Occhi di Bue, Italian Sweet Treats are delicious shortbread cookies filled either with jam or chocolate that you can find in every pasticceria, bakery, in Rome. They are my absolute favourite childhood treat. Occhi di Bue can be translated as “Bull’s (Ox) Eyes” and if you look closer, they kind of look like it.
Song of the day: the remake of “True colors” by Justine Timberlake and Anna Kendrick.
I am not sure if Occhi di Bue are popular in other Regions of Italy other than Rome, but I guess so. I can speak of Rome because there is where I was born and lived all my life until I met my husband and came to Canada in my 40’s. When I was a teenager, I would stop for an afternoon “pick me up” in one of the pasticcerie in the neighbourhood where I lived and it consisted, most of the times, in having an Occhio di Bue. Among all the sweets dazzling me, I would choose the same treat almost every time, but I would change the filling, opting one day for the jam (apricot), and another for the chocolate (Nutella). I would bite in that crumbly, buttery pastafrolla (shortbread), with icing sugar flying on my nose and clothes, sticking to my fingers, and when I reached the middle of the cookie and that soft pillowy rich sweet filling, I closed my eyes in pure delight.
Pasticcerie, bakeries, in Italy, are a very special place: a paradise of pasticcini (tea cookies), lingue di gatto, brutti ma buoni, cannoli, tarts, petits fours, crostate, and cakes, with regional specialties to add to the choice. They are the place to go if you need a fancy cake for a birthday or any other special occasion; they are there if you need to bring a dessert to a dinner party, allowing you to mix and match a tray of sweets for your guests. And they are the place to go for an indulgent snack. I would stop after my ballet class, after studying at a friend’s house, during a passeggiata (walk) in the neighbourhood with my family or friends. Sometimes I would stop before going to school and Occhio di Bue would be the snack on my break. After all, my sweet tooth is a not a secret, lol. Some pasticcerie are also cafés, so you can stop for a cappuccino and a sweet treat for breakfast on your way to school or work (just a reminder that in Italy breakfast is a sweet affair). I would strongly recommend you check a pasticceria, well, maybe more than one, if you happen to be in Italy. Luckily for me, also in Edmonton, in the last couple of years, European-style bakeries and cafés are spreading widely. They are still my favourite place to go on a Saturday breakfast outing with my husband, or a stop for a snack or after dinner sweet treat.
Unfortunately, though, most of these Italian sweets are not on the menu of Canadian cafés, including these Occhi di Bue. Well, that gave me an opportunity to make them myself.
Occhi di Bue are simple and unpretentious: a buttery, crumbly, sweet pastafrolla, shortbread pastry, that sandwiches a generous amount of jam or Nutella. The cookies are quite large, I used a 3″ (7.5 cm) round biscuit cutter for the base and top outside diameter. Then, to make the centre hole on the top cookie I did not have a proper cutter, and as usual, beckon Loreto for some ideas. Loreto being quick on his feet came up with a solution, a shot glass measuring 1.5″ (4 cm) at the mouth. It worked out well. Hopefully, you’ll have all the combination cookie cutters or a solution orientated husband like mine, lol.
In Italy, you can find the miniature version of these cookies, displayed among the pasticcini da the (tea cookies), and the bigger version I used to have as a snack and that I reproduced here. The end result was ten Occhi di Bue.
The jam plays an important role. It doesn’t have to be too runny, but thick enough to hold the cookies together, and not too sweet as the shortbread and the icing sugar are already sweet enough. Although apricot jam is the most common jam used in these cookies in Italy, my preference goes to the dark jams made with berries. I actually decided to finally make my own Occhi di Bue during our last trip to Salt Spring Island, after buying an amazing “Sour Cherry, Rhubarb & Rosemary Jam” from Salt Spring Kitchen Co. (not sponsored). Buying that jam was the last gentle push I needed to make my favourite childhood treats.
Since in our household we follow the motto “Waste not want not”, do not think that the cookie “holes” were thrown away. They were baked as well and they were eaten by the handful, like sweet chips. By the end of supper, the holes were gone.
The shortbread pastry is pretty easy but can be tricky to roll. The key factor, like in making pie/tart crust, is keeping it cold, and dusting consistently your work surface and rolling pin with flour, as this dough can be sticky. In my shortbread, I used a part of granulated sugar and a part of vanilla sugar (bought at The Silk Road Spice Merchant, not sponsored), which gave the cookies a lovely, fragrant vanilla flavour which marries well the butteriness of the cookies and the jam.
They have the flavour of my childhood, taste like home and are as reassuring as a friend’s hug. First thing first you grab hold of an Occhio di Bue, its delicateness and innocence are felt right away. You bite in and there’s the snap of the shortbread followed by this light buttery cookie melting on your tongue. Then, the jam floats in like a breath of fresh air. Its brightness and hints of rosemary tantalise the taste buds convincing your palate to another bite. Whether with a glass of milk, a coffee or a nice afternoon tea, these Occhi di Bue are sure to become a favourite, leaving a lasting impression.
They did not last long and this will give me the opportunity to make them again, this time with a chocolate filling (Nutella or an organic chocolate spread).
Song of the day: the remake of “True colors” by Justine Timberlake and Anna Kendrick.Print
Occhi di Bue, Bull’s (Ox) Eyes, are are delicious, traditional Italian shortbread cookies filled either with jam or chocolate that you can find in every pasticceria, bakery, in Rome. They are my absolute favourite childhood treat.
- 100 g butter, unsalted, cold, cubed
- 50 g granulated sugar
- 50 g vanilla sugar (or 100 g granulated sugar total)
- 200 g flour type 00 or unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- icing sugar for topping
- jam for filling
- In a large bowl, add the flour and in the center, the sugars and cold cubed butter. Work fast the ingredients with a pastry cutter or with your hand, until you get a pebble-like texture.
- Add the egg and mix briefly.
- Empty the mixture on the work surface and work it fast until you get a smooth and homogeneous dough.
- Shape it in a ball, press it down to a flat rectangle, wrap it in plastic and set it in the fridge to rest for half an hour, at least.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (180°C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mat.
- After that time, unwrap the dough, dust the working surface and the rolling pin with flour and start rolling the dough, turning it and adding flour as you stretch the dough if you feel it is sticking to the surface or the rolling pin.
- Roll the dough to about a 3-4 mm thickness.
- With the bigger biscuit cutter, cut the dough in as many rounds as you can, taking the leftover dough and reshaping and rolling. Remember that half of your rounds will be cut in the center.
- With the smaller biscuit cutter, cut a hole in center of half of the rounds.
- Place on the prepared baking sheets.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 12/15 minutes.
- Let them cool slightly to room temperature.
- Dust with the icing sugar only the cookies with the hole (which will be the top of your Occhi di Bue). Set aside.
- Place a teaspoon of jam of your choice in the center of the cookie bottoms without the hole (do not spread it throughout the cookie bottom, just keep it a little wider than the hole).
- Place the cookies with a hole on top of the cookies with the jam, gently squeeze and your Occhi di Bue are ready!
The total time includes the resting time in the fridge. The cookies keep for 2-3 days in a partially covered container, without losing their crunchiness.
Ricetta in Italiano:Print
- 100 g Burro
- 100 g Zucchero
- 200 g Farina 00
- 1 Uovo
- Zucchero A Velo q.b.
- In una ciotola grande, aggiungete la farina e nel centro, lo zucchero e il burro freddo, tagliato a dadini.
- Lavorate velocemente gli ingredienti con la mano, finché non otterrete una consistenza simile a dei ciottoli.
- Aggiungete l’uovo e mescolate brevemente.
- Svuotate l’impasto sulla superficie di lavoro (spianatoia) e lavorate velocemente fino a ottenere una pasta omogenea e uniforme.
- Formate una palla, avvolgetela in plastica e mettete in frigorifero a riposare per almeno mezz’ora.
- Preriscaldate il forno a 180° C e preparate 2 teglie con carta da forno o tappetino in silicone.
- Dopo i 30 minuti, spolverate di farina la superficie di lavoro e il mattarello e iniziate a stendere l’impasto, girandolo e aggiungendo la farina se vedete che tende ad attaccarsi.
- Stendete l’impasto a uno spessore di circa 3-4 mm.
- Con la formina più grande, tagliate l’impasto in tanti cerchi, utilizzando tutta la pasta. Ricordate che solo la metà dei cerchi sarà bucata al centro.
- Con la formina più piccola, praticate un foro nel centro di metà dei cerchi.
- Posizionate sulle teglie e cuocete nel forno preriscaldato per circa 12/15 minuti. Controllate che non si scuriscano troppo.
- Fate raffreddare leggermente a temperatura ambiente.
- Spolverate con lo zucchero a velo solo i biscotti con il foro (che sarà la parte superiore dei vostri Occhi di Bue).
- Mettete un cucchiaino di marmellata di vostra scelta al centro dei cerchi senza il foro (non spalmate su tutta la superficie).
- Premete delicatamente i biscotti con il foro sopra i biscotti con la marmellata.
- l vostri Occhi di Bue sono pronti!
Il tempo totale include la mezz’ora della pasta in frigorifero.