Another Neapolitan delight.
I’ve talked about Neapolitan Christmas’ desserts in the post “Neapolitan Sweets”, but I now want to say more about Roccoco, the most famous and typical sweet for us.
This sort of biscuit can’t lack in each Neapolitan home because is synonymous with Christmas, and marks the end of lunch during Christmas period.
A sweet that comes from patience and dedication of the Real convent of the Magdalene‘s sisters, which perhaps is due the first preparation of the Roccocò, whose oldest recipe seems to date back to 1320.
Their name probably is derived from the French word “rocaille“, due to their hardness and baroque round shape, like a rounded shell.
Their shape, color and flavor talk us of the past, because Roccocò are impenetrable sweets, hard, dry, prosperous and humble at the same time, but yet affectionate and flavorful in their donut shape. A tradition by now!
These biscuits are more suitable for those who have solid teeth… unless you eat them some days later the preparation, or add some yeast and cook them for less time. Some prefer to soak them in wine or liquor. Preparation that is pretty easy but needs some ingredients that might be difficult to find in your countries. Two of them are called “PISTO” and “VANILLINA”, products already prepared powder and sold in small sachets. The benefit to using a powdered product is that when you mix it directly into a batter or a cookie dough you get the straight flavor and, like vanilla extract, without it being diluted in the alcohol.
“PISTO” is an important ingredient that gives Roccocò their typical flavor. It is formed from a mixture of various spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander (cilantro) and dill. If you can not find the Neapolitan “Pisto”, you can prepare something similar by whisking together 10 cloves, a nutmeg half chopped, and half a stick of cinnamon; or mixing 2 grams nutmeg, 3 grams of cinnamon and 2 grams of cloves. I’d also add a teaspoon of anise liqueur, if you have it available.
“VANILLINA” is vanillin or vanilla extract. It is a mixture of several hundred different compounds in addition to vanillin. Artificial vanilla flavoring is a solution of pure vanillin, usually of synthetic origin. Today, artificial vanillin is made either from guaiacol or from lignin, a constituent of wood, which is a byproduct of the pulp industry. It’s used in very small quantity, like 1 gram (0,3 ounces) for a 500-600 grams cake (16-18 ounces). Failing that, you could use the vials with essence of rum, lemon, vanilla, bitter almond, butter-vanilla. Essences that you can find in some supermarket or drugstore.
500 grams of flour (type “00”)
500 grams of sugar
300 grams of roasted almonds (you can add hazelnuts too)
7 grams of “pisto”
4-5 grams of ammonia (for food use)
1 or 2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla powder (nearly 1 gram )
A pinch of salt
1 fresh orange peel
2 clementines or tangerines’ peels
1 fresh lemon (grated rind)
250-350 grams of warm water
1 whole egg beaten, for brushing over the surface of the Roccocò.
[In the case that you have almonds not roasted, place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and cook them at 180° C (fan oven) for 10 minutes exactly. Then set aside to cool them.]
On a work surface pour the flour, sugar, pisto and salt. Add the fruits’ peels chopped in very small pieces, the grated lemon’s peel (you could replace them with small pieces of candied fruit), the vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, ammonia and salt. Add at little a time the lukewarm water mixing with your hands the compound. Amalgamate everything well until you get a homogeneous and rather compact mixture. Knead until the dough comes off from surface and hands, becoming dry and consistent: I recommend you do not add more water than necessary.
You should get a homogeneous and rather compact mixture.
Finally insert the almonds, distributing them evenly throughout the mixture, amalgamating it again if the case.
Preheat the oven to 180° C.
Meanwhile, roll up different parts of the compound to form long strips like snakes. Cut each strip into several pieces about 15 cm long, and roll each to form a ring, no larger than 5-7 cm.
Flatten lightly them, to get small-sized donuts, and arrange them -spaced apart – on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Brush their surface with the beaten egg and bake at 180° C. for NO MORE than 18-20 minutes. The right time they become “dark gold”. Extract them from the oven after that time! (These cookies become harder as the cooking time increases!) Note that they appear soft when warm, but begin to harden (how they gotta be) as they cool.
Here’s for some video