As Spring approaches and the sun shines a bit brighter, my thoughts often turn to vibrant memories of markets and preparations for elaborate feasts – in short, my eternal Parisian Sundays. Each weekend, I would wake early to shop at Place d’Aligre – inventing dishes on the fly, experimenting with new ingredients. Whether it was pancakes (by request), a pork roast or an indoor picnic, each and every Sunday was “family” dinner for twelve.
Since joining the full-time workforce in NYC, my Spring Sunday routine has become simpler – typically beginning and ending with a long bike ride, in which the market is only one of several points of interest. If food is purchased, it’s just a few interesting ingredients for the week, moreso than preparations for a celebratory weekend feast.
But on rare occasions – for a holiday or an out-of-the-ordinary reunion – I return to my elaborate Sunday kitchen. The weekends that I escape to my parents’ home in Connecticut, these culinary impulses are at their peak, inspired by spacious counter-tops and cupboards (filled with tools for which I lack space in my meager Upper West Side studio).
This Easter was no exception. We spent Saturday afternoon preparing a home-made batch of puff pastry. On Sunday, that pastry was adorned with gruyere, creme fraiche, bacon and eggs – a spectacular and indulgent Easter Sunday brunch.
My sister and I went for a spin before eating, as per our NYC custom. As the sunlight gleamed through the tall seaside grasses, we squinted, rounding the corner for home. Just then, our uncle arrived in a family heirloom – grandfather’s 1969 jaguar convertible – the cherry on top of our Sunday CT nostalgia.
Growing up, friselle were the edibles of family lore and legend. My father once came to pick up my mother for a date and discovered my uncle in a trance at the table, gnawing on these crunchy biscuits, as a pile of “sawdust” grew beneath his chin. My mother, herself, would keep a secret stash of these friselle “bracelets” in the cupboard, and as my sister grew older, she too developed an addiction for these savory treats. Yet despite the growing friselle fanbase, no one in my family ever attempted to make these seemingly simple biscuits – that is, except my great aunt.
My great aunt – who worked for one of the most renown Italian pastry shops in the Northeast – is famous for her inability to accurately relay a recipe. From struffoli to pignoli, her hand-me-down, anecdotal instructions have never ceased to thwart my mother’s most dedicated attempts at recreating traditional family dishes. I thus decided that the only way to save these favorite recipes would be to observe my great aunt in action – noting what she did, rather than what she said.
I learned to make friselle during the first of these heirloom cooking lessons, and they have since become my signature housewarming gift. Deemed “addictive” by their enthusiastic recipients, a few friends have gone so far as to throw parties just so I will re-stock their stash.
Old-Fashioned Italian Friselle
- 4 cups flour (unbleached all-purpose is best, but you can use 50% wholegrain flour as well)
- 1.5 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 cup cold water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine dry ingredients.
- Whisk together oil and water and add to dry ingredients. (Tip: Measure 1 cup of oil in a liquid measuring cup, then add cold water until it reaches the 2 cup line. You can whisk them together in the measuring cup itself).
- Use a spatula to gently fold the liquid into the dry ingredients. (When everything is properly mixed, you should have fluffy dough that is still moist but does not stick to your hands.)
- Roll a handful of dough into an inch-thick log (don’t overwork the dough, be gentle!). Then, cut into half-inch slices.
- Line-up cut biscuits on a greased baking sheet (I use olive oil to grease mine. They can be lined up very close together as they do not expand much).
- Bake for about an hour, rotating trays after 30 minutes. (When complete, the biscuits will be hard but still light in color – though they may be toasty brown on the tray-side).
Note : Friselle can be made in all shapes and sizes, but I prefer this bite-sized version for gift giving.