Although these cookies are customarily made for the season of Lent in Sicily, I find they’re the perfect cookies to eat during autumn with their deep notes of ground cloves, brown sugar, and honey. But whichever time of the year you choose to bake them, they’re always yummy!
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup orange blossom honey
2 egg whites (kept separate)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (see Note)
3 tablespoons chopped Candied Orange Peel (recipe follows below)
1 cup unblanched whole almonds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, cream the butter or margarine with the brown sugar and honey. Add 1 of the egg whites and mix until evenly blended. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices into another bowl and add the butter mixture, stirring until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead in the orange peel and almonds until evenly dispersed. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and form each piece into a log that is 8 inches long by 2 inches thick. Place the logs 3 inches apart on the greased baking sheet. Beat the remaining egg white lightly and brush the tops of the logs with it.
Bake the logs for 20 to 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Slice the logs ¼ inch thick and lay the cookies on the baking sheet. Return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes to dry them out. The cookies will become crisp as they cool, so don’t overbake them. Cool on a rack.
NOTE: Although the recipe in Sweet Sicily calls for black pepper, I choose to make these without it since I’m a bit more finicky when it comes to black pepper.
For the Candied Orange Peel (see Note):
3 unblemished organic navel oranges
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
¼ cup corn syrup
Wash the oranges and cut each one into 6 wedges. Scrape away the pulp (reserve it for another use), leaving the peel with the white membrane attached, and place the peel into a nonreactive saucepan.
Cover the orange peel with cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then drain off the water. Cover again with cold water, bring to a boil, and drain; repeat the process 2 more times. This is the only way to remove the bitterness from the peel; you’ll be glad you went to the trouble.
Remove the peel from the saucepan and add the sugar, water, and corn syrup to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, add the peel, turn the heat down to medium, and boil for 20 to 25 minutes, or until most of the syrup is absorbed and the peel is glossy.
Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet to catch drips, and transfer the wedges of candied peel to the rack. Let cool and dry for 2 to 3 hours, then store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
NOTE: To cut down on the prep time, the candied orange peel can be made ahead of time. It’s worth making your own since it tastes far superior to store-bought candied orange peel.
Adapted from Sweet Sicily: The Story of an Island and Her Pastries, Victoria Granof (HarperCollins)
In Rosanna Chiofalo’s touching novel, a unique pastry shop features mouthwatering creations that have the power to change one woman’s life…Food writer Claudia Lombardo has sampled exquisite dishes by the world’s greatest chefs. But when she hears about the remarkable desserts that are created in a pastry shop operated out of a convent in the sleepy Italian hillside town of Santa Lucia del Mela, she wants to write a book featuring the sweets and the story behind their creator—Sorella Agata. But the convent’s most famous dessert—a cassata cake—is what really intrigues Claudia.
Everyone who samples the cake agrees it is like none other they’ve tasted. Yet no one can figure out what makes the cassata so incredibly delicious. Though Sorella Agata insists there is no secret ingredient, Claudia is determined to learn the truth behind the mysterious cake. As she samples each delectable treat—marzipan fruit, rich cream puffs, and decadent cakes—Sorella Agata relates the pastry shop’s history and tells of the young woman, Rosalia, who inspired her.
Kidnapped and separated from her family, Rosalia is subjected to a terrible ordeal—until the nuns find her. As she heals, she learns the art of pastry making, and soon she even finds love with Antonio—an apprentice in the pastry shop. But her heart still aches for the family she lost. And Rosalia knows she will not be whole again until she is reunited with them.
As Claudia unravels the secret of the cassata cake, she discovers a deeper, fascinating story—one that affirms food can do more than nourish the body…it can stir memories, heal the deepest heartaches, and even act as a bridge to those we love, no matter how far apart.
Praise For The Novels Of Rosanna Chiofalo
“The mountains and islands of Sicily, the fabulous clothes of the late sixties, and the emotional power Sarina feels when singing stand out.” —Booklist
“What a glorious novel this is. It’s a celebration of life, love and unlikely friendship through the eyes of two very different women. Yet their similarities bind them together and will endear them to readers long after the last page is turned. Bravissima for Carissima!” —Susan Wiggs, # 1 New York Times bestselling author
“Fantastico! I couldn’t put it down!” —Lisa Jackson, # 1 New York Times bestselling author
“Chiofalo brings the Italian immigrant community and neighborhoods richly to life.” —Publishers Weekly
“Well-drawn characters…A charmer.” —BookPage
“Sometimes tough, sometimes tender, always heartfelt and honest, Bella Fortuna is a lively, finely-stitched tale of life and love, family and friendship, and a zest for cose Italiane!” —Peter Pezzelli, author of Home to Italy