This is a recipe near and dear to my heart. It was one of Angelina’s signature dishes. When I was a kid, our family called these “Nana’s Cookies”, and I really thought that only my nana made them. Well, just as I found out that the honey balls Angelina made for Christmas were actually called struffoli, it turns out that these ring-shaped cookies are a typical Campanian delicacy called taralli dolci, or sweet taralli. (The better known taralli are savories typical of Puglia, made with fennel seed or cracked black pepper.) These cookies, without the anisette or lemon zest flavorings, are called ciambelline biscottate in other parts of Italy.
Taralli dolci are typically eaten at breakfast with your morning coffee, or for a sweet mid-afternoon snack. They also go well with sweet wine, as a light dessert. In either case, they are perfect for dipping into your beverage.
These cookies are quite easy to make, especially if you have a standing mixer, taking no more than an hour from start to finish. They last a good week in a glass or metal container, so you can make them over the weekend and enjoy them with your morning coffee for the rest of the week—assuming, that is, you can pace yourself…
Makes approximately 24 cookies
- 300g/10 oz flour
- 100g/3-1/2 oz sugar
- 4g/3/8 tsp baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- Grated zest of one lemon
- 175ml/3/4 cup of vegetable oil
- Anisette, sambuca or other liqueur (optional)
Put all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a standing mixer and blend them together with the paddle attachment on slow speed. Add the wet ingredients and mix again until all of the ingredients are well incorporated and have formed a dough.
Transfer the dough to a countertop or pastry board. Bring the dough together into a ball and knead it gently for a few moments. Grease the countertop with a bit of oil if you find the dough is sticking. Now take a handful of the dough and roll it between your hands to form a smaller ball. Roll the ball back and forth with your two hands until the ball forms a ‘cord’ of dough about the thickness of your middle finger, as if you were going to make gnocchi.
Take a four inch length of the cord and tie it around to form a ring, gently nudging the two ends together. Now place the ring-shaped cookie onto a cookie sheet.
Repeat until you have used up all the dough, making sure that the cookies are well spaced on the cookie sheet, since they will expand as they bake.
Place the cookies in a moderate oven (180C/350F) on convection bake for about 20 minutes or so, until nice and golden brown. Let the cookies cool on a baking rack before eating.
Angelina always made these cookies ‘plain’, just like this, but if you like, you can brush the cookies just before baking with an egg wash (beaten egg thinned out with a bit of water or milk) to give them an attractive sheen. It is also common to top taralli dolci after baking with frosting made with confectioner’s sugar melted in water.
Many modern recipes call for butter rather than oil. If you want to try them this way, use 100g (about one stick) of butter, added to the dry ingredients before the wet ones, and mix it with the dough until the flour has obtained the texture of sand. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients (minus the oil, of course) and proceed in the same way. The butter gives the cookies a slightly sweeter flavor and are quite nice, if not quite the flavor I remember as a child.
The liqueur is, as mentioned, optional, but it really does add an extra something. The cookies just don’t taste quite right to me without it. Some cooks also like to add a few drops of vanilla extract, but I would not add both at the same time—that would be just too much going on.
It should be obvious, but although the ring shape is traditional, you can choose to make these cookies in any shape you like.
And now a very special treat:
Many years ago my Dad recorded a video of Angelina making these cookies in our kitchen. She is doing it the old fashioned way, making a ‘fountain’ with the dry ingredients and incorporating the wet ingredients by hand. You will also see that she made her cookies two ways, the ring-shaped kind explained above and in ‘twists’.
Click here to enjoy the only video of the master at work, that my Dad took of Angelina making taralli dolci, her signature cookies!