Traditional Tuscan Rosh Hashanah Cookies

— by Ronit Treatman

“Evictions?!  Who gives a cookie a name like that?” I asked Alessandra Rovati.  Rovati, the founder of Dinner in Venice, shared her traditional Tuscan recipe for Rosh Hashanah with me.

More after the jump.  
She described Sfratti, rolled cookies filled with nuts and dried fruits.  “Sfratti means “evictions” in Italian.  These cookies, in their original version (without the figs and candied fruit, only with honey and walnuts), are said to have Jewish origins.  Sfratti are served for Christmas in several Tuscan towns from Pitigliano to Sorana. Apparently their shape is a reminder of the sticks that landlords used to drive the Jews away from their communities. Jews in many areas of Central Italy serve them on Rosh Hashanah,” she explained.  “Why would they want to remember that when they are celebrating the New Year?” I asked her. “It is the custom of the Jews of Italy to temper happiness with memories of suffering, just as we temper mourning with hope of future redemption.  That is why we often mix vinegar with honey.  I am thinking of a tradition we have of saving the candle we use to read Lamentations on Tisha BeAv until Hanukka, when it becomes the Shamash to light the menorah.  Thus tying the holiday that commemorates the destruction of the Temple with the one that celebrates its rededication, and reminding us that there should be hope even in despair.”

Tuscan Sfratti
Adapted from Dinner in Venice

  • 3 cups flour

  • 1 cup sugar

  • A pinch of salt

  • 1/3 cup cold margarine or cold butter
  • 2/3 cup marsala or other sweet wine

  • 2/3 cup honey

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • A pinch of ground cloves, or nutmeg (optional)

  • A pinch of black pepper

  • 3/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or other nuts
  • 3/4 cups mixed dried and candied fruit (dried figs, raisins, candied orange or your favorite type/s), finely chopped
  • Grated zest of one lemon or mix of lemon and orange zest

  • 1 egg yolk
  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt; add the margarine or butter; process until crumbly. Add the sweet wine, and process until it holds together. Roll the dough into a ball. Divide the dough in two parts, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. In the meantime, heat the honey in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil, add the spices, and simmer until syrupy (it forms a ribbon when a spoon is lifted): this should take between 5 and 15 minutes.
  3. Add the nuts the dried fruit, and the lemon or/and orange zest, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Allow to cool off until you can touch it without burning your fingers.
  4. On a floured surface, roll the honey filling into 6 long ropes, working quickly before it hardens. Now divide the dough into 6 rectangles.
  5. Roll out each piece on a floured surface into a long rectangle (about 4″x12″ or even longer) and lay a piece of filling along the center of each piece. Roll up the dough around the filling (kind of like a Moroccan cigar). Now cut the long cylinders into shorter cookies. I’ve seen them cut shorter (about 1 inch) but I make them longer, like a finger.
  6. Place the cookies on a greased baking sheet (or lined with parchment) and brush them with the egg, mixed with a couple teaspoons of water. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden, in a pre-heated 375 F oven.

Photo credit: Dinner in Venice.