Friday, December 4, 2009


Anyone who knows me, knows, I like to bake. I bake lots of pumpkin and apple pies, panettone, various cookies – whatever suits my family’s fancy at the time. Or, whatever is needed for a volunteer effort – bake sale, auction dessert table, etc.

So here I am, in Rome and I haven’t been baking. Quite honestly, the reason I don’t bake – we are tempted and surrounded by amazing panifici, or i forni (bakeries).

In the States, I never differentiated between cookies. A cookie was a cookie. I rarely ate one for breakfast – they were purely an afternoon sweet tooth fix or after dinner treat. And it didn’t matter what kind of cookie it was.

Not in Rome.

We have special cookies for each meal. Lucky us! Cookies for dipping in your cappuccino in the morning, cookies for solving the afternoon sweet tooth, cookies to be served with white, red or sweet wine. And don’t think they are interchangeable - because they’re not as far as an Italian is concerned. (And I’ve tried, and have to agree with the Italians!)

We were first introduced to the Zaleti cookie while browsing the famous Jewish bakeries in the Cannaregio neighborhood in Venice. Zaleti are made with an equal blend of corn flour and wheat flour, with plenty of butter and eggs to make it perfect for dunking in your morning cappuccino. In the Jewish neighborhood in Rome, we have wonderful bakeries as well. We were lucky enough to find a similar cookie, but in the shape of a ‘S’ and thusly, branded, Essi. (It’s also called Buranei, from the island of Burano, next to Venice.)

What makes Essi cookies perfect for cappuccino is they don’t crumble into a slobbery mess after being dunked a time, or two. However, Essi are not rock hard either, they are soft in the middle. And they are not overly or underly (new word!) sweet. When we run out of these cookies, without SOMEONE mentioning we are down to the last of them, I’m not happy.

For an afternoon sweet tooth, we adore Bocconcini. They are a mound of deliciousness. Firm on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside. Our favorite is Pistachio. At our neighborhood bakery, Al Forno, they also make Pinoli, (pine nut), Brutti (means ugly, ground hazelnut), and Mandorle (almond). These cookies cannot be dunked in cappuccino, as they’ll melt in the hot liquid, nor dunked in wine, as they don’t taste good.

Chocolate Chip Ciambelloni is our kid’s favorite cookie. They are a nice circular shape, firm, but not crisp or soft, puffed to the middle, and delicious with milk. Perfect after lunch!

Ciambelline al Vino (not to be confused with Ciambelloni) are a crisp round cookie with a hole in the middle, coated with sugar crystals, made with either red or white wine. The dark Ciambelline is to be dunked in red wine and the light in white. And coming from one who has never dunked a cookie in wine, Ciambelline makes it an easy ritual, if desired. Again, they don’t crumble into a muddy mess, but they will melt into the hot liquid of a cappuccino, and as they are quite light, they aren’t satisfying for breakfast.

Another favorite are the Cantucci della Toscana, which are dunked in Vin Santo, a sweet, dessert wine. Many almond biscotti recipes in the States are similar to the Cantucci, but lack the richness of the cookie made here. I’m sure it has something to do with eggs and butter. Doesn’t everything good have to do with eggs and butter?

There are countless cookies in Italia, just like in the States. I’m looking forward to adding more varieties to our pantry!

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