Note: On Thursdays, Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma checks in with Seriously Italian. After a stint in Rome, she's back in the States, channeling her inner Italian spirit via recipes and intel on delicious Italian eats. Take it away, Gina!
Mulino Bianco is like the Keebler of Italy. Named after a mythical White Mill depicted on the logo--a pastoral setting from the Italian countryside--the brand offers a dizzying array of yummy crackers, grissini, toasts, cookies and breakfast goodies. In the Italian supermercato, the Mulino Bianco aisle takes up a considerable amount of real estate, for good reason.
One of my favorite Mulino Bianco treats are Abbracci. Translated as an embrace or hug, these cookies are a variation on the vanilla-on-chocolate theme; little crescents of vanilla and chocolate dough are clasped together in a passionate cuddle.
As much as I love Mulino Bianco, I have to admit that homemade abbracci are always better than packaged, and making my own version of these genuinely sweet little cookies is both fun and easy. The key is to use potato starch, or fecola di patate, an ingredient common to Italian home bakers. The potato starch helps prevent the cookies from distorting while they bake, and contributes a sandy, fine crumb. You can usually find potato starch in most grocery stores; sometimes it is hidden away on the "international" aisle.
Some Italian home cooks make their abbracci in the shape of twisted rope, or a ring joined at the ends. No matter how you shape them, there's nothing better than a flirty cookie to send a not-so-subtle message, or offer a whole bunch of hugs to someone who needs them. Pair them with some baci, or kisses, and you'll have the perfect expression of "XOXO"—senza Gossip Girl.
Recipe, after the jump.
- makes 3 dozen cookies -
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour ½ cup potato starch 1 teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon kosher salt ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg ¾ cup (12 tablespoons, or 1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 2 heaping teaspoons freshly grated orange zest 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 large egg yolks 2 tablespoons dutch-processed, unsweetened cocoa powder 2 teaspoons milk
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, potato starch, baking powder, salt and nutmeg and set aside.
2. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and ½ cup of the sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute, until the butter is creamy and light. Beat in the orange zest, egg yolks and vanilla, scraping down the sides, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about another minute.
3. Beat in the flour mixture for 30 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Gather all the dough together in a mass in one corner of the bowl, and with a spatula, scoop out half of it onto a piece of plastic wrap.
4. Add the cocoa powder, the last tablespoon of sugar, and the milk to the remaining dough in the bowl and beat well, until it is completely uniform in color, about 45 seconds. Scrape the chocolate dough onto another piece of plastic wrap. Wrap both doughs and chill them until firm, about 2 hours.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare two baking sheets by greasing and lining them with parchment paper.
6. To form the abbracci, divide each piece of dough in half, rolling each piece on a lightly floured surface into a long snake about 14 inches long. Cut the snakes into ¾-inch pieces and roll each piece into a ball; try to make the balls uniform in size.
7. Working with one ball of each flavor of dough at a time, form a slightly lopsided crescent, leaving one end round and plump and the other somewhat flat. Nestle the two pieces of dough in an embrace, wrapping the flatter ends around plumper ends.
8. Arrange the abbracci about an inch apart on the baking sheets and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the pans after 10 minutes. The cookies are done when they are firm and dry to the touch, and the vanilla dough is just turning golden at the edges.
9. Cool the cookies on the pans for about five minutes, then gently slide them onto a rack to cool completely. Store them up to a week in an airtight container.
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