So, I have a confession. I was meant to share this recipe for Easter and really it is an Easter sort of dish, but things got away from me and since I had already designed the recipe and taken all the photos, I couldn’t really wait 360 days to share it again. Excuses, excuses right? But I have a really really good one… my FIL almost set his house on fire.
Over the weekend, Giulio and I were living out our life’s dream of becoming 20-something shut-ins (aka, we were just bumming it at home) when I got a call from my MIL saying that a routine burn-off had become a massive uncontrolled grassfire. My father-in-law often burns things. It’s a good old Tuscan tradition where the older generation is too cheap to pay experts to burn dead branches and leaves, so they set them on fire themselves and hope the wind is in their favour. This Saturday, it was not. Still in my PJs, I rushed to help guns blazing. I am famous for my utter lack of self preservation. It’s heredity. My dad and grandfather were always falling off ladders/running foul with power tools and I’m no different. While valiant, my efforts to put out the little grass fires with my pristine white tennis shoes were no match for the blazing eucalyptus trees behind me and I was forced to accept defeat. The fire brigade was called and their arrival was the most embarrassing thing to ever happen in my FIL’s life… or at least it was until he found out the local journalist had also been called and he ended up in the newspaper for almost burning down the town. He hasn’t shown his face at the supermarket since.
As for me, I lost my voice for three days and developed a disgusting cough courtesy of smoke inhalation. I ruined my shoes, burned the bottoms of my PJs and had wicked scratches all up and down my legs. Annoyed that my contribution was completely belittled by hubby, I retreated to the kitchen to whip up this spring holiday biscuit.
It’s another of my grandmother’s classics. A strange spring tradition that is so wrapped up in mysticism, it treads the line between religiosity and hoodoo. It all starts with Lent. For 40 days, my grandmother will not touch an egg, will not use a drop of milk or even allow a flake of sugar to step within the threshold of her kitchen. She’s like a drill sergeant, an extremely nasty one who cuts off fingers if you break the rules. For her, it’s not just about the religious observation. She believes that anyone who indulges in gluttony during Lent will die a horrible agonising death. She believes this whole heartedly, just as she believes that if you point at a rainbow, you will be technicoloured for life.
After 40 days of bland, she, like all the women in her village back in Calabria, celebrates with this aesthetically striking wreath biscuit. It’s beautifully sweet and scented with lemon zest, which is at the heart of all Southern Italian desserts, and drizzled with a glossy Italian meringue that bakes hard and brilliant. And to top it all off, four boiled eggs are added for the ultimate touch of indulgence. It might seem strange, but a lot of Southern Italian desserts tread the line between sweet and savoury.
Back in Calabria, my grandmother would take this biscuit to be blessed the day before Easter and then everyone would break off a piece or two and dip it into their morning espresso. The boiled eggs were enjoyed separately with a slice of ham or salami for a complete holiday breakfast that encompasses both a savoury and a sweet course.
While the flavours are simple, this biscuit is a really nice tea time treat. Plus it lasts for ages, which is no small thing. Do you know how often I make desserts that Giulio and I can’t finish. This lovely biscuit is delicious and crunchy days after you’ve baked it
spring holiday biscuit
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
3⁄4 cup caster (super fine) sugar
1 lemon, finely grated rind only 1⁄2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
31⁄2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
4 boiled eggs, for decorating
2 egg whites
1⁄2 cup icing sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the eggs, sugar, oil, lemon rind and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer and whisk on high speed for 8 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the milk and baking powder and mix to combine. Gradually add the our, a 1⁄4 cup at a time, mixing until the dough comes together.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth. Remove a quarter of the dough and set aside. Roll the dough into a 40cm-rope and connect the ends to form a wreath. Press the hard-boiled eggs into the dough. Roll the remaining quarter of dough into a 1cm-wide rope and divide into 8 pieces. Use the pieces to form a cross over each egg and secure into place. Place the wreath on a lightly greased baking tray lined with non- stick baking paper and bake for 12 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Reduce oven to 120°C. To make the icing, place the egg whites in an electric mixer and whisk until stiff peaks form. Gradually add
the icing sugar, whisking, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Dip the cooked wreath into the icing and place on a lightly greased baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes or until the icing is set to the touch. Serves 8.