A mother is always the beginning. She is how things begin.” —Unknown
The famous Renaissance artist known as Botticelli was born in Florence when his mother was 40 years old. He was nicknamed Botticelli which means “little barrels” by his family. A special fondness for his mother must have inspired him to create many of the paintings of women and mothers for which he is well known. In Botticelli’s eyes, women are filled with grace, beauty and strength. Commentaries on his work note that there is a warmth and tenderness between mother and child that is distinctive of Botticelli.
In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence hang two of Botticelli’s best known works of art, Primavera and the Birth of Venus. Both remind me of the exceptional role women have in Italy. In a culture surrounded by art and beauty, women are valued as a natural resource. The historical influence of women on Italian society and family values goes back to the ancient Etruscans where women were described as dignified, charming and free, caring for their families with great attention. Cultivating and preparing wholesome foods, Etruscan families enjoyed a well laid table and that heritage can still be seen on the tables of Italy today.
During the Renaissance, the Florentine ideal of women and motherhood valued not only beauty but education as well. In wealthier families, women were taught the Classical subjects to please their husbands with intelligent conversation. Besides this, in practically-minded Florence a woman had to know how to run a household. She had to be thrifty, keep a clean house and give sound direction to the servants. All admirable traits with a skill-set that trickled down with cultural expectations of women’s roles in Italian society. Today’s Italian mothers still embrace the concept of family and lovingly nurture their children, but also have careers and husbands work mutually in the life of the family and raising of children.
The women of Italy are a significant part of Italian culture and living where Mothers are still the center of the universe and Italian children and husbands happily orbit around them enjoying the attention and unconditional love of la mamma.
Bocconotti are one bite Italian cookies made in the shape of a coffee cup covered with a small lid of pastry. Made from shortcrust pastry (pastafrolla) they are popular at Christmas but also enjoyed at other times of the year. Bocco (a mouthful) is a reference to their small size which means they could literally be eaten in one bite hence the name bocconotti meaning "small bites". They can be filled with a variety of fillings including a traditional filling of chocolate and coffee or a chocolate, orange and hazelnut ganache.Sometimes filled with custard, other popular fillings include fig or clementine jam or cherry preserves.
Our version is made with Morello cherry jam from Les Confitures à l'Ancienne. The dark, crimson color of Morello cherries is preserved at their best in this jam slowly cooked in traditional copper cauldrons for a rich, robust flavor that tastes just as it did in times gone by.
Recipe for Morello Cherry Bocconotti
2 cups pastry flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, cold and cut into ½” cubes
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
2 Tablespoons confectioners sugar
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Turn the mixer to low to combine the ingredients. Add the chilled cubed butter and mix on medium-low speed until the butter becomes the size of small peas. Add the egg, and then the egg yolk, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl using a spatula and continue to mix on medium-low just until the dough comes together to form a ball.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and from it into a round disk about 1” thick. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 24 mini tart molds or mini muffin pans with cooking spray, or butter. Break off a tablespoon of chilled dough and form it into a ball. Press the dough into the base of the mini tart mold or muffin tin and evenly press it up against the sides. Trim off any excess dough using a paring knife. Repeat with the remaining molds.
Make the egg wash: in a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and cream. Set aside. Fill each tartlet with a rounded tablespoon of cherry jam and lightly brush the edges of the tartlets with the egg wash using a pastry brush.
Take the remaining dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough to ¼” thickness. Using a shot glass (or a 2” pastry cutter), cut out 24 tart “lids.” Place the lids over the filled tartlets and press the dough around the edges of the molds to seal the cookies. Bake the cookies for 18 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes.Transfer the cookies to a baking rack to cool completely. Once completely cool, dust with powdered sugar and serve.