Let me tell you about my favorite cookie: It’s mildly lemony and has a pleasantly thick chewiness that comes from being boiled before it’s baked, like a bagel. Then, while still warm, it’s dipped in a thin anise-flavored glaze that shatters slightly when you bite into it. It is not — and this is crucial — too sweet.
In my family, we call it a miscutella, but plug that into Google and all you get is an Italian acrylic nail manufacturer. As far as I can tell, the name is just the Italian word for a cookie (biscotto) with an incorrect diminutive attached and possibly mashed up with our last name. I’ve always been told it’s a family recipe from Italy, but I’ve never seen another cookie like it, and in years of casual Googling, I’ve never been able to figure out where it came from.
These odd treats have been part of our family gatherings for as long as I can remember. They would appear wherever Grandma was, sometimes traveling the roughly 1,700 miles from Florida to Minnesota, packed in her carry-on. I wanted to start this investigation at the source, so I gave Grandma a call.
She told me that she first learned to make the cookies from her mother, who got the recipe from her godmother. Her godmother’s cookies “were tasteless,” according to Grandma, who has never been afraid to speak truth to power. To add more flavor, her mother increased the sugar in the dough and came back with a much better cookie. Grandma insists that she never made any other changes to the recipe, but she also notes that it was never strictly written down. She also insists that I should get engaged soon.
The first place I ever saw the recipe was in her catalog of them, which is organized alphabetically. These miscutella are labeled “Biscotti (Gram),” which places them after the recipe for “Biscotti (Carmella)” and before “Biscotti (Marie).” The directions are a little wonky and include measurements like “baking powder — use enough.” Grandma confirmed this on the phone, saying that when she was taught to make them they used guidelines like, “you don’t want it too hard, you don’t want it soft,” rather than my preferred methods of cups and ounces.