Tag Archives: sicily

{3} Biscotti di Regina

Biscotti di Regina originate from Sicily, and the name means “queen’s cookies”. I’m not sure if they are named for or after a particular queen, but with a name like that, they are promising a lot!

These delightful little morsels are sweet and buttery, with a coating of sesame seeds the pop slightly when you bite into them. They also look very pretty, as the seeds form a neat pattern on the outside of the dough. I think they are a nice addition to the festive table, providing a contrast to all that chocolate, ginger, citrus and dried fruit. Yes, I know, shocking to believe that those flavours can all get a bit much, but sometimes you want something simple to enjoy with a cup of tea.

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I think these cookies have something of a Middle Eastern flavour, what with the sesame seeds and orange blossom water. Hardly surprising when you think about the history of trade across the Mediterranean.

However, if you want to play around with the flavours, you could swap the vanilla and orange blossom water for something else – aniseed is a typically Italian choice, and orange or lemon zest would add a stronger citrus note than the orange blossom water. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you could really depart from Italian flavours, and add things  like cardamom or even rose water. There are even versions that use saffron, if you want cookies with a spectacular golden glow.

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These biscotti are very straightforward to make – just rub the butter into the dry ingredients, then add egg and flavourings to get a soft dough that is just very slightly sticky. You’re rolling these guys in seeds, so you want it to be a bit sticky. If it is clinging to your fingers in great lumps, you’ve probably got too much liquid, so just add a bit more flour.

I shaped the biscotti by rolling into balls, then flattening into a squat sausage shape, so when they baked they formed an oval shape. If you prefer, roll them into very long, thin fingers for a more elegant shape to dip in coffee or vin santo, and adjust the baking time accordingly. For finishing, I used hulled white sesame seeds, which I think makes them look quite festive, almost like they’re coated in snowflakes. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a few black sesame seeds for some contrast, or go the whole hog and roll them in only black sesame seeds for a dramatic look.

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To make Biscotti di Regina (makes 30)

For the dough:

• 375g plain flour
• 225g butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
• cold milk, to bind

To decorate:

• 100g sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and work until it resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Beat the egg with the vanilla and orange blossom water. Add to the main bowl, and work to a smooth dough. If necessary, add cold milk, a tablespoon at a time, to bring the mixture together. It should be firm, but slightly sticky.

4. Divide the dough into three batches. Roll each piece into a long sausage about 30cm long, and cut into 10 pieces (3cm each).

5. Roll each piece into a ball, then form into a sausage shape between your hands. Roll in the sesame seeds to coat completely, then transfer to a baking sheet (leave enough space between each piece to expand).

6. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden, turning after 15 minutes to get an even bake.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Granita di Mandorle (Almond Sorbet)

A few weeks ago at the Couleur Café festival in Brussels, as we were leaving at some silly hour of the morning, I spied an artisanal ice-cream stand by the exit. It was still very warm at that time (of the morning!), so we grabbed a cone for the walk home. My friend Heinrich got excited about the lait d’amandes flavour, so I took one too. It was a creamy ice-cream, but still, the almond flavour was superb. Aromatic, delicate and surprisingly refreshing.

Thinking about this, I reasoned that I should be able to make a successful almond-based sorbet. Indeed, making it into a sorbet rather than an ice-cream should enhance the almond taste. A little research via Google revealed that almond sorbet is a specialty of Sicily, where it is called granita di mandorle, and often served with a piece of fresh brioche bread.

Now, the proper way to make this would involve tracking down good-quality almonds, grinding them at home, then preparing some sort of sugar syrup to cook the chopped nuts in order to extract their delicate flavour and aroma. And one day, when I have the time, inclination and someone to clean up after me, I might try that, but I opted to take a shortcut. I happened to have a bottle of orgeat syrup in the house, so I decided that make a sorbet using that instead. The flavour is probably not as delicate or authentic, but it was much quicker and easier. Hey, we’re all busy people!

The brand of orgeat syrup I used, Monin, was quite sweet, so I just added a mixture of semi-skimmed milk and water until I was happy with the flavour, erring on the slightly-too-sweet side (given that sweetness is dulled by freezing). I also went through the process of heating and briefly boiling the mixture to sterilise the milk. I don’t know if this was necessary, but it didn’t seem to affect the end result. However, if you are making this to eat quite soon afterwards, you could just mix everything up, skip the cooking, and put straight into the machine (*).

The flavour? It was amazing! It was like snow married with sweet almonds. Feather-light, translucent, and amazing. It is a complete contrast to lemon sorbet, as the almond version is sweet, silky and aromatic. Lemon would wake you up, whereas this would send you off into a gentle slumber on a warm afternoon. I think I am even inspired to pick up some decent almonds when I’m on holiday in Italy and try making the real deal. In the meantime, this version is more than sufficient.

(*) I’ve made it again since, and I can confirm you can skip the cooking stage if you want, and still have great results.

For 1 litre of almond sorbet:

• 300ml orgeat syrup
• 400ml semi-skimmed milk
• 300ml water (use more or less according to taste)
• 1 tablespoon almond liqueur (Amaretto)

Place the orgeat syrup, milk and water in a pan. Bring to the boil, cook for 30 seconds, then allow to cool completely.

Add the almond liqueur, mix well, and freeze the mixture. Serve with crisp biscuits or a slice of fresh brioche.

Worth making? I am really happy with the recipe. The use of the syrup makes it super-easy to prepare, and the result is light and fresh with a pronounced almond flavour. I will happily make this again, as it results is quite a sophisticated-tasting sorbet. One for the adults rather than the kids – not that youngsters won’t enjoy it, but adults will just be able to appreciate it a little bit more.

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things