europe, where we can’t grow olive groves and peasants may have had a pig but were less likely to have had dairy. Look at any collection of older – say pre-WW2 – British recipes and lard is ubiquitous. Not just as a fat for frying, but also as the main fat for making pastries and baked goods. The only legacy of this tradition most Brits are aware of these days is lardy cake. I talked about this subject back in April 2014, when making lardy johns, an ostensibly old Sussex recipe that’s a cousin to the scone.

Back then, I couldn’t get my hands on any decent lard. As Marwood Yeatman says in The Last Food of England, “A modern porker has little fat and therefore little lard, so most of it is imported”. The only stuff I could get hold of was from Ireland. Last week on a Sunday market here in Lewes, I was pleased to see Beal’s Farm, our favourite supplier of locally produced charcuterie and salumi, whose pancetta was a joyful discovery when we moved home from Rome, has started selling their own lard. Indeed, I wasn’t just pleased, I was excited! Quality lard! I’d been making a lot of game pies with a hot water crust, and this pastry is best made with lard.

Yes, even in the Mediterranean diet
It’s not just northern European foods that are traditionally made with lard though. The past month or so I’ve been researching and developing products for my Italian-oriented biscuit stall. I wanted to focus on Christmas and festive products last week, and one product I made was papassini.

Also called pabassini, pabassinas, pabassinos and papassinos in various Sardinian dialects, these are biscuits made for not just Christmas but also Ognissanti (All Saints, 1 November) and that other principal Christian festival, Easter. Pretty much all the Italian (nay Sardinian) recipes I read used strutto – lard. Only a few used butter.

I made my first batch with Beal’s lard, and they were great. The mix is pretty much a pastry, enriched with fat, sugar, spices and some fruit – sultanas or raisins. The name papassino, according to Italian Wikipedia, comes from papassa or pabassa, Sardinian for uva sultanina, a type of grape, that is dried to become sultanas1 . The lard gave them a nice fairly delicate crumb. I also made them using Trex, hardened vegetable oil. Where vegetable means palm.

This is the sort of ethical conundrum we face in modern life – eat a meat byproduct from local, well-husbanded pigs or eat a veggie alternative made from an ingredient that’s most likely grown in a corporate plantation that required the destruction of rainforest. The results weren’t as good either.

So I experimented with butter versions too, notably for the market, where I didn’t want to have to worry about repeatedly explaining why certain products weren’t vegetarian. Which seems faintly daft, but we live in complex times for food. In many ways, industrialisation and intensification have thoroughly messed up our relationship with food, resulting in innumerable dietary inclinations, phobias, rampant orthorexia nervosa, intolerances, allergies and imagined allergies. A whole slew of first world worries.

Papassini on my market stall, along with riciarelli, pangiallo and others

Anyway, butter was pretty good too. I mean, I love butter. I would say the result was similarly crumbly, slightly sweeter. But then all the biscuits were sweet once I’d iced them. I just iced them with a basic water or glacé icing – that is, icing sugar2 and water, or lemon juice. More “authentic” recipes would be topped with an Italian meringue glaze, but that wasn’t entirely practical for me.

Another note on “authenticity” – the grapiness of these biscuits would also have been enhanced with sapa/saba. This is a kind of grape syrup, also known as vino cotto (“cooked wine”) and mosto cotto (“cooked grape must“). It’s an ingredient that has been made for millennia. Imagine a grape cordial, or a kind of sweet cousin to balsamic vinegar. You can produce a semblance by simmering grape juice to thicken it, but frankly almost none of the papassini recipes I researched used it so I didn’t bother.

So yes, these are in no way authentic, but I’m not Sardinian. That said, as with any Italian recipe, every family or baker or pasticcere would have differences of opinion and ingredients, so I would like to think mine are just another variation on a theme. Ideally made with quality Sussex lard.

250g plain flour
6g baking powder
80g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
120g lard or butter
50g walnuts, chopped fairly finely
80g sultanas or raisins
Zest of half a lemon
Zest of half an orange
2 eggs, lightly beaten, QB3 (about 120g)
4g cinnamon
4g fennel seeds

Icing sugar, sieved
Water or lemon juice
Hundreds-and-thousands, sprinkles

1. Soak the sultanas or raisins in hot water for about 10 minutes then drain and squeeze out any excess water.
2. Sieve together the flour and BP.
3. Dice the fat and rub it into the flour, or blitz in a food processor, until the mixture is crumb-like.

Papassini mixture
4. Add the ground almonds, sugar, walnuts, sultanas and zest.
5. Add the egg and bring the mixture a dough. If it’s too dry, add a little more egg or some milk.
6. Form into a disc or slab then wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least half an hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cutting papassini dough into diamonds
8. Roll out the dough to about 10mm thick.
9. Cut diamond shapes.
10. Reform the offcuts and keep cutting more diamonds.
11. Bake for about 10-12 minutes.
12. Cool on a rack, then ice. If you’re doing the easy option like me, just sieve icing sugar and add a little water or icing sugar to form a smooth mixture, not too runny. Dip each biscuit in the icing, then sprinkle with hundreds and thousands.



1. I think; I never really got my head around English-Italian translations for sultana, raisin, etc. I believe a raisin is uva passa – literally “past” or “spent” grape. I’m more confused by uva sultanina, which may be both the grape and the sultana. I’m not sure, and I can’t go to an Italian dry goods store or supermarket or market to check very easily from here in Lewes. Hope to get back to Roma after Christmas, so I’ll have to try and remember to see if I can work it out then. Heck, all this confuses me, even in English. Until embarrassingly recently, I though currants were dried black- or red-currants, when they’re actually also dried grapes too. I suspect the Italian words are often fairly generic – so uvetta (literally “little grape”) can be used for currant or raisin, or people use different words in different regions.
2. Powdered sugar, confectioner’s sugar, zucchero a velo.
3. Quanto basta, “how much is enough”. Ie you may not need all of it, just enough to achieve the desired consistency.


Filed under Baking, Biscuits, cookies, Feasts, Recipes

Kubaneh – Yemeni Jewish breakfast bread


The latest addition to my cookbook library is Honey & Co’s The Baking Book, by Sarit Packer and Itomar Srulovich. It has the same UK publisher as my friend Rachel’s Five Quarters (which boasts a couple of my recipes), so I went along to the launch event a few weeks ago, bought a copy, got it signed and have been trying out the recipes since.

I love enriched doughs, so I was drawn to the recipe for kubaneh. Sarit’s family has Egyptian and Yemeni connections, and this bread is from the latter culture, specifically it’s a Yemenite-Jewish Sabbath breakfast bread. Reading more about it now, it’s traditionally baked overnight in a sealed tin. While Sarit’s version bakes for a fairly long time, it’s not overnight.

Some versions include whole eggs, and can be eaten as more savoury affair, with tomatoes or a tomato dip, or skhug, Yemeni hot sauce*. This one is sweeter. It’s rich in butter (or smen/semneh fermented sheep or goat milk butter; or margarine, depending on your dietary restrictions and inclinations and shopping options) and drizzled with honey, which caramelises together slightly.

Why haven’t I heard of this before?! Just my kind of thing.

I’ve tweaked the process slightly and given the ingredients in a more consistent format, so as to also include bakers’ percentages (below).

It’s a fairly moist dough – the original recipe says 300-350ml water, but I split the difference at 325ml: 325g. That works out at about 65% hydration, so quite wet and sticky. Check out my post on handling sticky doughs.

For this baking vessel, they use a “traditional lidded aluminium pot” but say you can also use a 20cm fixed bottom round cake tin, with a “lid” made of foil.

I used fresh yeast. You could use 10g active dry/granular yeast instead. If you only have instant/powdered yeast, you don’t need to mix it with liquid first – just combine it with the flour.

The dough
60g light soft brown sugar
15g fresh yeast
325g water, at about body temperature
250g strong white bread flour
250g plain (all-purpose) white flour
6g fine salt

Vegetable oil
Unsalted butter, softened (or margarine or smen, if you can get it. Very unlikely here in England!)
Runny honey

Here is it in bakers’ percentages (rounded):

Ingredient Quantity Percentage
Light soft brown sugar 60g 12%
Fresh yeast 15g 3%
Water 325g 65%
Strong white flour 250g 50%
Plain white flour 250g 50%
Salt 6g 2.5%

1. Mix together the water, sugar and yeast. Stir to dissolve the yeast.
2. Weigh out the flours into a large bowl and add the salt.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and bring together a dough. I don’t have a mixer, so my instructions are for doing it by hand. If you do, just mix until well combined and smooth.

Kubaneh shaggy doughKubaneh - kneading doughKubaneh - smooth dough
4. Turn out the shaggy mixture onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead. I used the Dan Lepard technique of not kneading too much, then returning the dough to the bowl, cleaned and oiled, leaving for 10 minutes, then kneading briefly again. Repeat this twice more, then return to the cleaned, lightly oiled bowl.
5. Cover with plastic or a clean, damp tea towel and leave to prove for a couple of hours, or until doubled in size. The time will depend on the ambient temperature. It’s about 20C in my kitchen on a mild English summer’s day, and it took about two and a half hours.

Kubaneh dough - proved
6. While it’s proving, liberally grease the cake tin with butter, and grease the underside of the foil lid too. If you have a lidded pot, grease that similarly.

Kubaneh dough - slapped around
7. Sarit describes the next step as “the strange bit” – you moisten your hands then “flip the dough about in the bowl to knock it back”. Do it three times, keeping your hands moist.

Kubaneh dough - pieces
8. Oil a tray, then divide the dough up into eight pieces and place them on the tray. The dough weighs 900g, so eight pieces at around 112g.
9. Oil your hands a bit then take each piece, stretch it slightly, and put a blob of butter in the middle. I used pieces at about 10g, half a walnut size.
10. Smear the butter a bit then wrap the dough around it to form rough balls.

Kubaneh dough pieces in tin
11. Put the balls in the prepared tin, one in the middle, the rest equally spaced around it.
12. Put some more flecks of butter on top, drizzle with honey then cover and prove again until the dough “almost reaches the top” – too high and it’ll “overflow when baked.” I drizzled a bit more honey and added a bit more butter before baking.

Kubaneh dough ready for baking
13. Preheat the oven to 220C.
14. Put the tin, with its lid, in the oven and bake for half an hour.
15. Reduce the heat to 200C and continue baking for another half an hour.
16. Reduce the heat again to 180C and continue baking for another half an hour.
17. Turn the oven off and leave in the oven “for at least an hour”.
18. It’s best served warm, so if you’re an insomniac and have been doing this all night, or proved it overnight in the fridge and baked it early, enjoy it thus.

It’s surprisingly soft and chewy, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get nice caramelised bits. I won’t be doing it every week, but it’s a great addition to my enriched breads & breakfast bakes armoury. It’s also reminiscent of English lardy cakes, particularly the fruit-free versions from my part of the country, Hampshire and Sussex. Though obviously the fats used are a bit different for that gentile bake.

It’s also got me thinking about that most indulgent of fatty-sugary-doughy caramelised concoctions, the Breton kouign amann, which is more a pastry than a bread. Still, I might have to revisit that soon.

* Aka zhug, zehug; the Honey & Co The Baking Book also has a recipe for this, to accompany their lahooh, Yemeni pancakes.


Filed under Baking, Breads, Cakes (yeasted), Recipes

Reminiscences and butter biscuits

Petits beurres biscuits

I’ve just spent a great long weekend with Rachel Roddy, helping out with the food for the party celebrating the launch of her book, Five Quarters, catching up with Rome friends and meeting lots of interesting new people.

Given the theme of Rachel’s book and the fact that we met there, inevitably Rome was a big topic of conversation at the party. There’s a lot I’m missing about Rome. We know why we moved back in December 2013 – to try and adopt. But that doesn’t mean I’m not pining for certain things, especially food-related things: a six-days-a-week food (etc) market on the next block; a great gelateria two blocks away on our street; restaurants and cafés where you can get good food and drink for a sensible price (a fairly elusive concept in much of England); checking out the latest birra artigianale; going to the Città dell altra Economia in Testaccio to meet friends and buy huge, affordable chunks of local cheese on a Sunday. I could go on, but I won’t.

As I said in my post about Rachel’s book, I have to avoid the rose-coloured specs. But it’s hard, especially now while we’re at a difficult stage in the adoption process. We’ve been approved, but there don’t seem to be any children that are a suitable match for us. It’s a form of limbo – and as such all too conducive to drifting memories, reminiscing.

So much in our life now re-connects us to Rome. Even all the recipes I’m currently trying from The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot. My sister – another Rachel – gave me this book just as we moved to Rome in August 2011 and in my mind’s eye I can still see it sitting on the shelf in our kitchen there, alongside a few I’d brought with me – Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf, Bertinet’s Dough – and some we acquired there – The Food of Rome and Lazio by Oretta Zanini de Vita, La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio (ie the same title) by di Marco and Ferré, Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli, er, Cooking Apicius by Sally Grainger etc.

The Mathiot was a newly published Phaidon edition of the 1938 book Je sais faire la pâtisserie (“I know how to make patisserie”), translated and adapted by Clotilde Dusoulier. The book provides, in Dusoulier’s words, “the elemental components of French baking”: pastries, biscuits, cakes and puddings.

I used it a bit, but in all honestly I didn’t embrace it at the time. Why? Well – because Rome was all around us and I was somewhat distracted by all the pasticcerie (patisseries), biscotterie (biscuit bakeries), forni and panifici (bread or general bakeries) had to offer. I ate, I found favourites, I learned to make them at home. I got a bit obsessed with Italian baked goods. We have French-style patisseries in England, but Italian ones are considerably less common, so there was a lot to learn. (And still is1.)

I’m enjoying the Mathiot a lot now. I used it during my puff pastry experiments back in January, and I’ve been trying a lot of the biscuit and galette2; recipes, and musing over the brioche recipes. All eight of them. Eight. Rachel’s been talking about brioche too – they’re a common product in Sicily and Naples – so I plan to test them all, as well as the others in my cookbook collection. In the meantime, however, some biscuits.

Twice the fat, twice the pleasure
If Italian food is synonymous with olive oil3, French food is synonymous with butter. Petits beurres4 – for those who don’t have spectacular school French like mine – simply means “little butters”, or little butter biscuits. But not only do they have a good proportion of butter, they have the same proportion of double cream too. The result is a rich, light, crumbly biscuit. I make mine with a small, rectangular cutter that’s 40x75mm, so each one is a perfect size for a couple of bites.

I love this cutter. The result is not unlike the famous French industrial biscuit the “Petit Beurre LU” or “Véritable Petit Beurre” from Lefèvre-Utile. There isn’t much about it online in English, but French Wikipedia gives the story. It says the 1886 recipe by Louis Lefèvre-Utile was originally inspirant des productions anglaises de l’époque. “It was inspired by English products of the era”. That’s not something you hear the French admit very often. It’s also officially 65x54mm so slightly different proportions to mine.

These petits beurre are – unsurprisingly – considerably richer than the LU factory version, which doesn’t have half as much butter and no cream, instead being made with milk powder. Bugger that. Butter + cream = pleasure. As many chefs will tell you: “fat is flavour”. It’s something I heard often from Chris Behr, chef at the American Academy in Rome, when I did an internship there.

100g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
250g plain (all-purpose) flour
50g caster sugar
Pinch salt
100g double cream

1. Put the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Add the sugar and salt and combine.

Petits beurres - add the creamPetits beurres - form a dough

4. Pour in the cream then combine to form a dough, working it by hand. Work it enough to clear and form a smooth dough. Don’t overwork it. It’s basically a rich, sweet pastry paste, without raising agents, and overworking it can toughen it up.
5. Form a ball, squash it into a disk, wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge to rest for least half an hour.
6. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease your baking sheets.
7. Dust the work surface with flour then roll out the dough to about 5mm.

Petits beurres - cutting out

8. Cut out rectangles. If you don’t have a rectangular cutter you’ll have to do it by hand.
9. Place the biscuits on the sheets and prick them in diagonal pattern with a fork.
10. Bake for 15-20 minutes until starting to turn golden.
11. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. I got 24 from this batch, but it depends on how big you cut them.

Enjoy. With a cup of tea or even alongside a nice strawberry dessert – as they’re in season here in England now. You should always seize British produce seasons as they’re not half so long as those in Italy. Damn it, there’s me reminiscing again!

Petits beurres

1 Italy, as you probably know, is a country of regions with strong local, cultural and culinary identities. Each region has dozens of food specialities, even when it comes to baked goods, breads and pastries etc. My two years in Italy were just a start really. It would be a lifelong project to learn them all.
2 Galette is a French word that doesn’t have an immediate equivalent in English. Sometimes it refers to something we’d translate as a pancake (eg Breton buckwheat pancakes), other times things we’d call a pastry, and others it’s more like a cookie. I looked at the etymology over in my post about galette des rois.
3 Despite that being a more historically southern Italian thing, with strutto – lard – arguably a more common fat in the mountains and the north.
4 Should they be called petits beurres or petits-beurre? They can’t seem to agree on the agreement. The English is just petit beurre biscuits.


Filed under Baking, Recipes