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Taralli

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Taralli are a traditional Italian baked good with the subtle flavor of anise and the crispy texture of a bread stick. These are convenient because—like scones and biscuits—they can be frozen raw and baked when the oven temperature is right.

Like bagels, taralli are placed in a container of simmering water before they're baked to gelatinize the starches, create a shiny crust, and plump up the final product through physical leavening.

A sample of taralli and the kernel of this formula came to me from a friend for whom I built an oven. Lisa's Italian grandmother sold the formula to a Connecticut bakery years ago, which is still making them to this day. It took several trials to reduce the yield from 5 pounds of flour and determine that "anise spirits" was really "anise oil." Ouzo, anisette, and anise extract don't have enough anise flavor once the taralli are baked; anise oil is concentrated essential oil. Be careful—anise oil can degrade or discolor some plastics, so measure it in glass or stainless-steel containers only.

Yield: About 30 taralli

Wood-fired oven temperature window: 350 degrees F to 375 degrees F (177 – 191 degrees C)

Home oven: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (191 degrees C)

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. fennel seeds

1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar

5 Eggs

3 Tbsp. water

1/2 tsp. anise oil

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Method of Preparation:

1. Grind or coarsely chop the fennel seeds.

2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer fitted with a paddle until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, water, and anise oil. Mix gently on low speed for about a minute, being sure to scrape the butter off the bottom of the bowl. It's okay if the mixture is not completely smooth.

3. Exchange the paddle for a dough hook, add approximately half the flour as well as the seeds, and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add the remaining flour and mix on low until incorporated.

4. Once all the ingredients are combined, mix on low speed for 3 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer occasionally and scrape the dough off the hook. Increase the mixer to medium and mix for another 3 minutes, scraping the dough down off the hook as necessary. The dough is properly mixed when you can roll a small piece into a smooth rope without any lumps.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl, cover it, and let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes. Fill a large shallow pan with approximately 4" of water and heat until it's just shy of a boil.

6. Throughout the shaping process, keep the dough covered so it doesn't dry out. Divide the dough into 30g pieces. Roll each piece into a rope approximately 12" long. The pieces may not want to roll out to 12" when you first start to shape. If so, go through them systematically and roll them out as long as they will go. Then go back to the first one. The short rest time it takes to get all of them shaped will be enough to let the taralli relax. You should be able to roll them out to the full 12" on the second pass. If they are difficult to shape because they're sliding around, spritz the work surface with a mist of water. This will provide some traction for the dough, which is necessary to roll an even cylinder. Pinch the ends of the rope together and pull into an oval.

7. Place the shaped taralli into the hot-water bath. They will immediately sink. Loosen the taralli with a spatula if they stick to the bottom of the pan. Once they have risen, remove them with a slotted spoon and let them drain on a cooling rack while you boil more taralli.

8. Bake the taralli on a parchment-lined sheet pan at 375 degrees F (191 degrees C) for about 30 minutes.

9. The taralli can also be frozen immediately after the hot-water bath. They can be baked frozen or allowed to thaw before baking.

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