Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Broiled Biscotti

I come from a long line of enthusiastic bakers, and for someone with a whole mouth full of sweet teeth, it suits me just fine . Not only does my family put a lot of effort into baking, they also put a lot of effort into delivering their freshly made goodies. My aunt once mailed me a box of homemade chocolate “Spiders” from 3 provinces away, and in June my Gramps made a special batch of chocolate chip cookies for me to bring across the Atlantic in my suitcase. The precious cookies arrived unbroken and completely edible, so naturally I consumed them all within the first two days of my arrival here in The Boot.

As I surveyed my kitchen the other day, I noticed the empty tupperware container that Gramps had sent my cookies in and I felt the sudden urge to fill it with cookies once more. Now, I like to think I really did my homework on this one. Before I trotted off to the supermercato, I translated all of the ingredient names into Italian so I would be sure to grab the right stuff off the shelf. Good thinking, right? Right. So it was super easy to find my 1-kilogram bags of zucchero (sugar) and farina (flour). The eggs were also no problem, and I even found the gocce di cioccolato (chocolate chips) without incident, which was a huge relief. The real problem became the shortening. What the heck did the stuff shorten, anyways? My online dictionary told me that it was called “grasso per pasticceria”, which translates as “fat for pastries” (appetizing!) so that’s what I asked the store clerk for after my fruitless search up and down the aisles.

“Ahhh, you don’t need that,” was what the store clerk responded when I asked where I could find the stuff.

“But I do need it. It’s in my recipe,” I countered. How the heck did he know what I did or didn’t need in my recipe??

“No no, just use butter! It’s the same.” A casual flick of the hand and shrug of the shoulders emphasized his belief that it really wasn’t a big deal to interchange the two.  Ugh. After a few more bouts of back and forth, I convinced him to show me where it was. Thinking that the hardest part was over, I headed home to find my housemate in the kitchen.

“Ahh, Sarah, what are you making?” he asked as I plopped the heavy bags of flour and sugar onto the table and started unloading the bags.

“Biscotti con gocce di cioccolato, come fanno mia mamma e mio nonno!” Chocolate chip cookies like my Mom and my Grandpa make! “All that I’m missing is some baking soda. You don’t happen to have any, do you?”

“Yes I do, but make sure you neutralize it first with some lemon or something,” he warns as he hands over the box.

Huh? I must have looked confused because he explained. “Well, it’ll make you sick if you just use it like that! You could probably even die from it!” I raised an eyebrow, and he continued to nod furiously. He was serious!

“I’m not quite convinced…I think it’ll be fine baked into these cookies. If you die from eating one, then I’ll know to neutralize the baking soda next time!” I shooed him out of the kitchen, laughing.

Attempting this time to be as un-frazzled as possible, I organized all the ingredients on one end of the kitchen table and all the necessary cooking accoutrements on the other end. I was just about to start tearing open the packages of sugar and flower when I realized I didn’t have a measuring cup. Before giving up on my project, I asked my housemate if we happened to have anything that would suffice.

“Yes! Sarah, we have the scale!”

“No no,” I started, thinking my Italian had failed me in describing what I wanted. “I need a cup. With markings on it. For measuring things,” I pulled out my charades skills and tried to mime a measuring cup.

“No Sarah, we don’t have one of those cups. Just use the scale! Weigh a bowl on the scale, then reset the scale so that it’s set to zero even with the bowl on it, then add the weight of what you want and you’ll be fine. Trust me!” I must have looked a bit disbelieving, because he kept nodding and repeating “trust me”. The process sounded a touch complicated, and a touch like the “labs” they had made us do in grade 8 science class… But, it’s what I had to work with, so I was determined to make it work so that I could introduce my Italian friends to the golden-brown goodness of chocolate chip cookies!

As you can imagine, I made a bit of a mess dumping flour, sugar and baking soda into various bowls. Miraculously, I avoided getting any eggshell in the batter, and the baking soda didn’t kill anyone as it went into the mix. The waxy look of my “fat for pastries” left me a little dubious, so I decided to cut down on the amount I added to the concoction. See, even I can improvise sometimes!!! I nibbled on chocolate chips as I stirred, whipped, bashed, mashed and beat the contents of the mixing bowl together, and hummed a happy tune as I pictured myself a bit like Mrs. Cleaver, of Leave it to Beaver, preparing the most delicious homemade cookies. The dough started to take on the colour and consistency I was used when Mom and Gramps made it, so I relaxed and came to the conclusion that my foreign substitute ingredients were actually ok for the job.

I greased the pans I had on hand, and started to carefully set my little balls of cookies-to-be in evenly spaced rows. Thinking ahead, I decided to consult my housemate one last time before completing the final step of the process; I hadn’t used our oven before, and since it was attached to the stove with those pesky gas burners, I wanted to make sure I had everything straight so as not to blow up the house or anything equally unfortunate.

“Ah yes, I forgot to tell you. The other functions on the oven don’t work, just the broil one. But trust me, the cookies will turn out fine. you just have to watch them.”

Frustrated, I replied, “Broil my cookies? Are you kidding me!? Why does nothing work in this country!?!?” This just solicited a laugh from him as he shrugged and went back into his room, leaving me to clench my fists and roll my eyes in the kitchen.

So, into the broiler they went. I found the oven light, placed a chair infront of the stove and watched. And watched. And watched. It was only a bit more interesting than watching grass grow or paint dry, but I was determined to have these cookies turn out scrumptious, and not burnt. After they’d been baking and I’d been staring for about 7 or 8 minutes (the time my mom told me to cook them) I got up to open the oven and take a closer look, just to be sure. Just as I was reaching for the handle, I heard a very electric-sounding crack, and I found myself in a darkened, powerless kitchen. I must have emitted some sort of frustrated, nervous noise loud enough for my housemate to hear, because he came rushing into the kitchen asking what happened.

“What happened, is that like I said before, Nothing. In. This. Country. Works. Like. It. Should!” I replied, through clenched teeth. “Broiling these cookies was obviously too much for the oven, and now the power’s out!” I threw my hands up in the air and let them flop down hard against my sides. “And the cookies aren’t even done yet!”

After one look at the stove, and one look at the washing machine (yep, it lives in the kitchen, where I feel the non-existant dishwasher should be) Alex once again started to laugh. “Sarah, you can’t run the stove and the washing machine at the same time! It makes the power go out!!”

“Well how the heck was I supposed to know that?! In Canada I can run every freaking appliance in the neighbourhood from my house and everything would still work!!! Cooking and having clean clothes are both very important! You’d think you would be able to do the two things simultaneously. But no, of course not, because there isn’t enough power! What the heck!? Hmmpfh!!!” I think I even stamped my foot. This was my three-year-old self coming out in the face of adversity… “Now I have half-baked cookies and half-washed clothes!!!” Of course, Alex stood by and laughed. Eventually we got the power working, and I decided to let my clothes stew for a while in the washer as I finished broiling my cookies.

How’d they turn out, you ask? Well, I ended up with about a bazillion of them, nice and brown on the tops and still a bit gooey on the bottoms, which suited me just fine. Apart from craving these cookies myself, one of my reasons for making them was to share them with my Italian friends, who, unfortunately, were not familiar with the deliciousness of homemade chocolate chip cookies. After tasting the cookies, my friends responded with praise and curiosity:

“Where did you buy the dough for this? Then you added the chocolate, right?” No, I made the dough. From scratch. Just call me Betty Crocker, even though you don’t know who that is!

“Wow, Sarah, these are good! How did you chop up all that chocolate so small!” They’re called chocolate chips – gocce di cioccolato – and I bought them at your local grocery store!!! Jeez!

“We don’t have cookies like this in Italy. What texture! And they’re so round! You must have used a cookie-cutter or a glass to make them this shape, right?” No, I used the rolling-a-meatball technique to make them round. No cookie-cutters required for this girl!

Although I knew that chocolate chip cookies don’t really exist in Italy like they do in North America, I was surprised at the questions I got asked. I mean, I thought people at least knew that chocolate chips existed! Or that you could make round cookies by first smushing the dough into balls!

So with my cookies and my explanations, I satisfied my friends’ appetites and curiosity that evening as they polished off the entire contents of the container of cookies I had brought to share.

“So, you’ll bring more tomorrow right? You said you’ve got lots at home…”

Score 1 for the Frazzled Chef!

3 thoughts on “Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Broiled Biscotti

  1. Nice report and you are suffering what every “straniero” has to if he/she lasts a little bit longer in Italy. Two things …

    The fat for pastries is called “strutto” and it exists and often used for baking (at least a serious person does) 🙂 Only you don’t find it in the usual supermarket like Conad, PAM, ecc. Look in the smaller ones or at the weekly “mercatino” (which is something real nice in Italy; having a lot of small shops and markets). But in general finding “lo strutto” is getting more and more difficult. But it’s not a problem only related to Italy.

    The circuits in Italy are usually sold (by ENEL or ACEA) with a power of 16 ampere or more per circuit. And more than 16 ampere costs a lot. Since ever it’s done this way. Therefore you usually have 2-3 circuits in your flat and every per 16 ampere. Don’t put washing machine and oven on the same circuit 🙂

    Yes, you’re right. Nothing works here but in change you get a lot of priceless miracles. The question is how long you stand the negative “miracles”. So be prepared 🙂

  2. I studied abroad in Venezia, and have been reading over your blog after stumbling upon it. Our washer (what’s a dryer?) was also in the kitchen and could not be run at the same time as the stove. With 5 people living out of suitcases July through Christmas, both were frequently running!

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