Thursday, November 25, 2010


This is the first post in a short series on cookies. With the holiday baking season upon us, we will explore different cookies and their source cookbooks. Each cookie recipe is worth adding to your baking repertoire. First up, Strassburgers from a classic Swedish cookbook entitled Sju Sorters Kakor. Melody Favish’s English translation of this heritage cookbook is entitled Swedish Cakes and Cookies [2008].

Sju Sorters Kakor is an apt title for the original Swedish text. The literal translation of this title is “Seven Kinds of Cakes”, a reference to the traditional offerings at a Swedish coffee klatch. In bygone days, hosts aspired to present their guests with at least seven different cakes and cookies to enjoy over coffee and conversation. In its Foreword, Sju Sorters Kakor laments: “…in today’s world, there is seldom time for more than one or two kinds of cake.” Alas!

The English translation of Sju Sorters Kakor has much to recommend it. The book presents over 300 classic, homemade baked goods. I like the book’s clean layout and extensive photographs. The recipes primarily use metric measurements, but imperial measurements are also provided. (Choose one or the other, but don’t mix and match.) In a world of heavy, coffee table cookbooks, I appreciate this book’s smaller, handy size.

A favorite recipe from the book is for Strassburgers. To my eye these cookies resemble chocolate-dipped comets or shooting stars.

Oven Temp: 175°C (350°F)
  • 100 g (7 tablespoons) stick margarine or butter, softened
  • ½ dl (¼ cup) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar or 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1¼ dl (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 dl (1/3 cup) potato starch or cornstarch

  • Jelly or powdered sugar
  • Melted semi-sweet chocolate

1) Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add the flour and starch, mixing well.

2) Using a cookie press or bag with a star tip, make mounds or lengths directly onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

3) Bake on the center oven rack for around 10 minutes.

4) Pipe a little jelly onto each cookie or sift powdered sugar over and dip one end in melted chocolate.

This recipe makes approximately 25 cookies. Some thoughts on the recipe: pre-heat your oven. I used butter, vanilla extract and cornstarch and was quite happy with the results. If you have a cookie press, consider using it. I used a pastry bag and found the dough quite stiff and difficult (but not impossible) to pipe. Perhaps this is why I was well short of the recipe’s approximate quantity of 25 cookies. I skipped the jelly and powdered sugar. Make sure the cookies are cool before dipping (not scooping) the cookies in the melted chocolate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


This is the third in a series of posts on making fresh pasta. Using Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009] as our guide, we started our survey of shapes, dough and techniques by examining two pastas with Northern Italian origins: pappardelle and toppe. Both of these pastas are simple, flat noodles. Pappardelle is made with all-purpose flour while toppe is made with a tipo 00/durum flour blend. We now turn our focus from the north to the south where durum wheat is the prevalent flour for making pasta. We also transition from making flat noodles to creating sculpted pasta. A classic sculpted, durum wheat pasta from Southern Italy is cavatelli.

Historians believe that Arabs introduced the cultivation of durum wheat to Italy by way of Sicily in the 9th century. Durum thrived in Southern Italy’s soil and climate and a burgeoning dried pasta industry followed. The area around Naples became a leader in this new trade. Cities on the Amalfi Coast had a warm climate and salt air breezes that were ideal for drying pasta. The region also had access to excellent quality durum critical to making dried pastas, especially those with extruded shapes.

Zanini De Vita describes cavatelli as resembling little hats. The shape has approximately forty different names used across seven Southern Italian regions. (My favorite of these names is orecchie di prete or priest’s ears.) Not surprisingly, cavatelli also comes in a number of different shapes and sizes. One common cavatelli shape is made when a small (3/8-inch wide), pencil-thin cylinder of dough is drawn across a board with a blunt-tipped knife. A variation is created when a finger or two (or more) replace the knife.

Making cavatelli is a lot of fun, but mastering some of the shapes takes practice and time.  Although wooden boards are by far the most common work surface, once again, variations exist. Campania’s parmarieddo is made by rolling the dough across the palm of a hand instead of a board. Basilicata’s orecchie di prete is made by rolling the dough across a grooved wooden board called a cavarola.

Another common cavatelli form is machine-made and resembles a small, thin, ridged gnocchi. (Cavatelli is often generically referred to as gnocchetti.) A hard dough is rolled out and cut into strips. These strips are fed into a cavatelli maker. With a turn of a handle, the pasta is shaped and cut into cavatelli. With practice you can transform 450 grams (approximately 1 pound) of dough into cavatelli in less than 5 minutes.

Traditionally cavatelli is made only with durum flour and cold water. (Here's a link to a recipe for a flour and water dough I recently posted.) Alternative regional dough recipes exist. Here is one that I developed for my cavatelli machine, which is called a BeeBo. This dough recipe is based upon an egg and olive oil version from the Marche.
  • 300 grams Giusto's Extra Fancy durum flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Approximately 4 tablespoons cold water

1) Weigh out the flour and sift it into a large mixing bowl.

2) Make a well in the flour and crack the eggs into the well. Add the olive oil and salt. Beat the egg mixture with a fork and incorporate the beaten egg mixture into the flour with the fork until the eggs disappear and a crumbly mixture forms.

3) Clean the dough off of your fork and add this dough to the bowl.

4) Holding the bowl with one hand, reach into the bowl with your other hand and continue to mix the dough by hand. In small increments, add as much of the cold water as you need to incorporate all of the flour in the bowl into a rough dough that holds together.

5) Turn your dough onto a clean work surface. Wash your hands to remove any dough before kneading.

6) Lightly dust your work surface. Knead the dough for a full 10 minutes.

7) Lightly flour the dough and wrap it in plastic. Let the dough rest in a refrigerator for 1½ hours.

8) Unwrap the dough and lightly dust it with flour. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 3/8-inch thickness. As best you can, square off the sides of the dough sheet to form a square. Cut the dough lengthwise into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch wide strips.

9) Attach your cavatelli machine to a sturdy work surface. Feed the dough strips into the machine by cranking the machine’s handle. Perfectly formed cavatelli will magically fall out of the machine’s head onto your work surface. Lightly dust the cavatelli with flour to prevent them from sticking together and spread them out on a floured board. After feeding through all of the dough, you should have approximately 1 pound of cavatelli.

Cook the cavatelli in a large pot full of salty, boiling water. When you add the pasta, the boil may slow or disappear. Mix the pasta in the water to help prevent the pasta from sticking together. After the water has returned to a full boil for approximately 3 minutes, start testing the cavatelli. The pasta is ready when it loses its raw taste. It should be wonderfully chewy but not gummy. Drain the pasta into a colander and shake the colander to remove excess water. Add the cavatelli into your ready sauce and cook the two together for a minute or so.

Zanini De Vita writes that cavatelli is traditionally “served with meat or vegetable sauces, always made with chili and finished with a dusting of local cheese, usually cacioricotta.” Pictured is cavatelli served with a roasted cherry tomato sauce made with finely chopped basil, grated cheese and, of course, a pinch of chili pepper.