Romance and eroticism, a magic gondola ride through the canals lined with Renaissance palaces, a sunset on Piazza San Marco, kisses on the Bridge of Sighs from which the lock keys are thrown into the canal to seal an eternal love.
Casanova and Cupid reigned supreme! But where am I? At La Serenissima also known as Venice of course!
Yes, I am taking you today to the ultimate city of love, for one of the most iconic Venetian recipes: baicoli. Let’s go to Italy!
But first, let’s talk about this city known for its famous loves but also for its promiscuous debauchery between Georges Sand and Alfred de Musset as well as Giorgio Baffo and Casanova.
Founded in the Middle Ages when about a hundred islands were joined by nearly 400 bridges going over 177 canals, the historical center of Venice covers only 3 sq mi. Tangled canals, unusual street corners, dead ends, cul-de-sac, secret courtyards. Venice is as complex as its 1500 years of history!
But la Serenissima is not that only the city of love. With its 95 churches and 20 museums, all overflowing with paintings and sculptures, it is a leading global art center and is as much a work of art by itself as all those it contains.
Just as Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, Venice was originally a maritime republic (the Republic of Venice). All dominated trade in the Mediterranean and were major naval powers. But it was the only maritime empire to stand the test of time and never bend under foreign domination until Bonaparte.
In the thirteenth century, Venice dominated much of the Adriatic, Dalmatia, Istria coasts, many of the Aegean islands, Cyprus and Corfu. It was the main military and commercial power in the Middle East and played a leading role in trading between the Western, Eastern, Muslim or Byzantine Mediterranean.
From the sixteenth century, the Venetian Republic experienced a phase of decline and regression but it was overshadowed by an extraordinary artistic expansion, before disappearing in 1797 under the blows of the French general Napoleon Bonaparte. Venice and what remained of its territorial area came under the sovereignty of Austria, before it was ceded to Italy in 1866.
Who says maritime city says boats, and it is at sea that my baicoli will take you today! Baicoli are “THE” biscuits of la Serenissima!
These are small, slightly sweet rod-shaped focaccia, cut into thin slices after cooking, and cooked a second time.
Baicoli were invented in Venice in the eighteenth century by a baker from the famous Venetian Campo Santa Margherita (Saint Marguerite square). Nothing embodies more the Venetian tradition of biscottare (biscuit) than baicoli. But where does that name come from?
The name comes from the dialect baicoli which refers to sea bass because of its shape similar to that of the small sea bass that can be found in the lagoon, elongated and slightly flattened shape and resembling a baicoli before cutting.
There was never a shortage of baicoli in on ships whether merchants or war ships, as bacioli can be stored for a very long time.
There is no Venetian pantry without baicoli whether homemade or purchased. If you want to buy this traditional dessert now, you can find them in historical boxes imagined and produced by Angelo Colussi in 1880 and representing an offering of love to a woman. Ah those Italians! Love and seduction even on cookie boxes!
And on the packaging of these cupcakes you can read this poem every Venetian, old or young, knows by heart:
Non c’è a questo mondo,
no, più bel biscotto, più sottile, più dolce,
più leggero e sano da intingere nella tazzina,
o nel bicchiere del baicolo nostro veneziano.
There isn’t a more beautiful biscuit in this world,
Finer, softer, lighter, and healthier,
To dip in the chocolate cup or glass of wine,
Than our Venetian baicolo.
Even if in Venice, baicoli is “the” cookie, I personally found that it tasted more like a cracker. I never get tired by the pleasures of Italian cuisine! I loved the baicoli as much as I loved the befanini, the baci di dama and the Venetian tiramisù, all of this accompanied by a refreshing granita!
- 3 cups flour
- 4 tablespoons butter , soft
- 4 tablespoons butter , melted
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ¾ cup milk
- Juice of 1 orange (optional)
- 1 vanilla pod , split and scraped
- 2 pinches salt
- 1 egg white
Put the yeast in milk warmed to about 90F/36C..
Make a well with ½ cup (70g) of flour and pour the milk and yeast mixture in the center.
- Knead for a few minutes.
- Form a ball, cut crosswise with a knife and let it rise at room temperature for 40 minutes covered with a cloth and away from drafts.
- Meanwhile, beat the egg white until stiff peaks form.
- When the ball has doubled in volume, put it on the countertop, incorporate the soft butter, a pinch of salt, the melted butter, the beaten egg white, the orange juice and the remaining flour premixed with the sugar.
- Knead vigorously for ten minutes, adding warm milk if necessary to get a nice, smooth dough.
Divide into 4 parts, roll each part into a 12-inch long and 3-inch diameter (30x8cm) sausage by giving them an oval shape and place on a baking sheet buttered and floured or lined with parchment paper. Leave enough space between the rolls.
- Cover with a cloth and let them rise again for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 300F/150C.
Bake the rolls for 10 minutes at 300F/150C, and for 5 minutes at 410F/210C, so that the dough does not form a thick crust.
- Cool for 3 to 4 hours.
Slice the rolls with an extremely sharp knife at an angle into slices of 1/8 inch (3mm) and arrange on a baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 210F/100C, and bake again for 10 to 12 minutes.