TOP: Finished Taralli Dolci, fresh from the oven. LEFT: Start with clean countertops and clean hands; no bowl necessary. TOP RIGHT: Very few ingredients are needed for the taralli.
There are certain foods that scream tradition, and this, for me, is one of them.
Easter Sunday morning isn't the same unless I have a batch of my mother's homemade taralli to go along with my colorful, hard-boiled eggs. And while I will continue to eat them after the holiday, until they are gone, we only make them once a year.
My mother would make taralli several weeks before Easter, and then freeze them. We weren't allowed to touch them until Easter Sunday.
She was so adamant, I grew up thinking it was part of my religion. Food is almost sacred to Italians and just like we (still) don't eat meat on Christmas Eve, I know now that it was a cultural expression and not a religious one.
Regardless, it's those deep-seated traditions that make us who we are.
While I have always eaten taralli for Easter, I had only made it once until two years ago, just a couple months after my mother passed away. Easter would be hard enough to experience without her. Making taralli would be a nice way for me to celebrate her memory.
Even though I felt as if she was looking over my shoulder, that first year I made them, they weren't perfect. They baked a little too long and the oven was too hot, so I adjusted the recipe. I also made them a bit smaller. My mother's were usually the size of a New York-style bagel. I made them about half the size.
They were perfect; at least in my opinion.
Taralli is easy to make. It may take a little while, but only because it takes awhile to grate all the rind off the lemons.
One of the hardest things about this recipe was the name. While the name I have in the family cookbook I put together several years ago is "torella," I didn't think that was correct. The way it always sounded to me was "tah-dahl." Naturally, as kids, we called it "Ta-da!"
Not having an official name wasn't much of an issue until I decided to include the recipe here and it needed a name.
So I did what we all do these days, I tried to Google it. I didn't have much success the first few times I tried, but more recently I found a website with tons of Italian recipes, all in alphabetical order.
While I didn't find the exact recipe, and didn't expect to as this was handed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother to my mother, etc., I did find a name Taralli Dolci which is as close as I've come.
Taralli is described as an Italian-style bagel.
While they are often shaped like a bow, in Naples, where my mother's family is from, they are round with a hole in the center. Because it includes sugar, it is called Taralli Dolci, with dolci meaning sweet.
8 cups flour
8 heaping teaspoons baking powder
4 heaping tablespoons shortening (about 1 cup)
2 pinches salt
2 cups sugar
Rind of six lemons
1/2 cup lemon juice from lemons
Place flour on a clean surface and form a well. Add remaining ingredients. Work really well with your hands until all is blended. (The secret to perfect taralli is working the dough well and the flavor of the lemons.)
After the dough is well-blended, grab a handful and roll it out into a 2-inch wide tube of dough, about 8 to 10 inches long, and form into a circle.
Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until light brown, about 20 minutes, or more if needed.
Cool on wire racks.
Do not eat until Easter Sunday morning.
Note: These taralli are normally a bit on the dry side. Therefore, they are perfect for dunking in tea or coffee.