These are one of my most memorable culinary discoveries of last year, and one of the best cookies I’ve had in a lifetime (which is saying something — just ask my thighs). Crunchy, just-sweet, and deliciously fragrant, ciambelline al vino (‘little rings of wine’) have a long tradition in the regions of Italy from Rome to Tuscany, where they have been made for generations from a few ingredients that are plentiful, cheap and often home-produced: namely wine, olive oil and aniseed or fennel seed. They are made very differently from the more familiar cantuccini and other biscotti, but they fill a similar niche as they too are versatile keeping-biscuits designed to be enjoyed with something drinkable.
The alchemy of such simple yet characterful ingredients produces a flavour so complex, deep and satisfying it is almost indecent. Whether you dip them in wine as the locals do to finish a meal, or crumble one with an espresso to start (or re-start) the day, I honestly don’t think it’s possible to avoid a transcendent moment. And strange as it might sound for something so more-ish, one is so good, that one is good enough. It takes a little time to snap and crunch through a single bijou ring, and then there are all those little shimmers of sugar and sweet herbal seeds to savour…. I may be wrong, but I think these biscuits are unlikely to be your ruin, though they are undeniably addictive, especially as a batch keeps beautifully for many days; and in fact their aniseed flavour develops over time. [Read More…]