Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "Cookies".
When I saw that the topic for this round of the Blog Off was "Cookies", I was first relieved that those whose idea this was meant the culinary and not the technological kind and then peturbed as I'm not sure when a cookie is not a cookie! On this side of the pond we call them "biscuits", you see, but according to the dictionary a cookie can also be "a flat and crisp cake". Does that mean that Welshcakes are cookies, then? You'll be able to decide for yourselves by the end of the post!
Living in Sicily means being surrounded by cookies and their names and recipes vary from town to town and even from village to village. There are cookies for every occasion and they are made on the premises of every pasticceria and self-respecting bar.
Why are the Sicilians so good at making cookies? Well, the Greeks brought honey to the island, the Arabs sugarcane and the Spanish chocolate from Mexico. Nuns in convents began to make pastries as a source of income and Swiss and French pastry chefs arrived in the nineteenth century. With all these influences and the island's natural resources, successful pastry-making was ensured.
Then there are the wonderful names that Sicilians give their cookies [or little cakes]: among my favourites are "virgin's breasts", so -called because of their mounded shape and affogapreti or "priest drowners", crunchy little biscuits filled with honey. These are popular at Easter time and get their name either because they are so hard that you can't talk and eat them at the same time, so giving some to a priest would cause him to stop telling you off or because if you ate them during a sermon the sound of your chewing would "drown out" the priest's voice.
In Modica, the city of chocolate, impannatighe biscuits are especially popular and there are variant spellings - 'mpanatigghie, impanatiglie - of this dialect word which is a corruption of Spanish empanadilla, meaning a filling enclosed in pastry. I promise you that if you make these and offer them to your friends, no one will guess that they contain beef! Here is a recipe for them:
800 gr plain flour
250 gr sugar
200 gr lard
12 egg yolks [!]
a glass of water if needed
350 gr finely chopped almonds
250 gr lean minced [ground] beef
400 gr sugar
90 gr bitter chocolate, grated
25 gr cinnamon
a few drops of vanilla essence
1 dessertspoon cocoa powder
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 egg whites
To make the pastry, rub the lard into the flour and sugar. Add yolks and a little water if necessary to make a dough. [It will be very sticky at first, but it gets better!]
Cook the minced meat in a little water and grind down in a processor. Add to the other filling ingredients in a bowl and mix all well together.
Let both the dough and filling rest in the fridge - for 24 hours if possible.
Roll out the dough and cut into circles using a coffee saucer. Put some filling on each round, then fold over to a half-moon shape. Stick the edges together and make lines with the prongs of a fork. Cut a slit in the top of each one.
Put the pastries on a lightly greased tin and bake at 150 C - 175 C for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them. Serve cold, dusted with icing sugar.
That's a recipe from Sicily; now, what of Wales? I've mentioned Welshcakes several times in my Blog Off posts and some of you have asked for a recipe so here is how I make them in Sicily:
1 lb plain flour
A few drops of vanilla flavouring [sold in little phials in Italy] or vanilla essence [not an authentic ingredient but my Sicilian friends like the cakes better when I add it.]
8 oz margarine, chopped into cubes
6 oz sultanas
6 oz caster sugar
1 teasp mixed spice [Friends send this from Britain. It's similar to pumpkin pie spice.]
a little milk to mix the pastry
The easiest way is to just whizz everything together in a food processor, using as much milk as you need to make a firm dough. On a floured board, roll out the dough to about 0.5" thickness and then cut into rounds with a medium-sized fluted cutter.
Now, you really need a flat griddle to cook them on but you can use a heavy frying pan. I use an Italian pan called a "testo romagnolo" and I found out that it was the perfect flat griddle substitute by accident! Grease the griddle or pan very lightly with lard and heat it. Lift the cakes on with a fish slice and cook for about 1 minute on each side. You have to watch them carefully and flip them over quickly! As soon as they are done, lift them out onto cooling trays. [I always end up with some that are more "done" than others but it doesn't matter.] Sprinkle the cakes with caster sugar while they are still warm. They are traditionally eaten warm with butter and honey but they are good cold too and can be eaten just as they are. All my Sicilian friends like them and think there is ricotta in them!
Last Christmas I used dried cranberries instead of sultanas in them and this was a success but don't tell any Welsh friends that!
|Welshcakes at the front |
of my St David's Day table
I cannot finish this post without quoting my favourite Sicilian proverb again:
" 'U Signuri runa 'i viscotta a cu' nun avi rienti - God gives biscuits to those with no teeth."
Below is the full list of blogs participating in this week's theme: