Monday, 14 July 2014

Baci di Dama

I have always loved Italy; the food, the culture, the art, the climate… I could go on and on, but I really think that it is the most beautiful country. Italian food is rightly very popular and it stands up as one of the great cuisines of the world.

Italy is the country that gave us pasta, pizza, risotto, ice-cream and many other delicious dishes. I know food historians may dispute the origins of some of these foods, but I think it is fair to say that Italy was the country that popularised these foods and they are foods that are immediately associated with Italy in the collective consciousness. There is a real ‘no nonsense’ philosophy underpinning the Italian approach to food and I find this really appealing. It is not food based on pretension or snobbery; flavour and taste is paramount and this is what makes Italian food so attractive to so many people around the world.

When thinking of Italian food, I don't think that most people immediately think of cakes and biscuits. This is perhaps a little unfair as some classic biscuits/cookies are Italian. I love the almond flavoured amaretti and the hard and crunchy biscotti and cantuccini are amongst some of my favourites. They are perfect to have as an accompaniment to a strong espresso, but I also love them with my good ol’ cup of tea. Basically if a biscuit passes my rigorous ‘tea test’, it has to be good.
 
Baci di Dama (translation: kisses of women) are another biscuit that are hugely popular in Italy. They are little hazelnut or almond shortbread-like cookies sandwiched together in pairs with some melted chocolate. Hazelnut and chocolate are one of those classic flavour combinations that I am always going on about but here, in these biscuits it is a true marriage in heaven. The chocolate makes the nuts taste hazelnuttier and the hazelnuts accentuate the flavour of the chocolate.
 
There’s no point in denying it - these biscuits are fiddly little feckers (as we say in Ireland) to make, but they taste sublime. They literally melt in the mouth. Of course with something that is bite-sized as these are, one is never enough. They are just so easy to pop into your mouth and because they are so light in texture and delicious to eat, you find that you keep reaching for ‘just one more’.

The dough is crumbly to work with and you may think that you will never be able to form the little marble sized balls, but I found that chilling the dough first before rolling helped.

I came across a number of recipes for Baci, but none of them worked until I tried this one, which I found on the fabulous Living the Sweet Life in Paris , a blog by David Lebovitz.
 
The first few recipes I tried used equal proportions of ground hazelnuts, butter, caster sugar and flour, but they failed utterly for me in that they were completely flat and did not have the required characteristic dome shape. I was so frustrated, but I wasn’t going to let success elude me, so I did a little more research and further experimental baking.
 
David recommends using rice flour instead of plain flour, but having tried a number of alternative ratios of flour to ground flour, the following is the recipe that I found to work the best. One further tip… after I had rolled my little balls of dough, I let them chill again for 15 minutes before baking.
 
Also, if you don’t want to go to the bother of melting and piping chocolate in order to sandwich the biscuits together, you could always use a little blob of Nutella instead.

Ingredients:

100g butter, slightly softened
100g plain flour
40g ground rice
100g caster sugar
140g ground hazelnuts (or almonds, or a combination of the two)
To finish:
100g dark chocolate melted


Method:

1. Place the butter, flour and ground rice in a large bowl and using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients to create a soft buttery crumbly mixture.
2. Add the ground nuts and the caster sugar and using your hands again, work everything together to form a crumbly dough. Gather the dough together as best you can and roll it into a long thick sausage shape. Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
4. Roll small little marble sized balls (about 5g each) of the dough and place on the prepared baking sheets a couple of centimetres apart. Place the trays in the fridge to allow the dough to firm up again. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 150C/Fan Oven 130C/ Gas Mark 2.
5. Bake the Baci in the oven for 10-13 minutes until they are just beginning to turn a light golden colour but still retain a dome shape. Allow to cool completely on the baking trays – if you try to remove them too early, they could fall apart; they firm up completely on cooling.
To finish:
6. Sandwich the biscuits together in pairs using a little of the melted chocolate.
7. Allow the chocolate to harden and they are then ready to eat.

Makes approximately 40 sandwiched pairs of biscuits.