Monday, December 5, 2011

Sbrisolona – The Italian Cookie

There’s something destructively satisfying about breaking into a sbrisolona at the end of a meal. It’s not a cake you can cut into neat slices but rather one that requires a sledgehammer. One of the symbols of Mantuan cuisine, sbrisolona can perhaps best be described as a cross between a crumble cake and an over-sized cookie. Yet, strictly speaking, it is neither.

The first written records of sbrisolona date back five centuries to the Gonzaga court in Mantua. However, it is likely that the recipe originated much further back, created originally as a country cake. This would seem evident from the main ingredients which included corn maize and lard, both ingredients associated at the time with cucina povera, or food of the poor. The cooks of the Gonzaga court were responsible for giving the basic recipe a makeover, enriching it with sugar, spices and almonds. In the country version, all three ingredients would have been beyond reach and if nuts were added, they would have been hazelnuts foraged locally.

Although it originated in the province of Mantua in Lombardy, versions of the cake were made throughout the Padana plains. It goes by various names – sbrisulona, sbrisolina, sbrisulusa, sbrisulada, to name a few. In the Piacentine dialect it’s custom to ask for a turta di sbrislon.

Although today there are variations on the recipe (my local baker, for example, makes a cholesterol-free version with olive oil instead of butter) the dominant characteristic of the dish is its brittleness, from which it takes its name – sbricolona or crumbled. Many years back I was politely reprimanded by my dinner guests when I went to cut into the cake with a knife. The proper etiquette, I was told, was to place the cake centre table and apply a well-placed, firm fist. It is generally eaten with coffee at the end of a meal or a glass of sweet white wine. In parts of the Veneto region, where it’s commonly known as ‘rosegotta’, I’ve had it served with grappa. My personal favourite, however, is as you would eat any cookie – with a tall, ice-cold glass of milk.

Recipe

Ingredients:
200g white flour,
200g fine cornmeal
200g chopped almonds,
200g sugar,
200g butter
2 egg yolks,
The rind of one lemon
1 vanilla pod

Mix the flours together along with the sugar, vanilla, lemon rind and chopped almonds. Bring the butter to room temperature. Chop and add along with the egg yolks. Mix everything together quickly with your fingertips until you have a crumbly/lumpy consistency (pretty much as you would have a crumble topping)
.

Pour the crumble mix into a buttered baking tin, pressing down gently and taking care not to squash down the lumps.  The baking tin should be large enough so that it forms a layer about 1 inch thick. Bake in a pre-heated oven (175 degrees) until brown. The cake should be golden and the almonds toasted.

4 comments:

  1. Looks like an interesting one to try Mario. I like how you have given us a history lesson to begin with and then have given the various names - although I am sure my pronunciation of the words would not be precise!

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  2. Don't worry about the pronunciation Cathy, bake the cookie!

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  3. I love the part about "cutting" into it with your fist! How big of a baking pan did you use?

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  4. Hi Vicky! I always use a pizza pan when I'm making this tart (about 10 inch), but the key is to form a cake that's about 1 inch thick. That way there's something to put your fist into!

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