Most families have their traditional holiday cake or cookie, one without which the season wouldn’t be quite complete, and ours was no exception. Each year, as the holidays approached, we’d pester my Italian grandmother to please “make the wine cookies” for Christmas. Make them she did, in huge batches that quickly disappeared and left us with sticky fingers all around.
The recipe was passed on to her from my Calabrian great-grandmother, who called the cookies scalele (little scales). When my grandmother passed away in 1992, I thought this recipe had been lost with her … until I came upon it, quite by accident, in her old recipe box. The cookies are easy to make, and the recipe can be doubled or tripled as needed. Just be aware that after the first batch, you might find yourself making them year after year as well!
INGREDIENTS and METHOD
- 1 cup (250 ml) water
- 1 cup (250 ml) red wine (cheap wine seems to work best!)
Put both into a saucepan and, over medium heat, bring just to a bubbly boil. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Don’t rush this – the water/wine mixture should be as cool as possible.
DO NOT add cold wine to boiling water; as maylith pointed out, this would ruin your day. Both water and wine must start out cold and be brought to the boil.
Meanwhile, assemble these ingredients:
- 2 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) vegetable shortening (don't use oil)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 to 3 cups (500-750 ml) oil, for deep-frying the cookies
- 2 to 3 cups (500-750 ml) honey, heated in another pot (the cookies will be dipped in this)
Pour the frying oil into a good-sized saucepan and bring it to frying temperature, over medium-to-high heat. It's ready when a piece of bread, dropped into the oil, fries to a golden brown.
In a large bowl, mix the salt into the flour. Cut the shortening into the flour using a pastry blender or similar implement, until the resulting mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Mix in the beaten eggs.
Then, add the water/wine mixture. Blend by hand until you have a firm, workable dough, adding flour if necessary. Pinch off a good-sized piece of dough, about the size of a large fist, and roll it out on a floured surface. Roll to a thickness approximately twice that for pie crust.
Cut the rolled dough into strips about ¾ - 1 inch wide, and as long as you can make them. Then, braid them nicely - you should wind up with a braid of dough about six to eight inches long. As you finish each one, drop it into the hot oil, but don't put in so many that you can't easily turn them. Fry the cookies, turning them until they’re just a light brown, and dry them on paper towels.
Note: the amount of oil specified is an approximation; use enough so that you have enough to fry a decent amount of the cookies.
When the cookies have cooled a bit, use a pair of tongs to dip each one in the warm honey, letting the excess honey drip off, and place them in a serving bowl. You can enjoy them warm, and they also improve by sitting for a few days covered in a cool place. My grandmother used to keep the finished cookies in a large soup tureen, where they were all too accessible!
I think I got the metric equivalents right. If not, please /msg me. Recipe revised December 2004.