Uncinetti are like little clouds of lemony festive joy. Traditionally made for Easter and weddings, these Italian biscuits hail from southern Italy.
For Angela Palermo, founder of The Village Cooks cooking school in southern Sydney, they bring back memories of her childhood.
“All the Italian sweets, including uncinetti, just allow me to reconnect with that little girl of mine inside; that loved the family gathering together (usually around religious festivities), where no one worked and time seemed slow, and we baked and cooked and ate until we couldn’t fit another thing in!”
Palermo, whose parents both hail from Calabria, is teaching how to make uncinetti in an Italian Easter Dolci class, but says she also makes them year-round.
“As a child, I really only recall eating them at festive times, mainly Easter. Now as an adult, I do like to bake them – not just at Easter – as they are easy to prepare, are not overly sweet (which I prefer) and are moreish. My kids love them and have had a few packed for their school recess.
“I think what I love the most is the texture, a mix between a cake, pastry and biscotto – and that they are lightly sweet! Uncinetti are deceiving – they look to be very sweet, I think due to the icing coating on top and the colourful sprinkles, but once you take a bite, you are surprised with the delicate soft texture that is not overly sweet at all.”
Like many recipes, uncinetti is just one name for this glazed biscuit; others include anginetti, nginetti, ncinetti, taralli dolci and even simply biscotti di Pasqua. Occasionally they are ring-shaped but generally they are little knots, taking their name from a word for crochet. The name anginetti is also used (especially in America, where they are also often called Italian wedding cookies) for a biscuit made with a similar dough and glaze, but with a simple round shape.
“ ‘Uncinetti’ literally translates to ‘crochet’ so therefore the shapes resemble spiral twirls, knots, drops, twists and rings. Uncinetti have been called ‘taralli dolci’ – my guess being when they are baked in the similar round shape as savoury taralli,” Palermo says.
The recipes vary too – most use baking powder as the raising agent, but some use baking ammonia, and occasionally, yeast is used. Lemon is almost universal as a flavouring, in the dough, icing, or both, but some recipes are made with anise (like this one from Italian blogger Damiana Casillo, who uses aniseed liqueur in both the dough and the icing in one of three versions she shares on her website). The use of colourful sprinkles is almost universal though and adds a lovely festive touch.
Palermo uses only uses lemon – she says she’s not come across anise in uncinetti recipes before, and baking powder. Her recipe is a combination of many sources.
“I learnt to make these biscotti as an adult. I didn’t appreciate my Calabrese heritage as a child; I wanted to be more ‘Aussie’ and fit in … It has been later in life, that I have felt a drive to reconnect with my Italian heritage and I have done this through food. The motivation behind my pastry chef qualifications was to become an Italian Baker and learn the science behind all the Italian baked goods I had loved to devour as a child! Both my parents were born and grew up in Calabria. Small towns – my Mum from Vasci and my Dad from Lago.
“I have often tried to collect traditional Calabrese, and other regional Italian, recipes from my mum, other family members, and family friends, but am always faced with the difficulty in obtaining accurate measurements – ‘uh I don’t know! Put a little bit of this and a little bit of that!’ Haha! Many of my Italian recipes, including uncinetti, are derived from a mixture – discussions with family/friends, published recipes from my Italian cookbooks and the wide web!”
The lovely thing about a recipe with so many variations is that you can make it your own. Shape it into knots, or make it as a simple round drop biscuit. Make the lemon subtle or sharp. Make the icing a glaze or make it thicker. And then add on some joy with colourful sprinkles!