Taralli Napoletani: Neapolitan Salty Ring Cookies

In southern Italy, taralli come in many sizes and flavors. These are typical Neapolitan ones sometimes referred to in Neapolitan dialect as scaldatelli – little boiled things.

Makes about 30 taralli

3/4 cup warm water, about 110˚F

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast

1/4 cup olive oil

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 large rectangular cooling racks, turned upside down and lightly oiled

  1. For the dough, pour the water into a bowl and whisk in the yeast. Whisk in the oil.
  2. Put the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the liquid and pulse again until the dough forms a ball. Let the processor run continuously for about 10 seconds to knead the dough.
  3. Invert the dough to an oiled bowl and carefully remove the blade. Turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
  4. After the dough has risen, scrape it out of the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and use a bench scraper or knife to cut it into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough under the palms of your hand to a 6-inch cylinder. Roll one of the cylinders to a 5-inch length and cut into 1-inch pieces. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough to make 30 equal pieces in all.
  5. One at a time, roll each piece of dough under the palms of your hands to make an 8-inch strand. Join the ends together to make a circle, pressing firmly to seal. Line up the formed taralli on a lightly floured work surface or floured jelly-roll pans, making sure they do not touch each other.
  6. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375˚F.
  7. Fill a large pot (such as one in which you would cook pasta) 3/4 full of water. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Set one of the oiled cooling racks on the stovetop (put a pan under it to catch drips) next to the pan of boiling water. Drop the taralli, 6 or 8 at a time, into the boiling water and remove them with a skimmer as soon as they float to the surface. Arrange the taralli about 1 inch apart in all directions, on the prepared rack. Repeat until all of the taralli have been boiled and arranged on the racks.
  8. Bake the taralli until they are golden and crispy, about 30 minutes. About halfway through baking, move the rack from the upper third of the oven to the lower third, and the rack from the lower third to the upper third. Cool the taralli on the racks they baked on.

Serving: The traditional accompaniment to taralli is a glass of wine. You may serve them as hors d’oeuvres or as a snack.

Storage: After the taralli have cooled completely, store them in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover. They last almost indefinitely.