Do you remember passionately wanting a unique Christmas gift as a child?
One of my first gift-related memories is about wishing a blue teddy bear for Christmas. It must have been 1971 or 72. I even had in mind the exact shade of powder blue I still adore. I have always been a bit odd. I was not interested in a regular teddy bear, I wanted a soft, blue one with honey-colored eyes.
I got instead a red 45 RPM portable player with 2 LP disks. One featured “Vincent” by Don McLean. How did that ever get to an Italian shop I wonder? I don’t think he had become famous in Italy. I was not charmed as it was in English and I did not understand the lyrics.
The other LP was not much better as it featured an Italian version of “Somewhere my Love” presented by TV star Orietta Berti.
That song still gives me goosebumps if I listen to it for more than 10 seconds. Call me provincial but as a 8 years old I preferred “Finchè la barca va”.
I must admit I tought the player interesting, but it did not touch my heart. For many years I kept looking for the blue teddy bear of my dreams, which I never found.
In retrospective, this must have been for my parents an incredibly luxurious gift. They grew up in a time when they had no Christmas gifts or – if lucky – they received a handful of sweets, a few dry figs, almonds or oranges which were the expensive foods of their times. I did not know how lucky I was.
Stubbornly, I still I prefer giving and receiving memories or emotions instead of electronics. Gifts should be made of the stuff of dreams, don’t you think?
I especially love to make edible gifts when possible. Time is the best gift you can give to your beloved.
I plan ahead. I start in the summer by preserving the figs from our trees. Later, I make candied peels with oranges I order especially from Sicily. I travel to an old mill to buy artisan flour and I source my favorite organic sugar. All ingredients are carefully acquired, like pieces of a collection. It’s only cookies, but they have the flavor of bygone times when a gift was cherished and important.
- 450 g (1 lb) stone ground white flour or Italian 00 flour
- 200 g (2 cups) light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 50 ml (1/4 cup) vinsanto or other dessert wine
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 100 g (3 oz) toasted almonds , roughly chopped
- 60 g (2 oz, about 1/2 cup) best quality candied orange, diced
- 8-10 dried figs, halved and sliced thinly
- zest of one orange, grated
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 cloves, crushed
If you don’t have access to homemade orange peel, dried figs and artisan flour, please make sure to provide best quality ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F).
Soak the candied orange peel and figs in the sweet wine. Cream eggs and sugar until well incorporated then add all other ingredients. Add a little milk if necessary to obtain a soft dough, not too sticky. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured working surface and divide in two pieces. Roll each piece into a cylinder which must be about 5 cm (2 inches) wide. Place the two cylinders on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure that the cylinders are far enough apart to give them room to rise as they bake.
Bake at 25-30 minutes until firm and lightly golden. Remove for the oven and cut each biscuit diagonally into 3/4 inch wide strips and return them to the oven, cut side up, until completely cooked and dry, about 20 min. If you cut the biscotti when still warm they will not crumble especially if you use a very thin and sharp knife.
Let them cool completely and store in an airtight container. Makes about 25 biscotti.
In Italy biscotti, which we call cantucci or tozzetti are typically dipped in sweet wine as a dessert but I would not be opposed to serve them with a homemade liqueur made with lemon or orange which also makes a wonderful gift.