Roman Cardamom Biscuits

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Apologies for the delay in posts. Like most jobs, I suppose, the art gallery world has distinct seasons that are marked by the important art auctions and art fairs in each city. For London Old Master paintings dealers, the busiest season is July, when we have the Masterpiece Fair (and several others), Old Masters auctions, and various themed weeks in a row. We hold our annual exhibition during this time, so needless to say, I’ve been flat out.

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Thankfully, I had a sneaky vacation planned for the end of this busy period and have just come back from a wonderful two week cruise with Sam and his (very generous!) family. We went to Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands, and Madeira, saw lots of art, ate lovely food, soaked up the sun, and didn’t write a word or think about work. In other words, it was perfect.

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Summer for me is inextricably linked with Rome. For the last ten years, my father taught a summer course in Rome and more often than not I joined him for all or part of the six weeks he spent there every year. The heat, the noise, the pasta, the tourists, the train ride to the beach: that’s summer to me.

I was first introduced to the Eternal City as a toddler, when we lived at the American Academy in Rome while my father was again teaching there. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the AAR, or the neighborhood in which it is situated, at the very top of the Janiculum Hill near the Acqua Paola, it is well worth a visit. The buildings and grounds of the Academy are beautiful and the location is perfect: the only place in Rome you are guaranteed a breeze, even in July, with panoramic views over the city.

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Apart from being a research center for the arts and humanities, the AAR has recently reinvented its kitchen and dining system following the tenets of the slow food movement, first made famous by Alice Waters in her San Francisco restaurant Chez Panisse. The chef in charge of the AAR kitchen, Mona Talbott, has taken the ideals of the slow food movement (using organic, local, and sustainable ingredients wherever possible) and created the Rome Sustainable Food Project, an institutional and training kitchen that uses locally sourced ingredients to create authentic Roman dishes for the fellows, visiting scholars, and their families and guests at the AAR. When they put out a book of biscotti recipes in 2010, I snapped it up on a subsequent visit and have enjoyed reliving my childhood memories of running around the AAR courtyard, cookie in hand, over the course of several baking sessions. These particular ones were part of a recent cardamom kick I’ve been on. They are small, spicy, and not overly sweet cookies that go well with tea or coffee.

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Roman Cardamom Biscuits

(adapted, slightly, from Mona Talbott’s Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, Rome Sustainable Food Project )

2 1/2 cups (350g) flour

1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

2 tsp ground cardamom

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp rose water (I didn’t have rose water and used vanilla extract, which was fine, but if you have rose water I expect they would be even more lovely. Orange blossom water would probably also be nice.)

4 tbsp honey

2 tbsp milk

1/4 cup + 1 tsp (60g) butter

1/3 cup + 1 tbsp (80g) sugar

1 large egg

confectioner’s/icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Sift the first four ingredients together into a bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the milk, honey, and rose water (if using).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add in the flour mixture, stirring until combined, followed by the milk mixture. Once all the ingredients have been incorporated into a smooth dough, round it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for half an hour in the refrigerator.

Remove from the fridge, unwrap the dough and divide it in two. Roll each piece into a log, about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter. Wrap the logs well (I used baking parchment, plus a layer of cling film) and place them in the freezer for at least 1 hour (Talbott says you can leave them in the freezer for up to a week, but I did not try this).

After an hour, preheat your oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Unwrap your logs and slice into thin disks (about 1/4 inch/5mm thick) and spread them evenly over cookie sheets lined with parchment, leaving space between them for rise (an inch or so/ 2 cm). Bake for 10-12 minutes, until they are just golden. Dust them with icing/confectioner’s sugar if you’re feeling fancy!

Buon appetito!

– Helena


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