Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog OffA 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
2 eggs
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:


Rufus Dogg said...

LOL Well, just for you we'll have to have a "biscuits" LetsBlogOff which is just confuse a whole mess of people on this side of the pond :-)

That reminds me of that Snapple lemonade/tea commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ss1ky_4pdXk When we blend all this great food in so perfectly, who cares who we confuse as long as we all eat well.

Joseph said...

I thought about biscuits when I came to this blog. In this country, as you surely know, biscuits are normally a kind of quick bread that uses baking powder for a leavening agent. In woodworking we sometimes use a particular type of wood spline for wood joinery that is called a biscuit, so I've had quite a bit of fun with that one as well!

Rosaria Williams said...

I especially like the proverb, but the two recipes seem quite good too. Finally, the welshcakes!

K&B by the Sea said...

I would never guess that there could be ground beef in a sweet pastry! That's a good way to play a joke on vegetarians ;-)

It's been ages since I had welshcakes. I have a recipe that my mom got from a British lady who lived down the road from us when I was about five. I won't tell you how old the recipe is now ;-) Now you have me craving welshcakes!

Cuby said...

I have just finished eating a Hobnob. Are there any prizes for best named biscuits? What a fabulous proverb. Oh and how I love welshcakes.

elleeseymour said...

I shall be making lavender cookies for Easter and bought a bunny biscuit cutter today. Do they have those in Sicily?

CherryPie said...

I am rather fond of cookies, but they are not so good for my diet ;-)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Rufus Dogg. Haha! Tht would sure confuse folk even more, including me! I agree - what does it matter as long as we enjoy the food? Hi, Joseph. That's interesting as some people put baking powder in Welshcakes. I don't think it makes any difference myself. I didn't know that about woodwork and I look forward to reading your post, probably tomorrow. Hi, Rosaria. Yes, finally! Hi, Kelly. I never thought of that but it would be a good joke! I wish you were near enough to come round for a cup of tea and some Welshcakes. Hi, Cuby. I think "Hobnob" is a wonderful name for a biscuit! Hi, Ellee. Lavender cookies sound wonderful. Will you post the recipe? Yes, you can get bunny cutters here though they're not easy to find. I really miss "Lakeland" sometimes. Hi, Cherie. That is always a problem but I did read this morning that chocolate might actually be slimming....

Unknown said...

Being Italian Pat and of a healthy appetite, those all sound wonderful.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Todd.


View My Stats