Spicy Chocolate Sfratti (Jewish-Italian Stick Cookies)

Bittersweet chocolate brings rich and extraordinary new flavor—and a new story—to the unique Jewish-Italian sfratti (stick cookies) in my brand new recipe. Sfratti, which means “evictions,” nod to a dark time in Italian-Jewish history in the Tuscan town of Pitigliano, when Jews were evicted and sent to ghettoes by stick-wielding authorities. Eventually allowed to return home, they created a delectable sweet to remember the experience and ward off future bad events. Honey and nuts filled that version, which became traditional for Rosh Hashanah. But the sfratti were so good, they gained year-round popularity.

The chocolate in my new version broadens the scope of the cookie’s story of resilience. In another story about evictions, Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal helped foster the spread and adoption of that precious chocolate. Find out more about the sfratti and chocolate stories in my article for Tablet Magazine, “Sticking It Out: Making Jewish-Italian Stick Cookies an Even Sweeter Symbol of Resilience.”

Sfratti captivated me not only with their story but also their intriguing use of black pepper in the original version. Unusual for a sweet, yes, but perhaps an evocative way to acknowledge the sting of the weapon’s use, as well as add interesting depth to the flavor. My chocolate version includes a generous amount of ground cayenne, which offers a wonderful complement to the richness of the filling and also connects to how Europeans first found Aztecs enjoying chocolate—as a hot drink spiked with ground chiles. 

Some sfratti recipes produce cookies that don’t much resemble sticks. But a stick-like shape was something I wanted in a recipe referencing sticks! The rolling takes a few extra minutes, but I think it’s worth it. The slender rods look cute dusted with cocoa and salt, and break open to reveal a luscious dark chocolate center.

But I remain most smitten, perhaps, with all that sfratti represent. They symbolize the hardships Jews faced over and over through history and also represent Jewish resilience and humor. The original cookies—and their associated hope to prevent future bad outcomes—became adored by Jews and non-Jews alike, crossing over to become popular at weddings and Christmas, and they remain a specialty in Pitigliano. They are another lasting contribution to the Jewish story through food and another Jewish contribution, like fried artichokes or the frequent use of eggplant, to Italian cuisine and culture. Molto dolce, in every way.

Spicy Chocolate Sfratti

A luscious, rich bittersweet chocolate and honey filling (replacing the traditional nut-and-honey mixture) delights the taste buds in this new Jewish-Italian sfratti, which means “evictions.” The stick-shaped pastries nod to the authorities’ weapons as well as the Italian Jews’ overcoming that experience. That decadent chocolate filling gets warmth and depth from cayenne pepper, and it's enclosed in a delicate and just lightly sweet wine-scented pastry shell. Flaky salt and cocoa powder nicely pull all the flavors together. Thoroughly chill the dough before assembling the sfratti, and keep a damp towel nearby for wiping your hands while working with the sticky filling. A little bit of chocolate leaking out of the pastries during baking is OK, and can be broken off once cooled (consider it the baker’s bonus nibble). A specialty of the Tuscan town of Pitigliano, sfratti evolved from a Rosh Hashanah treat to an anytime one.
Prep Time 50 mins
Cook Time 13 mins
Resting Time 3 hrs
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian, Jewish, Jewish-Italian
Servings 30 pastries

Ingredients
  

For the Pastry

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

For the Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1/3 cup honey, plus more as needed

For the Topping

  • Flaky sea salt and cocoa powder for sprinkling

Instructions
 

Make the Dough

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Grate the butter using the large holes of a box grater directly into the bowl. With your fingers, work in and thoroughly coat the butter shreds. Combine the vanilla and wine and gradually stir the liquid into the dry ingredients until the dough just holds together when you squeeze a handful (you will likely have a tablespoon or so wine mixture leftover).
  • Divide the dough into three equal balls. Roll one ball on a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of lightly floured wax paper to an approximate 10-by-10-inch square, squaring off the edges to keep it even. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. (If your dough is too sticky to work with, gently work in a little more flour before rolling.)
  • Place dough squares between sheets of wax paper, wrap, and chill at least a few hours or up to two days.

Make the Filling

  • In a small food processor, process the chocolate chips to small pebble-sized pieces. Add the cocoa powder and cayenne, and pulse a few more times to mix well.
  • Transfer the chocolate mixture to a bowl, and work in the honey a few tablespoons at a time just until the mixture is moistened and sticks together when squeezed. It should not be gooey.

Make the Pastries

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Remove one dough sheet from the refrigerator, and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Gently re-roll to the 10-by-10-inch size as needed.
  • Working quickly to prevent the dough from getting too soft, cut the dough into five 2-inch bands.
  • Form about 1 tablespoon of filling into a thin craggy line along one long edge of a dough strip so that the chocolate extends to within 1/4- to 1/2-inch of each end. Roll the dough snugly around the filling, tucking the filling in as you roll and pinching firmly to seal the seam and ends. Don’t overfill—if you need to stretch the dough to cover the filling, use a little less filling (stretched dough will be more likely to pop open during baking).
  • Cut the roll in half crosswise to create two sticks, and pinch to seal the cut ends (you can borrow some dough from the other end if needed for patching). Gently roll each cookie on the counter to even the shape and ensure the seam is sealed.
  • Transfer to the baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining dough strips and then the remaining dough sheets. Sprinkle the rolled cookies lightly with sea salt, pressing gently if needed to help it adhere. Freeze the pastries about 30 minutes.
  • Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, until the tips are just beginning to turn light golden brown and the bottoms are lightly golden.
  • Let cool a few minutes, then dust with cocoa powder. Store cooled pastries in an airtight container.
Keyword Chocolate, Cookies, Rosh Hashanah

Comment

Recipe Rating




*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.