Thursday, December 12, 2013

Biscuit tortoni and runzas

If I don't convince you to make biscuit tortoni at your soonest possible convenience, I haven't done my job.

As you can see, biscuit tortoni is lovely looking. It's rich and clean-tasting, but also a little rummy. The texture is that of a firm ice cream. Amanda Hesser wrote about it beautifully a few years ago in the New York Times. In Classic Desserts Richard Olney states that the dish was invented in 1798 by a Neapolitan restaurateur in Paris named Tortoni. According to Caroline and Robin Weir, authors of a big, authoritative book on ice cream, this is incorrect. I read their minutely detailed and meandering two-page history of biscuit tortoni from which I gleaned this: Someone invented biscuit tortoni somewhere, probably at some point during the 19th century. It is likely called "biscuit" because it comes from a line of frozen desserts flavored with crumbled breads, cakes, and biscuits. The Weirs aren't really sure about why it's called "tortoni." The end.

There are lots of biscuit tortoni recipes out there. The Weir recipe calls for cream, maraschino, egg yolks, sugar, and kirsch. Into the custard you can crumble shortbread, graham crackers or almond macaroons. They write that the dessert has "the typical, rich, hedonistic flavour of the Victorian period."

Richard Olney plucked the recipe for Classic Desserts from American Cooking: The Melting Pot and it is very different from the one in the Weir book. It is fabulous and I like to think that it, too, has the rich, hedonistic flavour of the Victorian period.

BISCUIT TORTONI, adapted from Classic Desserts

1/4 cup dark rum
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 cup very dry almond macaroon crumbs (I used this recipe and then broke the cookies up with a rolling pin)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds OR more macaroon crumbs
6 candied cherries, optional (but pretty)

1. Put cupcake liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. In a bowl, stir together 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, the macaroon crumbs, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
2. When the mixture is cold, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream until it thickens and forms soft peaks. Gently fold it into the macaroon mixture.
3. Fill the paper liners with this mixture. Do it neatly. Sprinkle with a few almonds, wrap the whole pan tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer.  Freeze for a few hours, until completely firm.
4. When you serve them, put half of a cherry on each dessert. Makes 12.

And with the biscuit tortoni triumph, I'm done with my official five-recipe foray into Classic Desserts. It's a phenomenal book. The biscuit tortoni and the syllabub recipes -- jewels! The other three recipes I tried (tea cream, crepes suzette, butterscotch parfait) were all very good. You can buy a copy of Classic Desserts at evil amazon for one penny plus $3.99 shipping. Friends, this is a deal you should not pass up.

We're on to Soups now and I'm not too psyched.

On another subject, I made runzas (yeast dough, beef-spinach filling) using the recipe in the The New Midwestern Table.

They reminded me a little bit of piroshki and a little bit of Chinese barbecued pork buns and they were tasty, but breadier than Owen and I would have liked. Mark said they were "perfect." But I think I'll try making piroshki before revisiting runzas. 


  1. Mmmm. Looks rich and delicious, but you're going to have to persuade me on the cherry on top. Do you think this is unmoldable, if put in something other than a cupcake paper?

    1. I don't know if it would unmold. Some of the cookie crumbs seemed to sink to the bottom in a layer. You could try. Candied cherries are for looks only! And if you don't like the looks, skip 'em.

  2. I just wanted to let you know I finished your book (recommended by another blogger I know), and I was in absolute stitches about the goats, in the most awkward of situations. but it was delightful! I want to make bitters now. And many other things, i can't return it to the library til I've reviewed it again and made sure I know what you shall be the reference on!

    1. I wish I could beam you my bitters ingredients. I don't need to make any more, ever. My children will be inheriting bitters.
      I'm glad you got a laugh out of the book.

  3. Biscuit Tortoni was my absolutely favorite childhood dessert which vanished from my life upon moving to California. No one had ever heard of it here but it was one of two desserts (Neapolitan ice cream was the other) on the complete dinner menu of every Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. Thank you for finding it and bringing it back to me. I will make it very soon. I expect that my childhood tortoni crumbles were anise biscotti or almond cookies. Thank you Thank you. For a long while I thought I had only dreamed this dessert.

    1. Oh good!! What about spumoni? That's another vanished Italian restaurant dessert. All supplanted by tiramisu.

    2. Spumoni was the only dessert offered at the Italian restaurant my family went to when I was a kid (Two Guys from Italy.) Before that one, until the guy moved back to Italy, we went to one called The Famous Guy from Italy, where they served your bill on a tray with those little Italian nougat candies in boxes with portraits of Italian nobility on them. I was fascinated by them, though at the time I didn't like the candy; it was too complex for my immature taste buds. Years later I learned to make something very similar and it is now my favorite thing, to the point that I am contemplating going into business making nougat. My license plate says nougatt.

      So what exactly is spumoni? The kind from Two Guys was I think rum flavored and full of candied peel and glade cherries and I hated it. The kind from the Spaghetti Factory is like neapolitan but with chocolate, black cherry and pistachio ice creams swirled together, and that kind is wonderful. That's the kind I make. But it's weird that the two totally different ice creams are called the same name.

  4. I don't see where you add the rum in the Biscuit Tortoni recipe. I think it was left out?