When you think about heritage, I’m sure many things come to mind…traditions, holidays, travel, history. The list is endless.
When I think about heritage, I think about food. In my culture, being raised in an Italian home, food symbolized so many things. A big feast being prepared meant that I was going to see all of my relatives that I haven’t seen in ages. A side of beef being unloaded into the cellar meant it was time to make sausages (and that we would probably end the day with a big barbecue). A trip to the farm at the end of August meant a weekend of canning tomatoes and sharing stories with family about years gone by. The smell of freshly baked cookies usually meant that my mom knew I was having a rough day and that smell would just make everything better.
In our home, cooking and baking has always meant so much more than just filling empty bellies.
Last year, my aunt lost her husband of almost 60 years. I made her cookies because sometimes that is the only way I can say “I’m so sorry for your loss”. In the months that followed, I started to think about traditions – mainly those related to food – that my aunt (and other elders) were used to sharing with their loved ones. Losing my uncle made me think about how family structure changes (whether it is children getting older and moving out or when age and illness takes away the ones we love). It made me think that, when the comfort of “what we know” changes in our daily lives, perhaps those traditions connected to food change as well. Who was my aunt going to make that special pasta dish for? Would she still want to make those special cookies for Easter? Would all of those recipes – the ones that were stored in her head – be written down so that generations that follow would be able to share them with their grandchildren?
Last week, three of my cousins and I spent the better part of a day with my aunt as she showed us how to make her special Bocconotti. When we arrived, she was dressed up with a pretty scarf tied around her neck. I think she was really happy. She showed us, step by step, how they were made. We all went home with enough cookies to last us the week and with a greater appreciation of the wisdom and knowledge that comes with age.
Hopefully, our children and grandchildren will know that this isn’t just a recipe for cookies that will conquer and afternoon craving. Hopefully, they will learn that food is about more than fuel …that the art of cooking and baking is about sharing a piece of your heart with those you love.
NOTE: If you’d like a printable recipe with a bit more detail, I’ve written an updated recipe here.
12 egg yolks
12 tbsp sugar
3/4 c olive oil
3 1/4 c flour
3-4 tsp lemon zest
12 egg whites
1/2 c sugar
16 oz ground almonds, toasted in a hot, dry pan (about 3 3/4 c)
8 oz grated semi-sweet chocolate (1 c)
1. In a large bowl, crack your eggs (use this trick!) and separate the whites from the yolks (do it this way…it’s easy). Set the whites aside and and place the egg yolks and 12 tbsp sugar into a stand up mixer.
2. When the mixture is combined and light in colour (it will have had to beat for about 5-6 minutes), add the olive oil and mix again until combined.
3. Toss the lemon zest into the flour (mix it in so it is evenly distributed) and then add it to the egg yolk mixture; mix to combine.
4. When the mixture comes together and forms a stiff dough, take it out of the bowl and knead it a few times to get it smooth (sort of like pasta dough); let it rest for a few minutes while you get your equipment ready.
5. We have to roll this dough out very thinly so the easiest way would be to use a pasta machine. You can either use a pasta attachment for your mixer, a free standing pasta machine (like this) or a rolling pin (but you will need way more elbow grease!!); set the dough aside and begin to make the filling.
6. Beat the whites with a mixer and when they begin to pick up a bit of volume, sprinkle the sugar (1/2 c) into the whites while you continue to beat them.
7. Add the grated chocolate and the almonds and gently fold into the egg white mixture (be careful not to deflate the mixture).
8. The mixture will be brown when incorporated (no egg whites will show) but it should still have volume).
9. These are the tins that we use (they are special tins used for these cookies…I have seen them for sale at Italian bakeries, but you can also buy them through Amazon here). You can also try them in mini muffin tins; make sure you grease them liberally (you can use cooking spray but we used Crisco because that’s what the recipe said!!); set aside.
10. If you are using a pasta machine (that’s what we did), cut the dough into about 8 pieces and flatten them out. Begin to roll it on the widest setting and continue to make the width more and more narrow until you get a fairly thin dough. Place one of the strips on a lightly floured surface and place the tins upside down – cut around them (leaving about 1/2″ overhang); flip it over and press firmly into all the crevices.
11. Place about 1 tbsp of the filling into each shell (this recipe makes lots!!); place the filled cookie tins onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes (you will know they are ready when the crust begins to brown and the filling is puffed and firm).
12. Remove them from the oven and let them stand for a few minutes (it will be easier to pop them out of the tins).
13. When they are cool, sprinkle them with icing sugar and enjoy with a freshly brewed cup of espresso….and a friend….the best way to enjoy them!