I’m getting the Italy cravings again. Despite the fact that outside, I’ve got a clear blue sky with little pockets of cloud and a jaw-drop inducing view of the Alps, I can’t help wishing it was a different one. The one I’d prefer would have sea instead of mountains and patches of waves instead of patches of cloud. And, taking the daydream a step further, at lunchtime there would be a breeze scented with garlic and fish, rather than with wood smoke and cheese. (On certain days, you understand, the smell of wood smoke and cheese would send me frothing at the mouth to the nearest chalet, demanding fondue. But when the cravings come, nothing but Italy will do.)
I’m not sure whether it will succeed in assuaging my desires, or send them spiralling into a fervour which sees me scrabbling for the car keys and speeding towards Grand-St-Bernard tunnel before I know what I’m doing, but today I’ve decided to make another batch of my new favourite biscuits.
You may recall that in an earlier post, Lemons from Liguria (Crostata di Marmellata), I pretty much vowed that I would one day recreate the flavoursome, textureful little pandolcini that I bought while I was there. As yet, I haven’t built up the courage, nor the Italian language proficiency to make my innocent enquiries at local panificios so that I can learn how to make them properly. Instead, I have devoted some time to developing my own version, which I have since tested on a great many friends.
I am hoppingly happy to tell you that each and every one of the testers gave positive comment, and even though I know that my little bundles of joy will never quite match the original (perhaps there’s a flavour or two missing, and the texture is a little too crumbly than crunchy), I am proud to admit that they’re a darn good approximation.
Here is my recipe. Makes 12 to 13:
Plain flour – 225g
Baking powder – 1 heaped tsp
Caster sugar – 85g
Salt – a pinch
Unsalted butter – 110g
Raisins – 120g
Pine nuts – 50g
Fennel seed – 1 tbsp
Finely grated orange zest – ½ to 1 orange
Eggs – 1
Milk – ½ tbsp
Orange flower water – ½ tbsp
Vanilla essence – a couple of drops
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour mixture until you have a bowlful of sandy crumbs. Stir in the sugar, raisins, fennel, pine nuts and orange zest.
In a separate, smaller bowl, beat the egg, together with the milk, orange flower water and vanilla essence.
Tip the egg mixture into the larger bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon or a fork. It may seem as though there isn’t enough liquid to bind all the ingredients together, but go with it. The lack of liquid makes for a crunchier, firmer biscuit later (which is what we’re aiming for here).
Take pieces of the mixture (with your hands or a spoon; the mixture should be quite firm) and make 12 or 13 little heaps on greased baking trays. Pop the trays in the oven and leave them there for 12-15 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown on top.
Once they’ve cooled down a little, place the biscuits individually on a cooling rack until completely cold. Before serving (or storing away for a day or two in airtight containers) dust fairly liberally with icing sugar.