Biscotti di Farro
by gina depalma
Triticum dicoccum. Farro. Don’t call it spelt. Don’t call it a wheatberry. It is a grain with a long and proud history, so if you are going delve into its many virtues, be sure to get it right.
Long before polenta was the mushy stuff we make with ground corn, polenta, or porridge, was made with the grain farro throughout parts of Central and Northern Italy. Its history as a source of nourishment goes as far back as the Roman Empire, but when the Empire crumbled, farro was cultivated less and less, replaced by grains such as barley, rice and corn.
Farro is making a comeback, and in Umbria you will find it on menus in the form of hearty soups, interesting salads and as a soft, comforting side dish. In my travels through Umbria, I’ve enjoyed farro in all three forms; my favorite version was cooked almost like a risotto and served with a showering of fresh black Umbrian truffles.
Farro is a cereal grain that retains its husk, similar to barley and oats, making it an excellent source of fiber. It is high in Vitamin E, an antioxidant, and when combined with a legume, it forms a complete protein.
Yet farro is still often confused with both spelt and wheatberries, perhaps because in the past it was so hard to find. But as it pops up onto more and more restaurant menus, farro has become more popular with home cooks. You can still find it in your local health food store, but these days upscale food markets and Italian specialty shops stock farro, farro pasta, and farro flour. I baked my farro flour into a delicious little shortbread cookie, flavored with orange zest, nutmeg and a touch of cinnamon. The dough comes together fast and rolls out easily, making this nutritious, flavorful cookie even easier to love.
Place the cake flour, farro flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed briefly to blend the ingredients, then add the cubed butter. Continue to beat on low speed until the butter disappears completely into the dry ingredients.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, vanilla extract, honey and orange zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat on speed to moisten them, then increase to medium speed and beat for about 45 seconds to form a sturdy dough.
Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc and wrap it. Chill the dough in the refrigerator until it is firm enough to roll, about one hour.
When you are ready to roll the dough, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two large cookie sheets by greasing them and lining them with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into two pieces, rolling each piece onto a floured board to a thickness of 1/16th of an inch. Cut the dough into cookies using your favorite cutter. You can reroll the scraps until all of the dough is used.
Place the cookies onto the prepared sheets, spaced ½-inch apart.
Place the reserved egg white into a small bowl and break it up slightly with a fork. Using a pastry glaze the tops of the cookies with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with some raw sugar.
Bake the cookies until they are evenly golden brown and slightly puffed, about 14 to 17 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets 180 degrees halfway through the cooking time to ensure they bake evenly.
Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. If desired, dust them with some confectioner’s sugar before serving. The cookies may be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies, depending on the size.