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The Taralli of Gambatesa

In the village of Gambatesa in southern Italy, taralli are unsweet biscuit rings made in an unusual way: the rings of dough are boiled in water before baking. There is no leaven in the dough, but there is olive oil and dry white wine.

Home-made taralli of Gambatesa, 21 KB

The Taralli of Gambatesa
Ingredients and Method

Make a soft dough: add the last 1/2 cup of flour slowly and only as needed (The dough should not be stiff), and don't work the dough as if you wanted to make it as elastic as bread dough. Divide the dough into walnut-sized lumps and roll these under your palms into ropes that you shape into rings. (The rings should be 1/2 inch thick and the holes at least 1-1/2 inches across.) Drop the rings a few at a time into a deep pot of boiling water, and remove them when they rise to the surface. Let the rings cool completely, and then bake them in a hot oven until they are golden to golden-brown in color.

Taralli have a strange appearance, produced by the dough being boiled before baking. That is, the rings tend to have one or two smooth depressions running around their lengths. And often they have a strange texture or crunch, crisp but crisp as if they were stale.

Translations:

Notes: the measurements are all more-or-less. There is a printable version of the above recipe.

Gambatesa on the map of Italy, 2 KB
Gambatesa is a village in central southern Italy between Naples and Rome.

The taralli in the photograph above were made by Angelo Abiuso's mother. See her recipe for the taralli of Gambatesa, the village where she was born. Taralli were the only pastry the poor could prepare at home, first because they were poor (The ingredients are only rancid olive oil, vinegary wine, flour and salt), and second because most families did not have ovens in their homes, although they did have a place to boil water, and once boiled the taralli did not need to be baked right away (This may or may not be why this method was invented).

Taralli also have an unusual texture, not fully crisp, almost stale. There is nothing quite like them.

Although the taralli made in Gambatesa are all the same size (You can only push about three small fingers into the hole at the center), there are as many shapes as there are families in Gambatesa. Some families make their taralli much more oval than round (but the pinched-inward sides do not touch each other).

Store-made taralli with fennel seed from Gambatesa, 23 KB

This photograph is of store-made Taralli with Fennel Seeds from Gambatesa (Taralli coi semi di finocchio). But these taralli have a strong anise flavor (intensified by the oil) and may not go well with what you are drinking; adding seed is not traditional in Gambatesa.

I visited Gambatesa for one week in August 1971 (for the Feast of the Assumption, Ferragosto). The taralli I remembered were made by Salvatore Valente's wife Lucia Tirro. There was always a basket of them on the dining table. (Photographs of homemade taralli, from July 2007.)

Related Page: in Gambatesa they also make -- by the same method of first boiling in water and then baking in the oven -- biscuits that are shaped like a huge tarallo called Biscotti con le uova ("Egg Biscuits"). This is how they are made step by step by Angelo Abiuso's mother.


Taralli Variations

Taralli can also be made from the dough of pane comune, i.e. from a simple dough of flour, water, yeast and salt. However, it is very hard to make ropes that are of even thickness, and therefore that bake evenly, using this dough.

Taralli from Naples-Campania

The following is roughly based on a recipe from Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking (1969).

• 2 tsp active dry yeast
• 1 cup (8 oz) warm water (i.e. water at the temperature required to activate the yeast)
• 2-1/2 cups (12 oz) all-purpose flour (about)
• 1/2 tsp salt

Make a soft dough, as for pizza. Divide into 24 pieces, about the size of walnuts. Roll under your palms into 1/4 inch thick ropes. Shape into rings, pinching ends firmly together. Put on a floured baking-sheet. Let rise 1 hour, about half way to double. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350° F.  "They must be crisp," the author says.

The above bread rings are not the taralli of Gambatesa, but they are good. Note that they are not boiled in water before baking.

Notes: instead of dividing the dough into pieces before shaping, you could roll the entire dough under your palms into a very long rope, and then slice this rope into lengths and form rings; make a ring from a walnut-sized piece of dough first so that you can judge how long the lengths should be. Or if you divide the dough into pieces before shaping, you could form the rings by poking a hole though the middle of each "walnut" and then moving your index finger (well-floured) in a circular motion inside the hole to widen it.

Tarallini

Tarallini, Gambatesa, 24 KB

These taralli are for the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, who is venerated in Gambatesa. These taralli are made by women in Gambatesa and they are sold in every shop in the village, and the money they are sold for goes to the church for the feast day.

Festività della
Madonna della Vittoria

Tarallini

Ingredienti: Farina "0",
Olio d'oliva, Sale, Acqua.

Peso all'origine gr. 500

The ingredients are: Grade "0" wheat flour, olive oil, salt, and water. Grade "0" is similar to "all-purpose flour", although softer (but not nearly so soft as pastry or cake flour).


Notes about Pizza Dough

Once upon a time, Internet searches looking for a "recipe for pizza dough without yeast" were directed to this page. And so may years ago I added these notes. You could use Ada Boni's recipe above if you liked; just leave out the yeast. In some places in southern Italy that is what they do. But then you must stretch or roll the dough very thin and eat the pizza while it is quite hot.

If you liked you could also replace a small part of the dough's water with olive oil; people often do this when they make pizza dough at home, and the oil will somewhat leaven the dough when it is baked.

On the other hand, if you wanted to leaven the dough but did not have yeast in the house, you could use baking powder. Add 1-1/2 tsp of baking powder to each cup of flour you use.

You just have to learn by "try and error". Don't be afraid of it; there isn't a lot you can do wrong.

The Three-Fifths (or Two-Fifths) Rule

Pane comune ("ordinary, everyday bread") is made from what bakers call a "lean dough" -- i.e. a dough of only flour, water, yeast and salt. If you make this dough in small quantities, you can expect about 3/5 of the dough's weight to come from the flour, and about 2/5 of the dough's weight to come from the water; yeast and salt will account for almost nothing.

So, for example, if you wanted to make two pizzas from 24 ounces (680 grams) of dough -- because 12 ounces is a good size for the round or rectangular baking sheets people used to have at home (about 16 x 12 inches = 40 x 30 cm) -- you should start with 9-1/2 oz (270 grams, or, a scant 1-1/4 cups) of water and expect to add about 14-1/2 oz (410 grams, or, 3 cups) of flour to it. Or vice versa: you could start with about 14-1/2 oz of flour and expect to add about 9-1/2 oz of water. (You could leave the yeast, and also the salt, out if you really wanted to, but remember then to either add oil or to use baking powder and to roll the dough very thin.)

This 60%-flour + 40%-water dough weight rule is an especially useful guide for making larger amounts of dough -- say, if you were making 5 or 6 pizzas and you wanted an idea of how much flour you would need. (The amount of water wouldn't need to be measured; just use enough water to make a softer rather than a stiffer dough).

Conversely, you could start with the amount of water you expected to need for the dough and slowly add flour to it (Again, the flour wouldn't need to be measured). I myself always use the 2/5th rule: I start by measuring the water rather than the flour. But you still need to calculate whether or not you have enough flour on hand to make the dough; you can always add flour, but you cannot remove water.

Bulk Fermentation

When you make a lean yeast dough, you start by mixing flour and water and salt with yeast (Don't use more than is needed; for example, three pounds of dough does not need three times as much yeast as one pound; indeed, it doesn't need much more at all), until you have something firm enough to knead into a smooth lump. You let this lump rise until it doubles in bulk (volume). -- This is called "bulk fermentation" and it is essential to the taste and especially the open texture of bread; no "dough conditioners" can do this work, and skipping the step of bulk fermentation is the reason that most of the bread you can buy at the store has no body (That and the machines that crush the life out of the dough when it is divided by volume to form loaves).

If you are making pizza without yeast or if you are using baking powder (Here you must increase the amount of baking powder by the same factor as you increase the amount of flour; for example three pounds of dough does require three times as much baking powder as one pound of dough does), you cannot bulk ferment the dough, but if you let the dough rest for about 20 minutes after you knead it, the dough should be easier for you to stretch. (Don't re-knead the dough after it rests or it will tighten up; you can be rough when you are kneading, but at this point you must be gentle with the dough.)


The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/taralli.html
Last revised: 6 January 2008 : 2008-01-06 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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