Aunt Melutza’s Boiled Italian Cookies
For years my cousin Sal has been asking me if I know how to make boiled cookies. My answer was always no. Then I came across a recipe for Taralli in a book about bread. Of course I assumed this is what he was always talking about.
If you’ve never eaten a Taralli, I like to describe them as light, savory bread sticks that are often flavored with white wine and fennel seeds. And in some other regions of Italy black pepper replaces the fennel seeds. In addition, instead of being long and thin, Taralli are rolled into pencil thick pieces about six-inches long. The ends are then pressed together and simply laid down on a slightly oiled piece of parchment. After spraying the tops with oil, they are covered with plastic wrap and left to proof for about two hours.
Once they have been proofed, each cookie is delicately dropped into a pot of boiling water to which some olive oil has been added. As they cook they eventually rise to the surface and plump up. I like to flip them over and allow them to cook on the other side for another minute or so. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a wire rack to dry. The final step is to bake them in a hot oven until they are golden brown.
So I decided to make a batch for him to sample. He looked at them, took a bite and said, “These are really good. But not really the cookies I am thinking about.” I was back to square one again.
The last time he stopped by, he brought some cookies he purchased in Staten Island for me to try. Although they were very similar to the Taralli I made; their texture and flavor was noticeably different.
So I decided to make a batch for him to sample. He looked at them. Smelled them. Took a bite and said, “These are really, really good. But not really the cookies I am thinking about.”
As the pile of Tarallies began to disappear, he began reminiscing about how his mother and aunt made those special cookies he so enjoyed. He relished in his memories; laughing and embellishing his tale with intricate facts that made his youthful experience easy for me to visualize. Now I fully understood the special meaning these cookies held for him. They brought him back to a time he shared with his mother. I could see him struggling with his memories as he tried to recall the ingredients and the process involved to make them. I could tell from his expressions how much he wanted to remember it all so I could make him the cookies that meant so much to him.
He continued by elaborating how he would wait for everyone to clean up and leave the kitchen so that he could sneak in and begin pilfering the morsels a few at a time. I pictured him sneaking in and out of the kitchen like a squirrel foraging for nuts. Filling his cheeks and pockets while dashing erratically in and out of the kitchen.
I was back to square one again. I turned to the cloud for answers. Hoping to find a recipe that would come close. After researching several recipes, I chose one* and went back into the kitchen to perform some magic. It worked! Although very much the same there is one thing that makes them so different. Taralli are yeast-based cookies where as Sal’s favorite cookies get their spring from eggs. I am renaming this recipe to “Aunt Melutza’s Boiled Italian Cookies” in memory of Sal’s mother. We should all be as lucky to have such memories that grasp and make “La dolce vita”.
Aunt Melutza’s Boiled Italian Cookies
6 1/2 cups flour
3 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. fennel seeds
Mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl with a dough hook. Once the dough comes together, increase the speed slightly and mix until you have developed a soft-dough. Adjust by adding more flour if it is too sticky.
Pinch off small piece of dough and roll it into long strip, about 5 to 6-inches in length. Pinch the ends together and shape them into circles. Carefully stretch them out slightly and drop them into a pan of boiling water, which has a tablespoon or so of olive oil added.
Cook the cookies until they begin to float to the surface. If the cookies stick to bottom of pan, dislodge them with a spatula. Once the cookies begin to float, turn them over and cook them for a minute longer. Remove them with a slotted spoon and allow them to dry on a dishtowel or a wire rack. After a while turn them over so the bottom of the cookie dries out as well.
When they have dried, cut a small slit around the entire edge of each cookie with a very sharp knife. Be careful not to cut yourself by laying your hand on top of the cookie parallel to the cutting surface
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer them to a wire rack and allow them cool.
*Modified from: http://www.recipelink.com/msgbrd/board_3/2005/AUG/9197.html