The episode of the madeleine in Marcel Proust’s epic novel In Search of Lost Time is probably the most famous example in Western literature of how a particular flavor can elicit a stream of rich and intimate memories. Even those of you not particularly familiar with French literature will remember the basic outline: the grownup narrator dips a cookie in tea, which causes him to reminisce so intensely about childhood afternoons at his aunt’s home, that he follows with 3,000 pages of such fond memories.
Of course you don’t need to be French to have a favorite childhood sweet. Yours could as well be brownies; while for many Northern Italians in my generation, the cliché cookie is actually a giant crumble, as big as a cake. Whether home-baked or packaged in its distinctive clear wrapping, this is what I fought over with my dad, to the point that we would each lock up our half, to protect it from the other’s attacks. This is what I munched on with my friend Rachele on countless afternoons, between homework and daydreaming of our high school crushes.
In the Veneto, we have Fregolotta (from the local dialect word for crumb: “fregola”) or Rosegota (from the word for “crunching on”), depending on the area. In Mantova, it’s Sbrisolona (from “brisola”).
The ingredients are slightly different, depending on the area and the baker, but what they do have in common is the crunchy, crumbly texture – which gives you a great excuse to dip into cappuccino, wine, or even grappa- and the fact that they are impossible to cut with a knife. Having to use your hands adds an element of playfulness that can turn any get-together from formal to fun, or even romantic.
Of course that’s assuming you are willing to share. If you have a sweet tooth, this could present a challenge.