Offella is an ancient name meaning focaccia dolce (sweet). It comes from the Latin offa, a small focaccia made with farro. The recipe for these cookies was inspired by the one in La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiare bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well — this and the other two links below go to an English translation of the book) by Pellegrino Artusi, first published in 1891. In Italy, we refer to this seminal cookbook as L'Artusi.
I have no childhood memories of cookie-baking at our house in preparation for the Holidays. However, that has not prevented me from engaging in cookie-baking in my adulthood. In preparation for that undertaking, I flipped through the good old Artusi, and the offelle di marmellata caught my attention. They are not traditional Christmas cookies, but I decided to co-opt them to become part of my own personal tradition.
I had several jars of my homemade marmellata and was looking for a way to use it besides the one I already know (for example, to top my tartarughe di pasta frolla). I have a round scalloped cookie cutter and decided it would work, though it is not exactly like the one shown in the book. I also have my burro fatto in casa (homemade butter), which just screamed to be used for cookies.
I recommend you read the interesting introduction Artusi writes to his recipe for offelle di marmellata. In the audio file I pronounce for you the saying mentioned: dar l'offa al Cerbero.
I did not use the recipe for apple filling given by Artusi, but indeed, one of the marmellate I made has apples and grapes, so it is similar. I also used other types of marmellata for the several batches of offelle I baked. I make marmellata with a relatively small quantity of sweetener (as you can read here), so it is more of a fruit spread than a jam.
I developed a variation of Artusi's recipe A for pasta frolla (sweet shortcrust pastry), which I will give below. I decided to make a smaller batch of pasta frolla than the one in the book, and distributed the offelle immediately to the intended recipients. I even mailed some, but I don't yet know how they fared during their trip. One thing I often do is prepare the pasta frolla in the evening and keep it in the fridge until the next morning, when I bake offelle for breakfast. My husband likes that.
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup regular flour (farina)
- 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
- 3 oz (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large or extra-large egg
- a bit of grated lemon zest or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 1 egg yolk diluted with 2 teaspoons water (egg wash)
- marmellata (a thick kind with low sugar content works better)
Put the sugar in the food processor and let it run for a little while, then add the flours (minus one tablespoon of the regular one) and mix briefly. Add the butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. Empty the food processor's bowl on your kneading surface. Make a well in the center and break the egg in it. With the help of a fork incorporate the egg into the flour mixture. Add optional flavoring of choice (I use vanilla sugar). Knead briefly to obtain a soft dough, shape it into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic and put in the fridge until well chilled.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Divide the dough into 2-3 pieces and keep the one(s) you are not rolling in the fridge until needed. Roll the dough to a thickness of 3 mm (1/8 inch), using the tablespoon of flour set aside above to keep your surface and the rolling pin non stick. Cut the dough using your cookie cutter and put the excess dough in the fridge to chill it before reworking it. Spoon some fruit spread in the center of a cookie and cover it with another, pressing all around the edge to seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Repeat until you use all the dough.
I usually bake two batches, so I can let the excess dough chill before rolling it again. With a pastry brush, paint a bit of the egg wash over each cookie and put the baking sheet in the oven. Check after 16 minutes and gauge the remaining baking time. The offelle are ready when golden. Let them cool for a few minutes on the tray before trying to move them. It is better to bake the second batch on another sheet, so the first batch can rest undisturbed. Forget about storing the offelle: share them and eat them as soon as possible. And since they are not tied to the Holidays, you can bake more offelle afterwards, whenever you feel like. That is definitely what I'll do.
This is my contribution to season 2 of Eat Christmas Cookies, an event mixed and baked by Susan of Food Blogga. She has been gathering a host of delicious recipes from around the world, 228 of them, to be precise. You can see them all in part 1 and part 2 of the roundup.