Monday, January 25, 2010

So sweet...

Together again...We have a full house once more...yes!  After the coming and going and coming and going again of January {all family members at home only 3 days this month!}, we are all here, together...a deep sigh of relief...I love sending my flock out into the world, but  always breath a little easier when everyone is back in place.

My middle man went on not one, but two ski trips this month {lucky lad} and my sweet husband just returned from a three week stint in Italy {such a lucky duck~although he was responsible for 24 college students while he was abroad, not exactly a vacation—but Italy is pretty fabulous nonetheless}.  In this house it's especially hard sending one of our crew off to Italy while the rest stay behind.  Our family spent my husband's last sabbatical in Rome—we were there for almost a year.  It was completely life altering for all of us and we each left a big part of our heart there.  There are so many things we miss from that time, not the least being the food.  Knowing that we were all going through our own versions of travel envy, I've been making an extra effort to serve some of our favorite Italian foods this month.  This weekend we were in the mood for a little something sweet and so we made these...

Occhi di bue...translated, eye of the bull or bull's eyes.  You find these cookies in pastry shops and bars {the kind where you go for a cappuccino and a snack} all over Rome.  We would grab one of these little delights in the afternoons during the passeggiata— our evening stroll, when everyone in the neighborhood steps out to walk, duck into a cafe for an espresso, visit and, in general to see and be seen.  This confection is basically two butter cookies sandwiched with filling.  You can obviously fill them with whatever you want, but the two varieties offered Rome are usually albicocca {apricot} or Nutella.  My favorite is the apricot, but the Nutella is pretty yummy  {totally decadent actually} and is my little lad's absolute favorite.

When we returned from our year away I tried to find a recipe for these cookies—my family was going through serious withdrawal.  I did finally finally find one in Italian.  This is my version...I changed the original to get a little closer to the cookies that we'd been missing from the pastry shop around the corner and so that they could be made with readily available US ingredients.  And now without further ado, here it is for you!...

Occhi di Bue
{this recipe makes 6-7 large cookies}

2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter {the butter should be cold and cut up into small cubes}  
1 egg
1/4 t lemon extract
1 t vanilla extract
For the Filling
1/4 to 1/2 cup apricot jam
1/4 to 1/2 cup Nutella
2 T confectioners sugar

You will need 2 Cookie cutters~One large {3-4"} and one small {1"}

The cookies for this recipe are made just like pastry crust or scones—first you combine the dry ingredients, then the butter, and then the liquids.

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Combine the first 4 ingredients {I usually put mine in the food processor and pulse a couple of times}. Add the butter, cutting it into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse cornmeal {if using the food processor, add butter to bowl and pulse several times}.  Next add the wet ingredients and mix until the dough comes together {if using the food processor, pulse until the dough comes together, stopping before the dough forms a ball, otherwise the dough will be tough}.  Turn the dough onto a piece of waxed paper and knead several times.  Shape the dough into a disc, cover with a second piece of wax paper and roll the dough to 1/4" thickness.  Place the rolled dough into the refrigerator {keeping the wax paper on top and underneath it}.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Pull dough from fridge and cut into shapes.  Each occhi di bue is made of two separate butter cookies.  Cut 2 cookies using the larger cookie cutter and move them to a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Use the smaller cutter to cut a center hole out of one of the two cut-outs—it's easier to move the cookies to the cookie sheet before you cut out the center hole—less issues with ripping cookie dough.  Repeat for the rest of the dough, cutting out two large cookies for each occhi.  This recipe makes 6 to 7 finished occhi di bue {12-14 halves}.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to color around the edges.

Allow cookies to cool before filling {they can be warm, but not hot}.  To fill, spread a thin layer of Nutella or jam on a bottom cookie {one without a center cut-out}, top with corresponding top cookie, and spoon 1 teaspoon of jam or Nutella into the center cut-out {if the Nutella is a little stiff, run the jar under warm water to soften it up}.  Allow the cookies a few minutes to set up and then dust with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar—optional.  You can also omit the confectioners sugar and dip one side of the jam occhi di bue in melted chocolate (bittersweet or semisweet, not baking chocolate—just melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler and dip the cookie into the melted chocolate, place on a baking rack or parchment lined cookie sheet and allow to cool).  Some shops do this in Rome {yummy of course}, but my favorite way to eat these cookies is without the added chocolate.

I've never seen occhi di bue made in any shape other than a circle in Italy, but in light of the season, I think these sweet hearts are nice too...

As you can see, they are huge, perfect for sharing with a friend...



  1. mmm... thank you, Alison! we're having confectioner's sugar snow here at the moment! :)
    xo <3 - annri

  2. I'll take a dozen with Raspberry filling please!! :p I'm glad your family is all together. I need the run to the North End here in Boston to see if I can get some of these......and maybe cannoli too ;)


  3. I guess my son was using my computer!! It's me, not Liam!!!!!

  4. What lovely tales of your time in Italy and obviously happy memories for all of you! The apricot biscuits sound delicious to me but I think my boys will probably agree with yours and choose nutella - I am going off to try a few of both - thanks for sharing your recipe :)

  5. I got your blog post from a google alert for Passeggiata (the name of my book on many years of travel with my husband in Italy). I know what you mean about trying to replicate pastries eaten there. I tried with an almond cake once, that we had had in Sicily, and it was okay. But your cookies look great! Thanks for posting and I'll look forward to following your blog.
    GG Husak

  6. yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm.

  7. Two Liam responses to one post!...I think that the second Liam is definitely my Liam...and yes my young sir, you can have an occhi di bue for snack {if you eat your lunch!}.
    Kristin, my sister-in-law just sent me a big bag of porcini mushrooms from her last trip to the North End. I've never been, but it sounds many yummy things. Enjoy your trip and have a cannoli for me!

  8. My boyfriend and I just got back from studying abroad in Florence, Italy. These cookies were his favorite snack! Thanks so much for sharing, he was so excited when I surprised him with these!