The first time I have been offered a Befanino, I couldn’t help to smile. How could you refuse a biscuit with such a funny and irresistible name? According to the Italian folkrore, Befana is an ugly old woman who traditionally delivers treats to children on Epiphany, and these biscuits take their name right after this round-shouldered lady. Since the first bite, I happily took the habit of eating Befanini at the beginning of the new year.
For those who never heard about them, they are typical biscuits baked for the 6th of January (luckily they are available for a longer period) in Versilia. They are made of a few and simple ingredients, shaped in different ways and they are both plain, or decorated with colorful sugar pearls.
In Viareggio they are traditionally flavoured with anise seeds, but if you look around in different forni or pasticcerie, you easily realize there are many versions, and here I’m proposing mine. This is not a family recipe, but I was inspired by the French sablés nantais, which I found pretty similar to the Befanini I prefer in town.
If you live in Versilia, or you come here on holiday, I would suggest to taste Befanini made by Antica Pasticceria Gambalunga, a place you should visit for its historical beauty, or the one baked by Dolci in Vetrina. They are absolutely my favourites: big, correctly flavoured with anise seeds and they just melt in your mouth. A real goodness.
BEFANINI FROM VIAREGGIO
400 g flour
200 g softened butter (take it out of the fridge one hour before)
100 g sugar
100 g icing sugar
1 egg + 1 extra egg to brush
3 egg yolks
10-15 g anise seeds (the quantity depends how intense you want the flavour)
2 teaspoons anise-flavoured liqueur
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
Cream the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon (or in a stand mixer).
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and the whole egg, and mix well together with the liqueur.
Crush the anise seeds and add them to the sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Add these last ingredients to the batter and mix well.
Using a spatula, put the dough on a plastic wrap and flatten it to one-cm-thick rectangle.
Let it rest in the fridge for about 2 hours.
Cut the dough into two pieces and roll out the pastry, one half at a time, between 2 sheets of slightly floured non-stick baking paper to 4 mm thick. The dough tends be soft and sticky, so I prefer to place the rolled pastry in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
When the dough is cold, remove the baking paper and on a floured board, cut out your Befanini biscuits.
Place Befanini on baking tray covered with baking paper, brisk an egg with a pinch of salt and brush the top of the biscuits. With the tines of a fork, create a crisscross pattern; otherwise cover with colorful sugar pearls.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°190° for about 12 minutes. Baking time could vary, so keep checking!
- Antica Pasticceria Gambalunga
Via Sant’Andrea 34, Viareggio (LU)
- Dolci in Vetrina
Via Verdi 71, Viareggio (LU)
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