I would tightly hold an occhio di bue with two hands, wrapped in a light and almost transparent paper towel, as if it was a croissant or a sandwich.
Occhi di bue, literally ox eyes for their gentle shape, are the largest cookies in any pastry shop. They are perfect in their generous round shape, winking from the counter with their heart of jam or chocolate. When we visited my grandfather Remigio in San Gimignano, my mum would stop at our favourite pastry shop for a cappuccino and a few chats with the locals, so I was allowed to choose something sweet from the counter. Whether still warm rice tartlets or occhi di bue, short pastry was always a must.
Occhi di bue are a reassuring constant in any pastry shop, bar or bakery counter in Italy. They’ve always been there, since I can remember. When I went to school, in the morning I would stop at the local bakery to buy a focaccia as a snack and they were there, round and neatly arranged in a paper tray.
I took part to the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap for the fourth year and occhi di bue were my choice for this edition: these cookies are simple and unpretentious, they sooth your soul like a break with bread, butter and jam, or a cup of tea and a slice of sponge cake.
I am recently hooked by the charm of the ordinary, the genuine flavour of home food: occhi di bue represent this authentic taste, just a bite and you are taken back to childhood and to those grand cookies, three-time the size of the average biscotti.
Even today, when I stop by a bakery and I am mesmerized by the large choice of short pastry cookies, occhi di bue will wink at me among all the other cookies, humble and reassuring, bringing up a smile. My mind goes to that little girl who held them as prize, cookies so large that you could hold them with two hands.
While I was kneading such a enormous quantity of sugar, butter and flour, especially of butter to be honest, I figured myself gifting friends and family with occhi di bue till Christmas, going to compete with local bakeries. How wrong I was.
Occhi di bue are harmless cookies in their appearance, but they require a double dose of short pastry, and they are large, the largest cookies you can imagine, so with these ingredients I obtained exactly 36 cookies, kneading again any left pieces as not to miss anything.
If you do not need exactly 36 cookies as I did, you can even bake the centre of the occhi di bue as a separate cookie, maybe covered with a walnut or an almond.
As for the jam, choose obviously the one you prefer, but avoid any preserve which can be too liquid. The cookies won’t be baked again, so the jam should be thick enough to hold together the two cookies without slipping away. For the Cookie Swap I chose a jam I made during summer with apricots from the orchard, cane sugar and a dash of red wine Chianti to add that extra depth which will joyfully force you to finish the jar spoon after spoon.
If you want to make the short pastry by hand and let the round smell of butter linger around you for a day, follow the method I used in my video recipe for Christmas cookies.
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- 250 g of light cane sugar
- 500 g of butter, at room temperature
- 60 g of egg yolks, about 3 yolks
- 750 g of tender wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
- 1 pinch of salt
- 350 g of apricot jam
- Rice flour
- Icing sugar
- Work butter and sugar with the tips of your fingers, then add egg yolks, flour, a pinch of salt and the vanilla essence. Knead the ingredients just enough to have a smooth dough and press it together to form a ball. Slightly flatten the dough, wrap it in cling film, then put it in the fridge for at least an hour. You can keep it overnight, too.
- After one hour remove the pastry from the fridge, knead it again until easy to handle, then roll it out with a rolling pin and some rice flour in a 5 mm thick sheet.
- Cut out round cookies with a 8 cm wide cookie cutter. Cut out a round window in half of the cookies with a smaller cookie cutter (or choose the shape you prefer). Knead again any left dough, roll it out again and cut more cookies.
- Preheat oven to 180°C and bake the cookies in batches for 11-12 minutes, until lightly golden. Let them cool down completely on a wire rack.
- Pair the cookies with a spoonful of jam. Dust them with icing sugar and enjoy, or store in a tightly closed box.
I just want to show you my little Christmas tree, an alive juniper I bought three years ago, which is now growing up with me. It’s its third Christmas in my living room. For eleven months a year it is sitting in the garden, growing in its clay pot, sunbathing in the good days and feeding itself in the rain. In December it keeps me company at home, in its usual spot next to the bookshelf, so I can keep track of how it grows.
And now my heartfelt thanks to…
- Serena, from Pici e Castagne, for her tozzetti di Civitavecchia: they are very similar to the Tuscan cantucci, but, if possible, even more delicious with a lot of nuts and chocolate,
- Mauro, from Porzione Singola for his zenzerini, cookies with a strong ginger kick, perfect with a cup of the in a cold afternoon,
- Claudia, from La mora Romagnola for her gluten-free choco cookies, which I enjoyed guiltlessly as they were suitable for my gluten intolerance.
Throw back cookies
- I began with short pastry cookies with a deep citrus hint, I remember how fun it was to make them.
- The second year I made Ada Boni’s dried fruit biscuits, thin as paper and crammed with nuts and candied fruit. I took that photo in a cold afternoon, I can still taste that cookies, I can still remember all that happened in the following days: my first book was out, I moved on my own, I met new friends and among them there was Mr. Right.
- Last year I chose a traditional sweet treat from Siena, panforte, but made it into bite size panfortini, perfect to be enjoyed with a coffee.