Today I’m sharing with you a family secret. A recipe for a cookie that has been passed down in my family from one generation to the next. The kind that is given to you on a worn and oil splattered recipe card with barely readable cursive handwriting and hardly any instruction to go with the list of ingredients. To be completely honest with you, I’m not really sure I’m even allowed to share it, but I don’t really believe in keeping recipes secret and I’d like to think that sharing the recipe with you is my way of sitting down with you to enjoy one.
I’ve been making torcetti with my grandpa since my eyes reached counter level. My grandma had to pull up a chair so I could help mix and roll the dough out. I remember my small hands rolling the ends too thinly, while the centers bulged, so that when they were baked the tips would burn and the center would remain soft. These are the cookies that to this very day, if you stop in to visit with my grandpa he will no doubt have a giant tin full of torcetti along with these biscotti. It’s the first thing I go to after hugs hello have gone around and I’m often leaving with a small ziplock bag full to enjoy later… or during the car ride home.
My grandpa was raised by his Italian mother and aunt, and his Swedish aunt, who married into the family, (and celebrated her 101 year of life this past summer!) since he was a very young boy. If there ever was a kitchen that rested only when those who lived there did, it was their’s. The tales of these ladies cooking all day is a proven fact when I drive over snoqualmie pass to visit my great great aunt and her daughter (I think my 3rd cousin; who’s in her late 70′s) who still get up in the morning to make homemade ravioli, bread sticks, cookies, and so on. Getting it all in before their daily nap and soaps.
This is not one of my usual “healthy” style recipes. I’ve not taken an old favorite and used coconut oil or spelt flour to replace the butter and all purpose flour. It just wouldn’t work here. Besides, what would life be if we all didn’t indulge every now and then. The only change I made was using natural cane sugar instead of white, but feel free to use either. It’s really hard to describe these cookies. I’d say they’re something like a shortbread and not very sweet. They’re crunchy and perfect paired with coffee or tea. And don’t skip the process of rolling the rings of dough in sugar before baking, it’s what gives the cookies a special crunchy, sweet coating.
I’m sending out all kinds of love to those who lost their precious little ones, family members, and friends last Friday. After hearing about the tragedy in Newtown, I was overcome with emotion and thoughts. I read over the clips of each victims life, attached with pictures of wide eyed young faces that will never be able to remember and share stories like the one I’ve told here. My eyes were teary and red before getting to the end, but it was worth spending a little time to see these young, spirited lives through the eyes of those who lost them. As someone who is always searching for the good in people, it’s hard to acknowledge that dark things like this exist in the world today. I’ve decided to take the rest of the year off to spend some quality time with my family and friends. I wish all a you happy holiday season, hopefully surrounded by all you love as well.
Torcetti / makes 64 cookies
1/3 cup warm water
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons almond or vanilla extract
5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup natural cane sugar, plus more for rolling
2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
Preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a small dish combine the water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit 10 minutes, then add in the almond (or vanilla) extract.
In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter using hands or mixer. Pour in the yeast mixture and stir to combine well.
Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll each into a log about 14-16 inches long and cut into 16 equal pieces. The best way to do this is to start by dividing the log in half, then keep halving the sections until you have 16 pieces (see image). Roll each piece into a pencil sized log, wrap one edge over the other, making a ring, dip in sugar and place on a baking sheet. They don’t spread too much so you should be able to get 12-14 on one sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on wire rack and store tightly covered. They seem to keep for awhile, but I’d say up to a week.