Friday, March 9, 2012

Quaresimali Toscani

After making fresh corzetti stampati (here) or tajarin (here) you will have leftover whites from 12 eggs. You can portion out the whites into small containers for future use. (Egg whites keep for a couple of days refrigerated in an airtight container or for a couple of weeks frozen.) An excellent way to use leftover whites: make biscotti. Although enjoyed year round, biscotti made with egg whites play a special role during this season of Lent when observants often shun rich ingredients such as butter and egg yolks.  Carol Field explores Italian feasts and festivals, including food-based Lenten traditions in her 1990 book entitled Celebrating Italy. In her chapter on Quaresima, or Lent, Field shares an excellent recipe for a chewy, chocolate biscotti made with egg whites called Quaresimali Toscani.

Field divides Celebrating Italy into four calendar-related parts: Abundance; Harvest; Darkness; and Rebirth. Each part features a range of Italian festivals that generally fall into four categories: (1) county festivals celebrating nature’s fecundity; (2) civic festivals; (3) religious festivals; and (4) political festivals. Field writes: “[a]ll have ritual foods that reflect agriculture and religion and consecrate the event.”

In Rebirth, Field writes about Italian Lenten traditions. She includes recipes for Croccante Quaresimale (Crunchy Hazelnut Cookies for Lent); Corolli (Anise-Scented Sweet Bread); Quaresimali Romani (Orange and Almond Biscotti); and Quaresimali Toscani (Orange-Flavored Chocolate Cookies for Lent).

If your goals are to use up leftover egg whites and observe Lent, look no further than Quaresimali Toscani. Perhaps these biscotti pass for Lenten fare because they contain virtually no fat (save for a very small amount in the cocoa). Even without fat, Quaresimali Toscani taste rich. Field writes that “[c]hildren in Florence look forward to these chewy chocolate cookies, which are shaped like alphabet letters during Lent.” Her recipe makes 21 to 24 alphabet cookies about 3 inches tall.
  • 2½ cups (250 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup (30 grams) cocoa
  • 1½ cups (200 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites

Shift together the sugar, cocoa, and flour. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla. Add the egg whites, beating slowly, either by hand or at the lowest speed on the electric mixer, until the batter is thick and smooth.

Assembly. Butter and flour baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into pastry bags fitted with a ½-inch plain tip. Pipe out the batter in the shape of alphabet letters, about 1½ inches apart although they spread only very slightly.

Baking. Heat the oven to 300ºF. Bake the cookies until the tops have set and are slightly cracked but they still feel slightly soft, 10 to 12 minutes.

Easy to make (especially with a mixer), these biscotti straddle the line between cookie and candy. Imagine a delicious orange-flavored chocolate chew and you pretty much have Quaresimali Toscani. No wonder children look forward to them during Lent.