Monday, July 6, 2015

Italian Pepper Cookies

Italian Pepper Cookies
These spicy "cookies" are really a savory biscuit that my grandmother, Vincenza Gianguzzi, taught me to make when she moved in with my family when I was about 13 years old. She decided that I needed to learn to make them because they were too much work for her to do alone because her arthritis made it hard for her to knead the dough.

In Italy, these pepper cookies are a modified version of Taralli, an unleavened biscuit flavored with pepper and/or fennel seeds, or just plain. My grandmother's recipe is a bit different because it contains yeast and was only ever made with pepper (at least in my experience).

Here is the recipe as I learned it from my grandmother - note that no mixing bowl is used. Instead, the dough is made on a countertop or large cutting board. Have no fear, you can use a bowl if you are not brave enough to follow these instructions! Grandma made me watch her several times before she let me do this alone. Needless to say, there were many messes to clean up as I learned just how to incorporate the wet ingredients with the flour without making a mess of the counter and the floor! Practice definitely makes perfect with this recipe. Grandma and I had a lot of fun in the kitchen, and this recipe is just one of the many she taught me to make.


Italian Pepper Cookies
Yield: About 35 cookies

3 Cups All-Purpose White Flour
1 Envelope Active Dry or Instant Yeast
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Ground Black Pepper
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
2 Eggs, Large
1/4-1/3 Cup Warm Water


1.  Mixing the Ingredients:
Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, or, follow these mixing instructions to make this recipe in the way my grandmother taught me.

  • Make a mound with the flour on a flat surface (counter top or a large cutting board). Move the flour into the shape of a circle, leaving a flourless well in the center. 
  • Sprinkle the yeast, salt, and pepper evenly over the flour.

  • Place the oil and eggs in the center of the flour.

Add about 2 Tablespoons of the water and start to mix the flour into the wet ingredients very slowly by using a fork to gradually add the flour into the wet mixture. Make sure to pull flour evenly from around the circle and avoid making a hole in the flour damn. If you breach the flour damn, the wet ingredients will flow out and you'll have a mess! Add enough of the remaining water until the wet and dry ingredients start to come together as a ball (you may not need all of the water).

When all of the flour absorbs the wet ingredients, you can start to gather the dough into a ball with your hands. You are now ready to knead the dough.

2. Kneading the Dough:
 Knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, and will bounce back when you push it in. It should look like this:

3. Let it Rise
Grease the dough and a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place and allow to rise for at least one hour, or until double in bulk. Note: The longer is rises, the better it will taste!
Risen Dough
4. Shape It
Punch down the risen dough and remove it from the bowl. Cut off a large chunk and roll it into a rope that should measure about 1/2 inch in diameter. Then, cut the rope into as many 2 1/2 inch pieces as you can. Roll out each piece until it is about 4 inches in length. Then twist the dough and form it into a closed circle, making sure to pinch the point of closure as tightly as possible. Repeat this process until you have used up all of the dough.

Here are Some Pictures:

Dough Roll
Dough Roll Cut into 2.5" Pieces

Twisted Dough Circles Formed
and Ready to Bake

5. Rise Again and Bake
Heat the oven to 375ยบ F. While the oven is heating, the shaped pepper cookies will rise a second time (just a few minutes is all they need). Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in a tin container. 

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