Italian Pepper Biscuits

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Week Two: International Week

According to the 2000 census, little old Rhode Island is the US state with the largest population of Italian-Americans (measured by percentage, not raw numbers): fully 19% of Rhode Islanders have Italian ancestry. Although I am 0% Italian on either side, I benefited from my Italian neighbors in a big way: the food. Yeah, yeah, sounds cliche and reductive, but it’s true; RI is chock-full of Italian bakeries and restaurants. From zeppoles on St. Joseph’s Day to iced anise cookies on Easter, even my decidedly non-Italian family enjoys — and bakes — Italian treats on the regular.

For the last day of international week, I’m departing from my British Isles theme and sharing a simple Italian treat: pepper biscuits, or biscotti di pepe. These savory treats pack a little kick thanks to black pepper, and they’re a lovely snack alongside a glass of wine or with your antipasto platter. Funnily, I can’t recall a single exact instance of eating these guys, but they’re familiar to me nonetheless; I think they’re sort of ubiquitous at Italian bakeries and on biscuit trays. And they’re naturally vegan (except for a pesky occasional egg wash).

Italian pepper biscuits

For my biscuits, I used the recipe here, because why reinvent the wheel with a time-honored classic? I did have a spectacular fail when adding the liquid to the flour mixture: I followed the ingredients, which had me mix everything on the countertop rather than in a bowl, but I didn’t make a large enough well for the yeast/water mixture and it went spilling all over the place. I also did not find this to be a particular stiff dough as the recipe suggests; in fact, it was remarkably wet and pliant. I added a little extra flour to compensate, but I’m not sure what happened there — I think it calls for too much oil. I also forgot to give them a second rise. So really, I massacred this recipe. But they still came out nice and peppery, with a soft chew and a lovely crumb.

Next time, I think I’d add fennel seeds for a little more complex flavor; many other recipes call for them. I might also try a non-yeasted recipe — they were breadier than I remember, without much crunch. And next time, I think I’ll make them alongside a batch of Italian wine biscuits, a slightly sweet, lightly purple hued biscuit that’s a joy to eat.

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