Traditionally served as a stuzzichino (an appetiser), these crisp fennel-scented biscuits hail from Puglia. Although typically associated with Easter, they are eaten throughout the year alongside an aperitif for dunking.
80 ml (⅓ cup) lukewarm water
1 tsp dried yeast
60 ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil
60 ml (¼ cup) dry white wine
300 g (2 cups) bread or pizza flour, plus extra to dust (see Baker’s Tip)
1 tbsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Proving time: 1½ hours
Combine the water and yeast in a jug, stir to combine and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.
Add the olive oil and wine to the yeast mixture. Combine the flour, fennel seeds, pepper and salt in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon and then your hands to mix to a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-8 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic and springs back when you push your finger into it.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat lightly with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.
Line two large oven trays with non-stick baking paper.
Knock back the dough by punching it in the centre with your fist. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes or until it returns to its original volume.
Divide the dough into 12 even portions. Roll each portion into a rope about 30 cm long, then cut each into thirds, about 10 cm long. Roll each length until 15 cm long. Join the ends of each length, pinching to seal, to form rings. Place on the lined oven trays, leaving a little room for rising between each, cover with plastic wrap or a slightly damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for about 30 minutes or until well puffed.
Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced). Fill a large saucepan or large deep frying pan with water until about 8 cm deep. Add the bicarbonate of soda and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat so that the water is simmering. Working quickly, carefully add 6 of the rings to the boiling water. Once they rise to the surface (this will only take a few seconds), use a slotted spoon to transfer the rings, one at a time, back to the lined oven trays, allowing any excess water to drain away. Repeat with the remaining rings in 5 more batches.
Bake for 25 minutes or until dark golden, swapping the trays after 12 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 110°C (90°C fan-forced) and continue to bake for a further 40 minutes, swapping the trays after 20 minutes, or until crisp all the way through. Cool on the trays.
• Bread and pizza flour (also known as ‘strong’ flour) has a higher gluten-content than regular plain flour. This type of flour is more suited to use in yeast-based bread recipes like these biscuits and will give you a better texture that will have more ‘bite’ rather than a fine cake-like crumbly texture.
• These biscuits will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.