The authentic Neapolitan biscotti: biscotto amarena

Discover the authentic Neapolitan biscotti: the biscotto amarena

Get this, dessert lovers! The Neapolitan biscotti tart (a.k.a amarena biscuit) is the OG Neapolitan treat and one of the oldest desserts around. It’s the only sweet treat that we can confirm is 100% Neapolitan. While other popular desserts like Graffa, Pastiera, and Babà have made their way to the Neapolitan scene, they don’t have purely Neapolitan origins. But the black cherry biscuit? Oh yeah, it’s the real deal – born and bred in Naples!

Past and present of the biscotti amarena

In the past it was considered a second-class dessert, also called scraps dessert. This biscuit was born thanks to the creativity of some Neapolitan pastry chefs, as a solution to avoid throwing away pastry scraps. It was common to use and mix together the oddments of the sponge cake or panettone, the ladyfingers or more generally the dry biscuits or those that could not be put up for sale. Then everything was reworked with a small quantity of bitter cocoa and abundant black cherries. It is said that in the past, in some pastry shops in Naples, it was common to find a specifical bin. This bin full of all the pastry scraps, base for the the preparation of the black cherry biscuit. That’s why it was sold cheaply as a jumble of ingredients.

Today the black cherry biscuit is one of the cornerstones of Neapolitan pastry making.

Every shop window displays the irresistible allure of the most famous Neapolitan confections, including Baba and Sfogliatella. However, the most notable feature of these desserts is their inherent irregularity. Each one is unique and impossible to replicate exactly.

Close up to the cookie making

Neapolitan biscotti are like snowflakes – no two are exactly the same! Each pastry shop has its own unique recipe, with some sticking to the original version that didn’t include cocoa. Instead, they use the elusive black cherries in syrup (not the red ones!). Nowadays, it’s rare to find this traditional recipe, as most shops have swapped black cherries for cocoa. Some even experiment with different jams like apricot or cherry. The size and toppings of these crunchy treats also vary, making them a true pastry adventure!

A tender heart in a crunchy schell

Usually the heart of the biscuit, which must be moist and flavorful, is made mixing cake leftovers and other ingredients. Such as, bitter cocoa, black cherry syrup, liqueur (Rum or Strega), sometimes even almonds. This tasty filling is then wrapped in a layer of shortcrust pastry, which makes the biscuit crunchy on the outside. Finally, after giving it an elongated and slightly flattened shape, everything is covered with a glaze, made of sugar and egg white, and the characteristic stripes drawn with the jam. The Neapolitan biscotto amarena is a dessert that can be enjoyed for breakfast, as a snack or as a mid-morning snack. Usually accompanied by a cup of Neapolitan espresso coffee or a glass of Limoncello.

For the shortcrust pastry: this recipe will give approximately 30 biscuits

500 g of 00 flour
200 g of butter (the original recipe includes lard)
150 g of granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1 egg
1/2 sachet of baking powder

For the stuffing

400 g of pandoro or panettone (or dry biscuits or sponge cake)
350 g of black cherry jam
A dozen black cherries in syrup
A spoonful of black cherry syrup
2 tablespoons of bitter cocoa powder
4 tablespoons of rum

For the glaze

1 egg white
150 g of icing sugar
A few drops of lemon
40 g of black cherry jam

How to make the Neapolitan biscotti

For the shortcrust pastry:

Mix the sifted flour with the baking powder, sugar, a pinch of salt and the cold butter cut into pieces. Once you have obtained a sandy dough, add the egg yolks and the whole egg and work quickly until you have a smooth and homogeneous mixture. Add a little milk if necessary. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour, wrapped in the saran wrap.

For the stuffing:

Crumble the panettone, add the jam, previously slightly heated, the black cherries cut into pieces, the cocoa, the liqueur and the black cherry syrup and mix everything together. The mixture should be quite firm. Cover with saran wrap and leave in the fridge.

For the glaze:

In a bowl, beat the egg white, add the icing sugar and lemon and work until you obtain a thick glaze. Roll out two thin sheets of pastry, distributing the filling in the center onto the longer parts. Close well with the two flaps, moistening with egg white and turning the roll over to have the fold at the bottom. Place on a sheet of baking paper and place in the fridge for half an hour. Brush the rolls with the glaze, make two
incisions with a toothpick on the narrow part and insert a drizzle of jam. Cut biscuits 3-4 centimeters wide. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

In Rome you can eat an authentic black cherry biscuit at Fiore Street Food, in Piazza della Pollarola.