A Book Review
“We decided early on that our biscotti would be piccolini – small – like a great Roman espresso…” – Mona Talbott
Good things come in small packages. Cookies and books. This diminutive book, by chefs Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti, is the first in my series of suggestions for Christmas giving. The recipes come from the kitchen of a most unique school, The American Academy in Rome.
Each year, through juried competition, up to thirty scholars are invited to Rome to pursue studies in the arts and humanities while cocooned in the timeless elegance of the Villa Aurelia. With their hunger for knowledge sated by independent study, the students’ temporal hunger is relieved by the Rome Sustainable Food Project, a groundbreaking program in institutional dining introduced in 2007. Menus are based on traditional cuisine made from sustainable, organic food. Pastry chef Mirella Misenti, a native of Melilli, Sicily contributes the dolce to the project, bringing Sicilian flair and tradition to dessert.
This book is packed like a Christmas stocking with classics such as Cantucci di Prato, Italy’s twice baked almond and cornmeal cookies, Lingue di Gatto, delicate cookies, long as a cat’s tongue, and Biscotti Lucia, made of almonds, sugar and egg whites. You’ll also find pine nut studded Pinolate, “ugly but good” Brutti ma Buoni, and Biscotti Regina, Sicily’s famous sesame seed coated cookies. Along with Italian favorites are modern interpretations of classics from other countries, Blondies, Anzac Biscuits, and Mary Pat Walsh’s Ginger Molasses Cookies, each with its own new Italian name and accent.
Through the eye of photographer Annie Schlecter the reader gains entry to the beauty and elegance that is the American Academy in Rome and the sweet delights of Ms. Misenti’s cookies.
The holidays will soon be here, and with them it’s time for cookies – tins for giving, to keep on hand for guests, to nibble at midnight and for cookie exchanges. This book will keep you busy, ready and full of ideas, come what may. If it’s a gift you are after, whether the intended recipient is a seasoned cook or a Cookie Monster new to baking, Biscotti will be a welcome addition to any bookshelf.
Photograph by Annie Schlechter
Biscotti al Pistacchio
yields 45-50 cookies
This is one of Mirella’s best Sicilian cookie recipes. Ruth Reichl, the former editor of Gourmet, tweeted about them after tasting one on her visit to the AAR in the summer of 2009. Tender and delicious, these sugar-coated pistachio cookies are brilliantly green inside.
500 g / 4⅓ cups raw pistachios
200 g / 1 cup granulated sugar
25 g / 1 tbsp honey
5 ml / 1 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of half a lemon (approximately 20 ml / 1½ tbsp)
3½ oz egg whites
150 g / 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
50 (2 oz) whole raw pistachios for garnishing
Preheat the oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.
Pulse the pistachios in a food processor with half of the measured granulated sugar (100 g / ½ cup) until the nuts are finely chopped.
Combine the ground pistachio-sugar mixture with the honey, vanilla and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add the egg whites, mixing until the dough is well combined and soft. At this point, add the additional 100 g / ½ cup of granulated sugar and mix gently. The dough will be soft but not sticky.
Form the dough into small balls (16 g / ½ oz) and roll them in the confectioners’ sugar to coat well. Transfer the balls to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving 3 cm / 1¼ inches between each cookie. Gently press a pistachio into the center of each cookie.
Bake for 15–18 minutes, until the edges of each cookie are golden.
These cookies can be stored in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.
Photograph by Annie Schlechter
Biscotti di Siena Speziate
Siena Spice cookies
yields approximately 35 cookies
These cookies taste like Panforte di Siena, a medieval dried fruit and nut confection. When the citrus in the Chiaraviglio garden is ripe to harvest, we begin the long process of candying lemon, grapefruit and orange peel to use throughout the year. The juice goes into making granita, semifreddo or refreshing spremuta.
300 g / 2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 g / 1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
2 g / 1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 g / 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
1 g / ½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
350 g / 1¾ cups granulated sugar
350 g / 1¼ cups finely chopped raw almonds
125 g / 2 cups semisweet chocolate, grated
75 g / ⅓ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
75 g / ⅓ cup candied lemon peel, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Melted chocolate or confectioners’ sugar for topping (optional)
Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and spices in a medium-size mixing bowl. Beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until white and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients, almonds, chocolate, candied orange and lemon peels and lemon zest. Mix until well combined. Wrap the dough first in parchment paper, then plastic film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. At this point the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months; defrost it before using.
To bake, preheat the oven to 160ºC / 325ºF.
Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out the dough to an even .5 cm / ¼ inch thickness. Cut the dough using a cookie cutter of your choice, re-roll the scraps and repeat. Transfer the cookies to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving 3 cm / 1 inch between each cookie.
Bake for 10–12 minutes.
These cookies can be finished with a drizzle of melted chocolate or a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
Cantucci di Pinoli e Rosmarino
Pine Nut and Rosemary Cookies
yields 60 cookies
This is our third variation on the biscotti di Prato cookie and maybe the favorite. Subtle yet herbaceous, they complement an after-dinner tisane.
110 g / ¾ cup pine nuts
175 g / 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
10 g / 2 tbsp fine cornmeal
2 g / ½ tsp baking powder
2 g / ½ tsp salt
4 g / 2 tsp rosemary, minced
60 g / ¼ cup + 1 tsp butter
138 g / ½ cup + 3 tbsp granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
10 ml / 2 tsp Marsala
Preheat the oven to 150ºC / 300ºF.
Spread the pine nuts evenly on a baking sheet and toast 8-10 minutes or until golden.
Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and rosemary in a medium-size mixing bowl.
Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until well incorporated. Change to low speed and add the Marsala. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in two parts and then gently fold in the pine nuts until evenly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
To bake, preheat or reset the oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in two. On a floured surface form each portion into logs 2.5 cm / 1 inch in diameter. Transfer the logs to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes.
Once cool transfer the cookie logs to a cutting board and cut them into approximately 1-cm / ½-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the cookies flat on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 6-8 minutes, until golden brown.
These cookies will keep well in a sealed container for up to 1 month.
Recipes and Ms. Schlechter’s photos reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project
Series: Rome Sustainable Food Project
by Mona Talbott & Mirella Misenti
Foreword by Alice Waters
Hardcover: 140 pages
Little Bookroom; First Edition (October 12, 2010)
Note: You can click on any picture for a slide show!
Villa Aurelia photo courtesy The American Academy in Rome
I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.