We Knead To Bake #4 : Torcettini di Saint Vincent (Sugar Crusted Twisted Cookies from the Valle d’Aosta)
This group, We Knead To Bake, got together with the objective of baking a variety of yeasted breads through 2103. So this month’s choice migt come as a bit of a surprise because it is not bread! It’s a biscuit or what would be described as a cookie in the US. I had bookmarked this biscuit/ cookie called Torcettini di SaintVincent sometime back, when I first discovered on my wanderings through the internet.
Torcettini are made from yeasted dough and have a somewhat bread-like texture on the inside so I thought they qualified to be baked in this group. These are the first yeasted biscuits/ cookies I have ever baked and I thought it would be a nice change from bread, just this once.
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/ cookies are synonymous with the town of Saint Vincent in Valle d'Aosta, a small mountainous region in North-Western Italy, even though they’re well known throughout the Piedmont region as well.
Torcetti/ Torcettini are believed to have descended 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” from his Grissini, he rolled them in sugar and shaped them into loops, and the Torcetti was born. Torcetti/ Torchettini are usually flavoured with lime/ lemon zest or anise.
These biscuits/ cookies are crunchy on the outside with a somewhat bread-like texture on the inside. They’re 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. Apparently, Queen Margaret, the wife of King Umberto I of Savoy loved these biscuits so much during her stay in Valle d'Aosta, that she gave her servants enough provisions to bake an abundant supply for her consumption.
Now I know some of you might wonder why anyone would like to make a cookie that has a “bready” interior. After all, cookies are meant to be cookies and bread should be bread. Why marry the two in one? Beats me too, but I’m not complaining in this case, because I like Torcettii. The fact that they’re not very sweet but have a caramelly crunch that gives way to a yeasted soft texture works for me.
I have adapted this recipe from the one in Nick Malgieri’s “A Baker’s Tour”. Traditionally these biscuits/ cookies are shaped by rolling out bits of dough into “ropes” and then pinching the ends together to form a “teardrop” shape. These are shaped by crossing the rope of dough near the ends to pretty looking twists.
Torcettini di Saint Vincent
(Adpated from A Baker’s Tour by Nick Malgieri)
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, in a small bowl and keep aside.
- Put the flour and the salt in the food processor bowl (or a largish regular bowl if kneading by hand) and pulse a couple of times to mix. 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 a oiled bowl, turning it so it is well coated with the oil. Cover the bowl, 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. 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/ puff up slightly. They will not “puff up” much, like bread, but the “puff” will be visible.
- Bake them at 160C (325F) for about 25 minutes till they’re a nice golden brown. Cool the cookies completely, on a rack. Store them in an air-tight container at room temperature. Although, I found them best the day they were baked.
This recipe makes 24 cookies.
Some tips that might make a difference to your Torcettini –
1. For a variation on these biscuits, you can make them chocolate flavoured. If making chocolate Torcettini, remove 2 tbsp all-purpose flour and add 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. Also add 2 tbsp powdered sugar and replace the lemon zest with orange zest while making the dough.
2. Once your Torcettini have been shaped, don’t let them rise for longer than 20 minutes. If you do, your Torcettini will more bread-like on the inside due to the extra “rise”.
3. To make sure the Torcettini dough does not rise for more than 20 minutes, it’s a good idea to work on shaping the 2ndbatch while the first batch is in the oven.
4. If you do not want to use parchment paper, you can grease you cookie sheets and place the shaped Torcettini dough on them directly. Just remember to take them off the sheets while they’re still hot. You will need a spatula to the dislodge them, and do so carefully so they don’t break. Once they’re cool, the caramelised sugar on the Torcettini make them stick to cookie sheets and they become difficult to dislodge without breaking them!