Spiced Red Wine Cookies

red wine cookies

Nonna Rhode Island’s chicken soup was the ultimate, with rich broth, thin noodles, and tiny meatballs. But her white wine cookies? Those would not have won any prizes. More biscuit than cookie, the egg-glazed rings of twisted dough were hard and not very sweet. You really had to bite down to break into them, and they also required a fair bit of chewing. They were best dunked into a glass of milk or bowl of cappuccino (or wine, if you were an adult).

Nonna Rhode Island, by the way, was my paternal grandmother (who, needless to say, lived in the Ocean State); we called her that to distinguish her from my maternal grandmother, Nonna Italy (can you guess where she lived?).

My mother, who actually liked the white wine cookies, wrote down the recipe and carried on the tradition of making them. They faithfully appeared at every holiday and, when pulled fresh from the oven, before they hardened, they were almost good. Over time I came to appreciate them, the way one comes to appreciate a birthmark, say, or an old scar.

Then someone ~ a family friend? ~ introduced us to red wine cookies, the ones dipped in sesame seeds. And that was the end of Nonna Rhode Island’s Italian hard tack. Red wine cookies were lighter, crispier, sweeter, and simply better. No doubt this had nothing to do with the color of the wine but rather the fact that the recipe called for less flour and no egg. They weren’t the prettiest cookies ~ they sometimes turned out an odd purple-gray, depending on the wine used to make them. But their flavor was divine.

A few weeks ago I came across a recipe for red wine cookies in L’Italo-Americano, written by Adri Barr Crocetti. Reading it, I realized I hadn’t bitten into one of these delicious cookies in years, decades maybe. I made a batch, and then another. They were as good as I remembered; better, even, as Adri’s recipe specifies tender “00” flour, fruity Sicilian olive oil, and Sicilian Nero d’Avola wine, which carries spicy notes. She also spikes the dough with ground cinnamon and white pepper. I was out of the latter, but I found a little jar of quatre epices, a French spice blend of white pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves that I had made awhile back (from a recipe in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry. The substitution worked nicely, punching up the spice in the cookies and echoing the toasty notes of the sesame-seed coating.

red wine cookies boxed

About the sesame seeds: Be sure to use fresh ones; rancid seeds will ruin the cookies. And coat the cookies generously; not only do the seeds add flavor and crunch; they also make the cookies better looking. I just boxed up a batch and mailed them to my mom for Mother’s Day. Now I’m off to make one more batch for myself. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mammas out there.

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies

Biscotti di Vino Rosso Speziati | Spiced Red Wine Cookies

Red wine, toasted sesame seeds, and a blend of spices give these crispy cookies their warm appeal. Use a good, fruity olive oil from Sicily if you can find it, and Sicilian Nero d'Avola wine. This recipe is adapted slightly from one by Adri Barr Crocetti that appeared in L'Italo Americano. Read the original recipe here, including more information about Sicilian olive oil and Nero d'Avola wine.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups "00" flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Quatre Epices (see NOTES) or 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Sicilian
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Nero d'Avola wine or other bright, fruity red wine
  • 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (see NOTES)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, quatre epices, and salt.

Fit a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat the olive oil, sugar, and vanilla extract together until the sugar has dissolved completely and the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes on medium-high speed. Switch to the flat beater. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the wine, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Increase to medium speed and beat until a soft, shiny and slightly ragged dough comes together.

Use a tablespoon measure or scoop to form the dough into balls, and roll them into small (1½-inch) logs with slightly tapered ends, like little footballs. Roll each cookie in toasted sesame seeds to coat. (If the seeds aren't sticking, very lightly mist the cookies with water before coating them; I found this step was not necessary.)

Place the cookies 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 22 minutes, until lightly browned and set. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

NOTES
To make Quatre Epices: mix together 2 tablespoons freshly ground white pepper, and 1 tablespoon each ground cloves, ground ginger, and ground nutmeg. Store in an airtight container. (Recipe courtesy of Cathy Barrow)

To toast sesame seeds: Spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Stir once or twice during baking to promote even browning. Cool completely before using.

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20 Responses to Spiced Red Wine Cookies

  1. pblevitt May 6, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    Looking forward to baking these as Biscotti Regina are one of my favorites. I imagine that the of the Nero D’ Avola and Quatre Epices make them irresistible.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 9, 2016 at 8:47 pm #

      They really are lovely cookies, Paula. Great for dunking in a glass of wine after dinner.

  2. Rosa Jeanne Mayland May 6, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    They look very tempting. What a wonderful combination of flavours. I’ll have to try that recipe asap.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    http://www.reveriesbramblesscribbles.com/blog/

  3. Rita May 6, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    They sound delicious! Happy Mother’s Day Domenica!

  4. Frank Fariello May 6, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

    Your story about those white wine cookies gave me a chuckle! But I suppose they actually were the kind that are meant to be “inzuppati”, no?

    • Domenica Marchetti May 9, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

      Frank, that’s my guess too. I probably would even like my grandmother’s version these days, especially dunked in a little glass of wine. But there was no way they could match a gooey chocolate chip cookie when I was a kid. 🙂

  5. NJ Spice May 6, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    These are so pretty, but I can imagine the “hard tack” version was hard to like!

    • Domenica Marchetti May 9, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

      I don’t know if my grandmother’s recipe is still around, but I’d be curious to try them now…

  6. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way May 6, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    I can’t wait to get home and make these!! They sound delicious and frankly, I don’t like overly sweet anything, I remember my papà dunking a lot of things , that was just the way he was. In caffè, in wine, in soup. Now not sweet things in soup, he was just a dunker. I wish he were still with us – I’d love to make these for him. Thank you for sharing.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 9, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      Dunking is the Italian way, isn’t it Marisa. You can make a batch and enjoy them (dunking, of course) in your papa’s honor.

  7. Ciao Chow Linda May 6, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    Oh Domenica – your description of those hard cookies was so funny. These, on the other hand, sound divine. They’re reminiscent of the red wine cookies my friend Milena makes – a member of our Italian chit-chat group. (Next time you’re in Princeton on a Monday, I’d love for you to join us). She held a lesson in my kitchen demonstrating how she makes them – in twisted ring shapes. Your diamond shaped ones are lovely too and I’ll bet your mom loved them.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 9, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

      Linda ~ I’ve been enjoying your social media dispatches from Peru ~ except I was sorry to hear about your injury. It sounds like you’re getting good care, though. And yes, I would very much like to join your group on a Monday when I’m in town. I’ll keep it in mind. xox

  8. Adri Barr Crocetti May 11, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    What a terrific post, and I am so pleased to hear that you enjoyed the cookies. Thank you so much for the shout out. I am flattered and touched beyond expression.

    Your description of Nonna Rhode Island’s cookies made me laugh. Don’t you love the old recipes? Even if they are not a favorite, just having them and that connection is really something special.

    Bart and I love these little cookies, and we finish them off every time I make them. Your idea of using quatre épices (home made no less- brava on that one) is genius. I bet the quatre épices is a perfect match for the spicy, multi-layered Nero d’avola. It is such a nice wine, and I like seeing that, after so many years as a blend grape, it is getting the stand alone appreciation it so richly deserves.

    I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day! Enjoy the cookies, and thanks again.

  9. Mikaela Cowles May 12, 2016 at 10:09 am #

    I love rediscovering a recipe. It’s kind of like being reacquainted with an old friend. With the heady flavors of white pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves I can see serving these for a girls lunch alongside a chicken salad. Thank you!

  10. paninigirl May 13, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Years ago I used to buy a packaged version of these cookies that I loved and never thought of making them-now I will!

  11. jamielifesafeast May 29, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    They are really perfect. I love Italian cookies mostly because they tend to be plain and simple and, yes, hard, requiring dipping. And with ingredients that are typically Italian. I can just imagine that the flavor of quatres-épice is a wonderful addition, marrying well with the wine and the simplicity. Happy Mother’s Day, Domenica!

  12. Pam September 19, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    I have been hunting for my mother in laws red wine cookie recipe to no avail. Sadly she is no longer here to ask. I was able to get her Italian Wedding Soup recipe from her sister…but no wine cookie recipe.
    My friend gave me her mother’s version but it is not the same. I am excited to try your recipe! Thank you for sharing!

    • Domenica Marchetti September 19, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

      Hi Pam, thank you for your comment. I hope these are the ones you were looking for. Cheers, D

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