We arrived in Turin one late autumn afternoon. Upon entering our charming home away from home, Christina, our host, showed me into the black-and-white tiled kitchen. She left me a few books on Piedmont's rich cuisine she thought I might like, and as she left, I noticed a plate, covered in an embroidered square handkerchief.
I took a peek. Underneath were these fragrant, buttery, flaky twists. I took a bite of one and was instantly hooked: The slightly sticky bottoms were covered in caramelized sugar, while the rest was crunchy and crumbly. I texted Christina to find out what these amazing things were. “They're torcetti,” she replied. And during the rest of my weekend in Turin, I couldn't walk past a bakery without stopping to get a bag of torcèt, as they're known in Piedmont.
Piedmont, the region that's also known for its grissini, certainly knows breadsticks. And torcetti are essentially breadsticks (with a bit of butter added for its distinct flakiness), rolled in sugar, twisted into a drop shape and baked. They're eaten throughout the day—for breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or even after dinner, perhaps with some dessert wine.
Born in the old communal woodfired ovens of the countryside north of Turin, torcetti were a special treat made for children while the adults busied themselves with baking bread.
The torcetti from the Valley of Biella (known as “torcetti biellese”) are the most famous, though many variations and methods exist . Older versions are called “torchietti” and can be found in a Piedmont dessert books from the late 1700s. Even the chef Giovanni Vialardi, who cooked for the Savoy royal family, lists three versions of them in his 1854 cookbook under the topic of “Modern Pastry Making” (which, for the record, is a feat of a cookbook with 2000 recipes).
Some versions skip the yeast and make them more like cookies, with baking soda acting as the rising agent. These are like instant torcetti, as you don't need to wait for the dough to rise. However I like the traditional version using bread dough, and it's no extra work, you just need time ting or two risings. I suggest doing the second rise overnight, popping the bowl into the fridge and let the the dough work while you're sleeping. The next morning, the buttery dough, thanks to the chill of the fridge, is also easier to handle. And you'll have warm torcetti to dip into your morning coffee—the best kind of buongiorno.
- 1 teaspoon (7 grams) active dry yeast (or 18 grams fresh yeast)
- 1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water, or as needed
- 4 cups (500 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup (170 grams or 6 ounces) unsalted European-style butter, softened
Have you made torcetti before? Tell us in the comments.