I first saw these cookies - called "intorchiate" - in Rosetta Costantino's wonderful book "Southern Italian Desserts." They're from the region of Puglia and I ate them for the first time while I was there this summer and stayed in the town of Alberobello.
Alberobello is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is known for its unique limestone buildings called "trulli." They're made in a conical shape using no mortar, a type of construction that dates to prehistoric times. You see them in various places in Puglia, but nowhere near as prevalent as you see in Alberobello, where they're occupied as homes and shops.
Some of the owners have converted their trulli for visitors and rent them to paying guests. The one we stayed in this past June is the charming end unit in the photo below.
They're larger than they seem. This one had a bedroom downstairs and a second bedroom in a loft, as well as a kitchen and dining area and bathroom. Everything was brand new and beautifully renovated.
Our landlady could not have been kinder, delivering home baked breakfast treats and fresh fruit in the morning. As we departed, she presented us with a tin of the family's olive oil, beautiful linens from her shop, and these intorchiate. They were so delicious, I had to keep myself from eating the whole bag in one fell swoop.
Fortunately, (or maybe not for my waistline), Rosetta includes a recipe for the cookies in her cookbook, and with permission from her publisher, the recipe is provided below. In her book, Rosetta explains that the word "intorchiate" is a local dialect for "intertwined" and that the cookies are meant to represent arms in an embrace. They're traditionally made for baptisms and weddings but can be found in bakeries all over Puglia.
The dough is very similar to the red wine cookies my friend Milena makes, in that there's wine and oil in the dough, and they're dredged in sugar. But these intorchiate use white wine, while Milena's call for red wine.
Once you get the right consistency, the dough is very easy to roll into these twisted shapes. Initially however, the mixture was a bit too dry, so I needed to add a bit more oil and water. The ones from Rosetta's book call for twisting the dough to make three separate spaces, although the ones I ate in Italy had four twists. I also found Rosetta's dough to be a little less sweet than the ones I ate in Alberobello, and I might add a little more sugar next time I make them.
After twisting them, roll them in granulated sugar, then nestle an almond in each space. I used Marcona almonds, my favorite.
Since I was in a Puglia state of mind after making these intorchiate, I made a reservation for dinner at the restaurant "I Trulli" and wanted to share photos of the delicious food I ate there Saturday night. If you're close enough to New York City, make a reservation and get set for a real treat.
As soon as you walk past the bar, you'll spot a wood-fired oven that's reminiscent of a trullo, with grey stones, similar to those on trullo roofs, clinging to the exterior of the oven.
The menu is loaded with offerings in every category, but we never got past the first page, which featured a multi-course dinner of Puglian specialties. Decision made easy - no further thinking required. The first thing to arrive at the table were these two panzerotti - fried dough - one filled with tomato and mozzarella cheese, the other with a savory and unforgettably delicious mixture of olives, anchovies and scallions.
Next came burrata cheese flown in from Italy and served on crostini with a bed of radicchio, every bit as creamy and flavorful as the burrata we ate in Puglia.
For the primo piatto you could choose between two hand-rolled pasta dishes - orecchiette in a rich rabbit ragù that had me lopping up the plate with bread "scarpetta" style.
Or opt for these cavatelli with broccoli rape and toasted almonds, bringing to mind fresh spring fields of wild greens.
The main course was either succulent roasted lamb chops with a potato tiella and sautéed Swiss chard...
Or you might prefer a zuppa di pesce laden with lobster, shrimp, calamari, and another white fish. Long pieces of cooked fennel punctuated the aromatic and flavorful broth.
Lastly came these two sweet offerings that capped the perfect ending to a perfect meal - one was a warm fried dough pillow oozing with nutella, and the other was a cartellate, a fried cookie drizzled with honey.
On the way out the door, I spotted this octopus dish sitting on the counter, waiting to go to some patron's table. It was all I could do to keep from digging into it with my fingers. How did I miss this on the menu? Oh that's right, I got seduced by the Puglian specialties on the first page and never looked further. Well, if I didn't already have plenty of other reasons, now I know I have to go back to I Trulli to try their octopus.
The restaurant is also open for Christmas eve, featuring a "feast of the seven fishes" dinner.
My family would consider it blasphemous if I didn't cook our traditional fish dinner on Christmas eve, but some year, if I ever do abandon my kitchen duties, I know where I'd like to be - at I Trulli in New York City.
Even if you can't get to I Trulli for their Southern Italian specialties, you can still make Rosetta's addictive intorchiate cookies in your own kitchen - and just in time for Christmas baking.
One last thing - the winner to my recent giveaway was Heather Zysk. Heather, please contact me for information on how to claim your slate cheeseboard.
recipe by Rosetta Costantino from Southern Italian Desserts
reprinted with permission of publisher
makes 36 cookies (I got 64)
3 3/4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar, (I would use 1 cup next time since I'd like them a bit sweeter) plus more for coating cookies
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 cup (56 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup (180 ml) white wine
about 3/4 cup (115 grams) blanched almonds for decorating
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, oil and wine and process until the mixture forms a sticky dough that balls up around the blade. (I added a little more oil and some water to the dough to get the right consistency.) Alternatively, you can mix the dough by hand, but it will require longer kneading to bring the dough together. Transfer to a flat surface and knead briefly to form a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (177 degrees C) with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Divide the dough into thirty-six approximately equal pieces; they will weigh about 3/4 ounce each (actually I got 64 cookies each weighing 3/4 ounce each). Roll a piece of dough with the palms of your hands against a flat surface to make a 10-inch rope that is about 1/2 inch thick. Fold the rope in half, then twist the two ends around one another to form a twist, with the dough strands crossing twice and meeting at the bottom to form three spaces. Press the ends together at the bottom to seal them. Space the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Continue forming the twists until you have filled one sheet with eighteen cookies. (You will make the second half while the first ones bake.)
Put about 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Take one cookie at a time and press the top side into the sugar. (I pressed both top and bottom in the sugar. If you can find a larger granulated sugar, it looks prettier.) Return the cookie to the baking sheet sugar side up. After coating all of the cookies, press three blanched almonds into each cookie - one in each space - facing the pointed ends of the nuts running down from the top to the bottom of the cookie.
Bake the cookies on the bottom rack for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and transfer it to the top rack until the cookies are light golden all over, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
While the first sheet bakes, form the remaining cookies on the second sheet. Bake the second sheet in the same manner after pulling the first from the oven.
Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.