Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).
This week, I stepped away from the middle of the list back toward the beginning, to Calabria, for this sweet treat, Pignoccata al Miele, or Honey Cookies.
As usual, I made some adjustments to the ingredients (for example, I substituted butter for the called-for lard) and the instructions. Most particularly, the original recipe instructed to roll out the dough ½ inch thick. I found this to be too thick when cooked. Not only did the outside cook far too quickly while the inside remained raw, it also resulted in a denser, heavier cookie. So I would go with ¼ inch thick on the dough. At ½ inch thick, it yielded 64 cookies; it will, of course, yield more if you roll it out at ¼ inch.
In the end, these treats reminded me a lot of struffoli, except that they’re square instead of round. The cooking process is the same, the flavor profile is the same, and the texture is the same. (If you don’t know what struffoli are, they’re a traditional holiday treat made up of dough cut up into little balls or nuggets and dropped in oil. Then they’re drizzled with honey and decorated with sprinkles and/or candied fruit.)
Two things I want to note: I thought these cookies were a little too sweet. If that’s your thing, fine. But if, like me, you prefer things not cloying, eliminate the sugar in the honey mixture.
Pignoccata al Miele
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons honey
Grate the zest of one orange. Peel the second orange and cut the peel into strips about ½ inch thick. (Use the flesh of the oranges for something else, or eat it!)
Whisk together the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. Add the liqueur and grated zest. Whisk these together to blend. With an electric mixer, combine this mixture with the eggs, melted butter, and softened butter until a dough forms.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the dough rise for 1 hour.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Roll it out into a sheet (I recommend ¼ inch thick), then cut it into 1-inch squares.Heat about 3 inches of cooking oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Line a platter with paper towels and set it by the stove.When the oil is very hot, place a few of the squares into the oil and fry until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on the paper towels. Repeat this until all the cookies are cooked.Heat the honey with 1 tablespoon sugar (if using) and orange peel in a large skillet. Add the fried squares and stir them around to soak up the honey (do this in multiple batches if necessary).Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.