Nonna Alfia’s biscuits


nonnaalfiaWhen my parents came to Australia a few decades back, they didn’t know a word of English, not even hello. In their tiny villages in Italy back then, studying more than one language wasn’t exactly on offer. I remember Mamma Rosa telling me when she arrived here that she saw the world “sale” in several shop windows. “Sale” in Italian, pronounced sal-eh, means salt; confusion reigned, why were all these stores selling salt, even dress shops?

Between them they did not have much family here, my father in particular, so as newlyweds they forged friendships with other young newly migrated Italian couples, together figuring out the more bewildering aspects of their adopted home. Those friendships would last decades and now they enjoy the freedom of their empty nests, overseas travel, and swapping stories of their grandchildren, relishing the Nonna and Nonno titles. The women halves of these couples – Comare, as we call them, a word Southern Italians use traditionally referring to your Godmother but often bestowed on close family friends – along with Mamma Rosa, are like the Italian version of the women in the movie Steel Magnolias – strong, loyal, hardworking, true. I love them all dearly.

Once, many years ago at the house of one Comare, I tried these biscuits that I loved, they were made by her mother, Alfia. From then on, each time her mother made them, a thoughtful bunch wrapped in foil would be bought over to Mamma Rosa’s just for me. I asked Alfia’s granddaughter for the recipe, so here they are, Nonna Alfia’s biscuits. The detail was light (she is now 86) and my first batch wasn’t quite right.  I tried a half batch the next time and did a little tinkering, but here is the end result. I used a heaped tablespoon to measure them out, which does make them quite big, if you want them more dainty use half a tablespoon.

2 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp Sambuca (or other liquor)
100ml orange juice
600g self raising flour
Icing sugar, for dusting

Making them
Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees fan forced.
Whisk eggs and sugar until combined. Add milk, juice, vanilla and liquour and whisk till combined. Fold in flour until combined. Using a spoon or icecream scoop of desired size, scoop out the dough and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper into a circle and flatten slightly. Repeat until all the mixture is used. Dust liberally with icing sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.

4 thoughts on “Nonna Alfia’s biscuits

  1. Francesca

    I love this post signorina. With courage in their cases, all those years ago, the stories of the southern Italian migrants are of strong people who worked hard. And i biscotti are on my list for this week. Bellissimo.

      1. Francesca

        Yes, you should, they are worth recording and documenting. On a similar theme, I translated a long autobiography on experiences from that era called , in Italian, “Piccola Quercia, and in English, “The Story of a Migrant” by Olga D’albero Giuliani, who came from Naples in the early 50s.
        There is a great book out called “With courage on their Cases: with really good photographs and records. You can get a copy in your library or from CoAsIt in Carlton, Melbourne.

        Or a visit to the Immigration Museum in Melbourne also has the most wonderful displays based on Italian Immigration, as well as a great library.


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