‘Vincotto’ literally means cooked wine and is the sticky sweet syrup derived from reduced grape juice. To balance the sweetness, I add a touch of good-quality balsamic vinegar to the dough, which sounds odd but gives it a well-balanced depth. Taste the dough and add a touch of balsamic at the end if you feel the mix needs it, or just leave it out altogether. If the dough becomes too sticky while you are working it, add a little bit more flour. The chocolate coating tastes richly decadent – a fitting finale to a Christmas lunch or any family celebration.
One of the pastry shops I visited in Otranto was selling ‘mostaccioli’, diamond-shaped chocolate-covered biscotti traditionally eaten at Christmas (not to be confused with the tube-shaped pasta of the same name). They are rich and spicy with an ingredient I could not quite put my finger on so I asked the shop assistant; she told me it was vincotto, with a dash of nutmeg and cloves.
- 60 g (2 oz) natural almonds, toasted
- 1 small orange, peel only (white pith removed)
- 250 g (9 oz/1 ⅔ cups) 00 or plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra if needed
- 90 g (3 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 30 g (1 oz) unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- 20 g (3/4 oz) dark chocolate (45% cocoa solids), finely chopped
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
- 80 ml (2 1/2 fl oz/ ⅓ cup) vincotto
- 2 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp warm water, plus extra if needed
- ½ – 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
- 200 g (7 oz) dark chocolate (45% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
- few drops of extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line two large baking trays with baking paper.
- Process the almonds in a food processor until they are coarsely ground, and set aside.
- Place the orange peel in a mini food processor and process until it is finely chopped.
- Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spices and cocoa in a large bowl and give it a good whisk to remove any lumps. Stir in the ground almonds, chopped orange peel and chocolate, then pour in the vanilla essence and vincotto, followed by the olive oil in a stream, stirring as you go, until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add half the water and stir, then start to bring the mixture together with your hands. Add enough of the remaining water to form a cohesive but still fairly dry dough. Don’t add all the water if it isn’t needed (or add a bit more if required to reach the right consistency). If it is too wet, add a bit of extra flour. Taste the dough and add the balsamic vinegar if you think it needs it for balance.
- Cut the dough in half and roll out each portion between two sheets of baking paper to a thickness of 3–4 mm (¹⁄8 in). Using a diamond-shaped cookie cutter with approximately 5 cm (2 in) sides, cut out your biscuits. (If you don’t have a diamond-shaped cutter, just use a rectangular one. I must admit I improvised and used a square ravioli cutter with a fluted edge, then trimmed each square into a diamond with 5 cm/2 inches).
- Place the diamonds on the prepared trays, leaving a little space for spreading, and bake for 12–14 minutes until they feel firm but are still quite soft. Depending on the size of your trays, you may have to bake them in batches. Allow to cool completely on the trays.
- To make the icing, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally. I like to add a few drops of olive oil to the chocolate to help the consistency, but this is not essential. Turn off the heat and leave the bowl over the pan.
- Line two or three large trays or plates with baking paper.
- Working in batches, drop the diamonds into the molten chocolate, using two forks to flip them over and coat on both sides. Lift them from the bowl, allowing the excess chocolate to drip off, and place carefully on the baking paper. Alternatively, only dip half the diamonds in the chocolate if you prefer a lighter biscuit.
- Allow the chocolate to set before removing the biscuits from the trays or plates. They will keep in an airtight container for a week.
Recipe and images from Adriatico by Paola Bacchia, Smith Street Books, RRP $55.00