April is over within a week! " 'We Knead to Bake' something different, so we’re baking yeasted cookies", decides Aparna! Since this particular biscuit/cookies are yeasted and involve a bread-like dough, it qualified perfectly.
So according to her,
Torcettini are smaller versions of Torcetti (meaning small twists), and these pear/teardrop shaped twists are made of a dough of flour, yeast and butter which are shaped and then rolled in sugar before being baked. These biscuits are synonymous with the town of Saint Vincent in Valle d'Aosta, a small mountainous region in North-Western Italy. They’re well known throughout the Piedmont region as well.
The origin of these biscuits is believed to be from Grissini (breadsticks) which were made from the leftover scraps of bread dough. According to one story, a Grissini baker had some leftover butter which he needed to use up. Inspiration struck and he decided to add the butter to the last batch of his Grissini dough for the day. To be able to differentiate this lot of “breadsticks”, he rolled them in sugar and shaped them into loops, and the Torcetti was born. Torcetti/ Torchettini taste even better when they’re flavoured with lime/ lemon zest or anise.
It is said that Queen Margherita, the wife of King Umberto I of Savoy, liked the cookies in one pastry shop so much that she knighted the owner on the spot. A certificate attesting to this still hangs in the pastry shop in Saint Vincent. During her stay in Valle d'Aosta, that she gave her servants enough provisions to bake an abundant supply for her consumption.
Torcettini di Saint Vincent
Adapted from 'A Baker’s Tour' by Nick Malgieri
Makes 24 cookies
(I halved the recipe and baked 12 cookies)
1/2 cup warm water, about 110F
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lime/ lemon zest
40gm unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
About 1/3 cup sugar for rolling the cookies
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, in a small bowl and keep aside.
Put the flour,salt and lime zest in the in the food processor bowl (or a largish regular bowl if kneading by hand) and pulse a couple of times to mix. (I used a hand whisk to combine). Add the butter pieces and pulse until the butter is well mixed and the flour-butter mixture looks powdery.
Add the yeast-water mixture and pulse till it all comes together as a ball. Do not over process or knead. Place the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, turning it so it is well coated with the oil. Cover the bowl loosely with lid, and let the dough rise quite a bit.
This dough does not really double in volume, but it should look “puffy” after about an hour or so.
When you pinch off a bit from the top you can see the interior looking a bit like honeycomb. Press down the dough and deflate it, wrap it in cling warp and refrigerate it for at least one hour or up to 24 hours.
When ready to make the cookies, take the dough out and lightly roll it out into an approximately 6” square. (Since I halved the original recipe, my square measured 3” which was divided into 12) If the dough feels sticky, scatter a little sugar on it. Using a pizza wheel cut the dough into four strips of equal width. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces, by cutting across, making a total of 24 pieces. The measurements are not very critical in this part because this just makes it easier to have 24 equal sized bits of dough, as compared to pinching of bits of the dough.
Roll each piece into a pencil thick “rope” about 5” long. Sprinkle a little sugar on your work surface and roll the “rope” in it so the sugar crusts the dough uniformly. Form the “rope” into a loop crossing it over before the ends.
Place the Torcettini on parchment lined baking sheets, leaving 1 1/2" between them. Leave them for about 20 minutes or so till they rise or puff up slightly. It is a fact that they will not “puff up” much.
( I personally found them sticking to the butter paper I used to line after baking because of the caramelised sugar glued strong at the bottom. So I left the next batch direct on the pan, unlined, before placing in the oven)
Bake them at 160C (325F) for about 25 minutes till they’re a nice golden brown. (My old fashioned oven demanded 200-210C for the same time) Cool the cookies completely, on a rack. Store them in an air-tight container at room temperature.
These biscuits are crunchy, not very sweet and pair very well with cold milk, hot chocolate, tea, coffee or wine. They are delicious served warm and equally good cold, and keep very well if stored in airtight containers. They taste the best on the day baked.
Have a look at the bottom of the cookie. The sugar crystals get caramelised at the base while baking, which renders an extra crunch and yumminess to it.
Torcettinis are easy to make too!
To make Chocolate Torcettini, remove 2 tbsp all-purpose flour from the measured quantity given in the ingredient list and add 2 tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder. Flavouring with orange zest and may be 1/ 2 tsp instant coffee powder would do better than lemon zest/star anise.