Lost

What happens when a recipe dies with a family member? In my case, there are several well intentioned attempts to recreate it which are slightly off. Everyone who remembers that particular recipe tries to be helpful by offering suggestions born of half faded memories. Inevitably, the inablility to get it just right is too frustrating and one wishes they had paid closer attention when the recipe was still in active use. There is a sadness in not being able to bring this part of someone you love back to life. For almost a decade now, I have been trying to recreate an Italian cookie that my grandmother used to make. They were a soft, almost cake-like cookies twisted into a loose knot with a glaze of pink frosting. I couldn’t remember the Italian name for them; they began with a “t” and there was a rolled “r” in there somewhere. While my granmother was alive I did write down the recipe but lent it to a relative and never saw it again (these were the days before everyone had a computer and email). I’ve looked through many Italian cook books for clues and if I happened to see something resembling my grandmother’s cookies in a bakery, I would try them. No dice. A few years ago I did some online sleuthing and still could not figure it out. Last year my sister sent an email with the closest recipe we’ve been able to find. The key ingredient here was cream cheese. Before this I’d never seen a recipe for Italian knot cookies with this crucial ingredient and I was very hopeful. After tweaking the amount of cream cheese we had sucess at last! This year I did more researching online and there seems to be much more information now. The real name for these cookies is “Taralli” and it seems that everyone has a different recipe for them. The knot shape and the icing are pretty consistant but there are many variations with different flavoring- lemon, orange or anise. I always like that they were a subtle cookie and I probaly won’t deviate into other territory. Did the cream cheese evolved as a substitute for vegetable oil or lard, perhaps for marscapone that could not be found? I may never know for sure.

Italian Knot Cookies, Taralli

12 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

5 tsp. baking powder

5 cups flour

Sift flour and baking powder, set aside. In a large bowl combine the cream cheese and butter with a mixer. Add sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating until fluffy. Add flour mixture. You may have to stir by hand at the end. Form dough into a large ball and let sit for a few minutes. If dough is too soft, add more flour, a little at a time. Shape small pieces of dough into knot shape by rolling between hands into a rope and twisting. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350F until lightly browned on bottom, about 10 minutes. Do *not* overbake. Cookies will not be brown on top when done. Cool on wire racks and dip into icing (powdered sugar and milk).

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