And so in keeping with that loose definition of cookies, today we're traveling to Naples, then back to an L.A. chef's kitchen, for taralli, those hard savory or sweet crackers that look like miniature bagels.
If anyone can make savory taralli interesting, we suspect it is Evan Kleiman, the Pie Queen of L.A.. Why? Well, a cracker shares the same backbone as a pie crust -- flour, fat and a little water to bind it all together. More or less. And of course Kleiman uses pie dough references in her recipe (combine the taralli ingredients "until the mixture resembles a pie dough before you've added the water"). Turn the page for more, including Kleiman's Taralli Sugna e Pepe recipe.Kleiman says that every time she goes to Naples, she "runs to Leopoldo to buy taralli." But rest assured, "these aren't the super crisp kind of boring crackers," she adds. "No, these are made with lard, good olive oil and a ton of pepper with just a couple of almonds tucked in place."
Kleiman's version also includes a little lemon zest, and a carefully calculated lard-to-olive oil ratio, as one would expect from a pie expert tackling crackers. These are real "appetite appeasers," she says. In other words, a hearty holiday party cocktail (and bank account) buffer. "After a few, you won't really need any dinner."
Taralli Sugna e Pepe (Savory Neapolitan Pepper Biscuits)
From: Evan Kleiman of Angeli Café.
Note (per Kleiman): "I love these biscuits made with all lard. It lends them a super short, rich flavor. But if you want a more tender crumb or you have illusions of living forever, then by all means split the fat between oil and lard as directed. If you use all oil the texture will become completely different -- very, very crunchy and will lose some rich rustic character." She also added, after testing the recipe, that a touch of lemon zest would be a nice addition, and reminded us (you), please, please not to skimp on the black pepper. "Fresh only, of course."
Makes: About 2 dozen crackers
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons (31 grams) olive oil
2 tablespoons (31 grams) lard
2 teaspoons lemon zest, optional
1 tablespoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
½ cup whole blanched almonds, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of warm (but not hot) water and add two tablespoons of the flour. Mix well and allow to rise for 20 minutes. The dough should look porous like a sponge; if it doesn't bubble, start over with a new batch of yeast.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining flour, olive oil, lard, lemon zest, salt and pepper with a fork, a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles pie dough before you've added the water. Add the yeast mixture and 1/2 cup warm water. Work the ingredients together gently with fork or fingers until you have a soft, manageable dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise for 30 minutes.
3. After dough has risen, cut off small pieces of dough and roll each into snake-like logs the width of your little finger. To make the rings, cut one "snake" into 2 ½-inch pieces. Shape each section into a ring, pinching the ends together (Kleiman notes she likes to twist the logs for a more textured effect). To make a faux Challah-like braid, take two of the cut 2 ½-inch logs and wrap them around each other, pinching the ends together to secure.
4. Place the shaped taralli on a parchment or Silpat lined cookie sheet, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Just before baking, brush the crackers with beaten egg and tuck a few almonds into each one if desired. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes, watching carefully during the last few minutes to avoid burning the almonds.