Bocconotti (Little Bites)
Bocconotti are tarts that are traditional to Abruzzi, Italy. Each city and town within Abruzzi also makes them in their own particular way. I grew up eating these around holidays. Although I loved them, the problem I had was that the ones my mom and aunt made were always dry. I loved the filling so much more than the pastry to the point where I’d scoop out the yummy grape marmalade-chocolate-almond interior and leave the pastry shell.
Those I had in Italy tasted very different, amazing actually. The filling was just as tasty as my family’s version. It was the pastry shell that was so much better. It was pale yellow in colour and close to a centimetre thick. It was the taste and the texture that had me at the first bite, though. Once you bite through a slightly crispy exterior, your teeth sink into an almost cake-like texture. The taste was a little lemony, a little sweet and a lot good!
Fast forward many years, and the mission I’ve volunteered to undertake for myself is to learn how to make as many of those recipes from my childhood and heritage as I could. Two problems I encountered right off the bat. 1. ‘Recipes’ is a relative word, open to interpretation. A recipe to someone who’s been making these tarts (or anything else) for decades translates as a handful of that, a glass of this. Well, exactly how much is a handful? Who’s hand? And a glass? What size glass? Filled to the rim or not? 2. My own preferences. In other words, I don’t want to reproduce the bocconotti my mom and aunt made exactly. I want to reproduce the kind I’d get in Italy. Therein lies the challenge.
Over the years – yes, this challenge took years – I tried various tart recipes looking for that exact texture. But, no luck. Most were just too thin and crispy, and if I laid the pastry dough down thick, the tart shell would come out thick and crispy. Good, but not what I was looking for. I had heard that some Italians add yeast to the pastry dough. Well, that experiment was interesting. The dough came out super soft, kept rising and overflowed the moulds while it cooked in the oven. Bye, bye yeast.
The other challenge was deciding whether to use butter or oil. Most of the recipes I tried used oil. That did make sense. The Abruzzi region isn’t known for its use of butter. That’s a more northern thing. But, I found that oil just made the pastry seem dry. At least, I’m assuming it was the oil. Perhaps I was just over cooking the tarts all along. Then I tried them with butter instead of oil. That was better … but only slightly. The buttery flavour did come through a bit.
Finally, I clued in to something. If the tarts I love have a slight cake-like quality perhaps the key is to use baking powder. Aha, success! I got just the right thickness, the right flavour and the right amount of crispiness as you bite into it. I finally did it. I found the secret to these delectable bocconotti. I used to think they were so cumbersome to make, but the recipe came together super quick. The only thing that was time-consuming was filling the individual moulds.
Speaking of the moulds, I used the traditional brioche moulds. You can get them in various shapes and sizes. The circular ones I used were probably about 2-1/2 cm in diameter. The large ones I used were shaped like hearts. Now that I’ve succeeded, and everyone who’s tasted them agrees on their authenticity, I think I’m going to go on a bocconotti spree and make a whole whack of them!