I know I’ve published this one already, but I wanted to bring it forward again for this special Christmas traditions posting for The Canadian Food Experience Project. These Bocconotti are treats that my family only enjoys at Christmastime. The job of making them passed to me a couple of years ago. So, today is the big day – Bocconotti making time. I’d share them with you, if you were here. So, failing that, I’ll share their story and the well-tested recipe.
This summer, Valerie Lugonja over at A Canadian Foodie embarked on an interesting journey. She founded The Canadian Food Experience Project. Beginning June 7, 2013, participants are encouraged to share their stories about their own remarkable encounters with Canadian regional foods. By doing so, we can all gain a clearer perspective on what makes the Canadian culinary identity.
Bocconotti are tarts that are traditional to the region of Abruzzi, Italy, though the look and the recipe change slightly from one place to another. I grew up eating these around holidays. Although I loved them, the problem I had was that the ones my mom and aunt made were always dry. I loved the filling so much more than the pastry to the point where I’d scoop out the yummy grape marmalade-chocolate-almond interior and leave the pastry shell.
Those I had in Italy tasted very different, amazing actually. The filling was just as tasty as my family’s version. It was the pastry shell that was so much better. It was pale yellow in colour and close to a centimetre thick. It was the taste and the texture that had me at the first bite, though. Once you bite through a slightly crispy exterior, your teeth sink into an almost cake-like texture. The taste was a little lemony, a little sweet and a lot of good!
Fast forward many years, and the mission I’ve volunteered to undertake is to learn how to make as many of those recipes from my childhood and heritage as I could. Two problems I encountered right off the bat.
1. ‘Recipes’ is a relative word, open to interpretation. A recipe to someone who’s been making these tarts (or anything else) for decades translates as a handful of this, a glass of that. Well, exactly how much is a handful? Who’s hand? And a glass? What size glass? Filled to the rim or not?
2. My own preferences. In other words, I don’t want to reproduce the bocconotti my mom and aunt made exactly. I want to reproduce the kind I’d get in Italy. Therein lies the challenge.
Over the years – yes, this challenge took years – I tried various tart recipes looking for that exact texture. But, no luck. Most were just too thin and crispy, and if I laid the pastry dough down thick, the tart shell would come out thick and crispy. Good, but not what I was looking for. I had heard that some Italians add yeast to the pastry dough. Well, that experiment was interesting. The dough came out super soft, kept rising and overflowed the moulds while it cooked in the oven. Bye, bye yeast.
The other challenge was deciding whether to use butter or oil. Most of the recipes I tried used oil. That did make sense. The Abruzzi region isn’t known for its use of butter. That’s a more northern thing. But, I found that oil just made the pastry seem dry. At least, I’m assuming it was the oil. Perhaps I was just over cooking the tarts all along. Then I tried them with butter instead of oil. That was better … but only slightly. The buttery flavour did come through a bit.
Finally, I clued in to something. If the tarts I love have a slight cake-like quality perhaps the key is to use baking powder. Aha, success! I got just the right thickness, the right flavour and the right amount of crispiness as you bite into it. I finally did it. I found the secret to these delectable bocconotti. I used to think they were so cumbersome to make, but the recipe comes together super quick. The only thing that is time-consuming is filling the individual moulds.
Speaking of the moulds, I used traditional brioche moulds, which can be found in various shapes and sizes. The circular ones I used were probably about 2-1/2 cm in diameter. The large ones I used were shaped like hearts. Now that I’ve succeeded, and everyone who’s tasted them agrees on their authenticity, I think I’m going to go on a bocconotti spree and make a whole whack of them!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 30 (depending on size of moulds)
*Some people prefer to use vanilla-flavoured baking powder available in European specialty stores.
250g 00 flour (This is Italian soft wheat flour available in most grocery stores.)
1 tsp baking powder
150g butter, unsalted
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
150g almonds, ground and toasted
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 Tb Vincotto (or Sweet Sambuca), or enough to make a marmalade-like consistency
1/4 cup grape marmalade (or jam)
For the Pastry
1. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a blender. Add eggs one-by-one until blended. Stir baking powder into flour. Pour flour into batter. Stir until well-blended.
2. Lightly grease moulds.
3. Drop small spoonfuls of dough into moulds. Use your fingers to press the dough into the moulds. Dough will be a little sticky. With your thumb, make a depression in the centre of the mould for the filling.
4. Add a little filling into the centre of each mould.
5. Drop another small spoonful on top of each tart. Using your fingers, gently spread the dough until it forms cover over the filling, reaching to the sides of the mould.
6. Place the moulds onto a baking sheet. Bake in a 350°F oven for 8-10 minutes, or until top of pastry is firm. Try not to let the tarts brown.
For the Filling
Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until the mixture resembles marmalade. Let cool before filling tarts.
Originally published in Chaos and Canapés on Quench.me.