Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Torcetti cookies

Food and wine in Piedmont are a real lifestyle, after all Piedmont is the Italian top wine producer, cheese making region and homeland to Slow Food and all food sustainability philosophies and... it also produces a high variety of cookies!

Let's face it, cookies in their simplicity have the high power to make a bad day into a good one when we dunk them in wine or to start our day in the best way, when we have some for breakfast!

Cookies are easy to make, thus have the big power of making us feel at home away from home. When professionally made they bring us back in time and can also add a touch of royalty to any coffee break.

Biella style torcetto

Today we'll tell you about torcetti or twisted cookies.
There are many variants all over Piedmont, some are darker, some are thicker but they all date back to 1700. The most renown are from Agliè, in the Canavese district famous for Erbaluce di Caluso wine and its many castles. In this area, Ivrea is the main town with its famous Carnival.

In 1854, the royal chef, Giovanni Vialardi listed 3 different recipes for torcetti in his Treaty of Modern Pastry - Trattato di Pasticceria Moderna, in 1854.
Like many Piedmotese recipes, these cookies were also born by the chance in the country public ovens where people used to bake their bread together: most likely, while waiting for the oven to reach the right temperature, some bread dough was hand rolled into grissini breadsticks, sprinkled with sugar or brushed with some honey, twisted and left near the oven to cook.

Speaking of roylty, the Canavese variant of torcetti was a favorite of one of the Savoy pricesses: Isabella Bona of Bavaria Savoy and Genoa who lived in the Agliè castle (from 11th century and still standing!!). In 1938, she appointed Francesco Pana as the royal torcetti maker and allowed him to print the royal crest on his packages.

Today's torcetti are smaller and contain butter to make them tastier. Nobody really knows what the secret of the Agliè recipe is and what variant is older but their recipe is legally regulated and since 2002, they are officially certified as "Piedmontese traditional product"!

This is the recipe for 15-20 torcetti di Agliè:
- 1/2 kg (1lb) 00 flour 
- 280 ml (1 cup) lukewarm water
- 1 cup of sugar to sprinkle the torcetti
- a pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 200 gr (7/8 cup) butter (room temp)
- 25 gr (9 tsp) yeast 

Melt the yeast in 5 tbs of lukewarm water together with the sugar and the salt. 
Sift the flour and pour on the water with the yeast, sugar and salt. Knead till you get a smooth and elastic dough. Let rise covered for about 1h.

Knead in the butter and knead for 10min.  

Let rise for 1h.

Pour the sugar on one side of your working area and cut the dough in small pieces that you will hand pull into sticks about 1 finger thick and 10-12 cm (4-4.7in.) long.
Roll each stick in the sugar and cross the ends giving them a drop shape.
Lay them on a parchment paper covered baking sheet and bake at 220C (428F) for about 15min.

You can serve them with tea, coffee, hot or cold chocolate, gelato AND wine!! The best pairing in this case is Passito di Erbaluce but any raisinated wine will do too ;)
Of course they are a very tasty and unique souvenir for all foodies!

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