Like every year since I moved to Brussels, the string of lights that now connect my side of the street with the opposite side is the first tell-tale sign that Christmas is on its way. I have started drawing up a tentative list of ideas for Christmas presents for friends and family. And on each trip to the supermarket I now stock up on ingredients for all the seasonal baking I look forward to during the rest of the year (making sure I have all the flour, spices, butter, sugar, candied fruit and nuts I could need). But just like my mum, I find it wrong to indulge in gingerbread, Stollen, Panettone etc. before the first of Advent. So the seasonal baking will have to wait a few more weeks.
So let’s look at today’s recipe as a bit of a warm-up for the festive baking over the coming weeks. Ciambelline al vino are little doughnut-shaped and anise studded cookies. While not typical of the Christmas season in Italy, anise is actually a common ingredient in many Christmas cookies in Germany and Switzerland. So these cookies would certainly not be amiss on a Christmas cookie plate.
Ciambelline al vino are a traditional cookie from Lazio, the area of Italy where Rome is located. From someone who grew up in Germany, these little cookies are rather unusual in that they are made without butter but with oil and wine instead. The recipe for Ciambelline al vino is also one of those annoying Italian recipes that come with the two letters ‘qb’ after the flour amount. ‘Qb’ stands for ‘quanto basta’, meaning you have to decide how much (quanto) flour is enough (basta). Indications like quanto basta in a recipe can be extremely frustrating to the novice cook or baker. Because how much flour is enough?
Having made these cookies for several years now, I finally got the hang of what the dough should feel like and now know how much flour to use for cookies that hold their shape and bake up beautifully crisp. What you are looking for is a firm and silky dough, not dissimilar in texture from making gingerbread cookies in fact. And to stop you (and myself) from second-guessing the amount of flour needed for these cookies, below are the quantities I use to make these ciambelline al vino.
Ciambelline al Vino
Notes: As simple as these cookies are and as short as the ingredient list is, here are a few variations: some people prefer using sparkling wine to white wine, others will use red wine which will result in darker cookies. Opinions are divided over whether a neutral vegetable oil is better or olive oil should be used. I stick with the advice I got in Italy and use vegetable oil for its neutral flavour. Also, the anise seeds are optional but I love the cookies with them. That being said, some people prefer to use fennel seeds in place of the anise seeds.
Makes 40-50 cookies depending on size
175ml white wine
175ml sunflower oil
1 pinch of salt
3 teaspoons anise seeds (you can also use fennel seeds)
550g plain flour
To dust the cookies: 3 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon anise seeds mixed together in a bowl
1. Start by whisking together the wine, oil and sugar. Add the anise seeds and pinch of salt and start incorporating the flour bit by bit until you have a smooth, firm and elastic dough (you may find you need slightly less than the 550g flour or slightly more). Cover and set aside for 1/2 hour.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
3. Take generous tablespoon-sized lumps of dough and make little doughnut-shaped cookies (to do this I start by rolling the dough into 8-10 cm long sausages, then loop these to form small circles, pinching the ends of the loop together). Dip each cookie into the anise sugar and place on the baking tray, leaving ca. 2cm space between cookies.
4. Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Store in an airtight container.