There were many Italian recipes to choose from, but fewer baking recipes. I ended up plumping for Nigella's Italian biscuits from How to be a Domestic Goddess. Although there is no picture of them I was drawn to them by the memories I have of the little bakeries in Italy where these are sold, as Nigella says, by weight. I've not had them from Italy, but next time I go, perhaps I will, just to compare!
I will give the recipe here, because although Nigella's in essence I had to modify it to make it work for me.
110g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
1 medium egg
zest of 1/4 lemon
175g plain flour
2g(1/4tsp) baking powder
glace cherries - enough to cut in half to decorate
- Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Line a baking tray with parchment.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until very light, almost moussy, with an electric whisk.
- Add the egg, lemon zest and beat to combine.
- Add the flour and baking powder and beat to combine.
Tricky bit - you need the dough to be soft enough to pipe. I tried with 1/2 egg in the mixture and there was no way it was going to pipe through a nozzle. I added the extra 1/2 egg plus probably about 2 tbsp water too to get a consistency I could pipe.
- Pipe swirls and decorate as desired.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes (Nigella says 12, but mine were nowhere near done).
- Allow to cool on a wire rack.
- Makes about 20 - I got 19!
Taste? Well, I probably wouldn't make them again. They're nice, and perfect with a good espresso (note the sad lack of crema on my espresso - this is what comes of not having a proper machine to do it with!). I can quite well imagine countless people across Italy enjoying these with a morning espresso or cappucino. They are slightly crisp round the edge, but deliciously crumbly within, finished with a good, chewy red cherry. They are buttery and not dry, but perhaps not quite as sweet as I would have liked. However, Nigella does say that these aren't as sweet as some biscuits. I'm glad I made them though, because they were great fun to pipe!
As an aside - Nigella says that if you want to make these slightly differently, use vanilla extract in the dough and top with Minstrels. I had run out of cherries, but did have some minstrels so decided to give this idea a go. I think that since How to be a Domestic Goddess was published in 2000, the recipe for minstrel colouring/composition must have changed. My minstrels looked most peculiar when they were cooked. So much so that I picked off the minstrels on the biscuits waiting to be cooked and replaced them with Silver Spoon chocolate sugar beans, seen below. Not mini Smarties, though, because their natural colourings don't survive the oven any more either!