Quaresimali - Italian Cookies for Lent
( Pronounced kwar-AY-zee-MA-lee)
Quaresima is the Italian word for Lent, the 6 week period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. Quaresimali are a specialty of the Lenten season because they are supposed
to be so hard they are a penance to eat. Somewhere along the way though, they became a lot more flavorful. Still, Quaresimali are not as rich and sweet as other desserts eaten throughout the year; they are also usually more hard and crunchy. Here are three Quaresimali recipes from different regions of Italy.
(Makes about 30 cookies)
All over Tuscany, Quaresimali are made especially for the season of Lent. The cookies use only the whites of eggs and no shortening, possibly so that something has been 'given up' for Lent. The batter is formed into alphabet shapes and baked until quite hard, which again may be considered appropriate for the season. These cookies are made especially for children. You can simply make letters of the alphabet, write a sentiment, or spell out the name of someone special. Quaresimali Toscana have the texture of crisp chocolate wafer cookies.
4 large egg whites, room temperature
Large pinch of salt
1-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease 3-4 baking sheets with butter.
Whisk or beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Sift the sugar, flour, and cocoa over the egg whites. Gently fold in the dry ingredients until completely dark and smooth.
Place the batter in a pastry bag with a round tip (about 1/4 inch). Form letters about 3-1/2 x 2-inches directly on the baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or until slightly puffed and hard. Immediately remove the cookies with a metal spatula to a wire rack. If the cookies become difficult to remove, put the baking sheet back in the oven for a minute.
Quaresimali Toscana are best eaten within a day or 2 of baking as they lose their crispness when stored too long.
(Makes about 36)
These orange and almond biscotti come from Rome. Although candied orange peel is traditional in this recipe, you may wish to substitute dried cherries or cranberries which also go well with the grated orange peel.
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped candied orange peel
Grated zest of 1 orange
In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar unitl light and fluffy.
Beat in 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Blend to form a dough. Stir in the almonds, orange peel, and grated zest. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in a baking sheet.
Place the parchment on a work surface and place the dough on it. Roll the dough into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle. (You can also use your hands to spread the dough if it is too sticky.) Beat the remaining egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the dough. Bake until shiny and blond but not brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F.
With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough diagonally into 2-inch wide strips. Then cut it into 1-inch long bars. Return the cookies to the oven to bake for another 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks. Store in an air-tight container.
Croccante Quaresimali - Hazelnut Biscotti
(Makes about 10 dozen)
This variation of quaresimali is from Umbria. The cinnamon oil in this recipe gives the biscotti a bit of cinnamon candy flavor. The oil may be difficult to find but is available in gourmet shops and stores specializing in spices and extracts.
If you can't find cinnamon oil, the biscotti are still delicious without it.
2 cups flour
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups hazelnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted
3 eggs, room temperature
5 drops cinnamon oil (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 large baking sheets.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.
Stir in the hazelnuts. Beat the eggs with the cinnamon oil and add it to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Divide the mixture into 6 portions.
Shape one portion of the dough into a 1-1/2 inch in diameter log. Place the log on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Space the logs at least 2-inches apart on the sheets as they will spread when baking. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and beginning to brown slightly. Remove from the oven but leave the oven on. Allow the logs to rest for 10 minutes.
Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut the logs diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices back on the baking sheets. Bake until crisp and brown, about 10 minutes. Cool the biscotti on wire racks. Store in an air-tight container.
BEATING EGG WHITES BY HAND
Hand beating egg whites with a whisk incorporates the most air, yielding a very stable foam. Egg whites that are at room temperature will whip to a greater volume than cold egg whites. Start with a very clean bowl, perferably stainless steel or copper, and a whisk. Beat the whites in a circular motion until they begin to foam. They will begin to increase in volume and become opaque. Lift the whisk from the whites to determine the stage of their peaks. Soft peaks will gently fall over to one side. Whites beaten to stiff peaks will stand upright. Do not overbeat egg whites or they will become clumpy and grainy.
These small round nuts have a very sweet flavor and milky texture when fresh. Italy's Piedmont region is famous for its hazelnuts. The hazel tree thrives in the Piedmont soil and its fruit is an important part of the cuisine and economy of this northern region. Fresh hazelnuts are harvested in August and September. The nuts are used in the nougat candy known as torrone and in gianduja, also known as Nutella. The famous chocolate candy called "baci" from Perugia contain a whole hazelnut in the center. Hazelnuts are also used to make the famous liqueur known as Frangelico.
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