Fregolotta – Giant Italian Crumb Cookie

Fregolotta - Giant Italian Crumb Cookie by

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.

Proust madeleine Collage

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”).

Fregolotta Giant Italian Crumb Cookie Collage by DinnerinVenice

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.

Fregolotta - Giant Italian Crumb Cookie by DinnerInVenice


Fregolotta – Giant Italian Crumb Cookie (classic, from Castelfranco Veneto)


  • 3 1/2 cups flour (a little over 1 lb)
  • large pinch salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar (plus more to decorate)
  • grated zest of 1 lemon and/or 1 shot grappa, if liked
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream (you'll use less, but just in case)
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)
  • butter for greasing the pan
  • handful of almonds to decorate


Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Sift the flour with the salt and combine with the sugar. Butter a 10" round baking pan or pie dish, and line it with parchment. Whisk the cream with the yolks until they are well combined. Some people use only the cream, without the eggs.

Wet your (very clean!) fingers in the mix of eggs and cream, dip them into the flour and then rub your hands against each other over the flour. You will create 'fregole' (large crumbs of dough), which you will drop into the dish as they come, or press into larger "crumbs". Honestly, you can also process the ingredients very quickly (start with only 2-3 tbsp cream, and add more only as needed) in a food processor, pulsing until the mixture forms crumbs and is evenly moistened. However, the traditional method is much more fun!

Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan until they all touch, and bake the Fregolotta at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden and firm to the touch.

Allow to cool completely on a rack before unmolding. Serve at room temperature with a cup of hot coffee, or a glass of prosecco.

*** this is the traditional Fregolotta from Castelfranco Veneto, near Treviso. Another famous crumb cookie of this type is the Sbrisolona, from Mantova, which contains eggs, ground almonds, and a mix of flour and sometimes corn meal. I also added that recipe in case you like "richer" flavors.

Giant Italian Crumb Cookie with Almonds


  • 2 scant cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal ("polenta")
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teasp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (unsalted), cold, cubed. (plus more for greasing the pan)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 small shot grappa or liqueur if liked


This second version of the Crumb Cookie was given to me by my mom's friend Fausta, and the added almonds and cornmeal show the influence of the Sbrisolona cake from Mantua.

Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees. Line a 10-inch round pie pan with parchment and grease with butter..

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely ground, about 20-30 seconds. Add the, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar and pulse for 30 more seconds until combined.Add the chopped butter butter and pulse until all the ingredient start combining into "crumbs".

Add the yolks, lemon zest (and a shot of grappa if liked) and pulse until combined into a mixture of more or less even crumbs.

Press the crumbs into the prepared pan, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until golden and firm.

Allow to cool before unmolding.

Strawberry and Prosecco Tiramisu

Strawberry Prosecco Tiramisu by DinnerInVenice

Tiramisu is said to have appeared for the first time at a restaurant in the Veneto region in the 1970’s, and has quickly become a world-renowned specialty.

Tiramisu is a non-denominational dessert: who wouldn’t want to eat it? Everybody can find a good excuse. For us Jews, for example, it’s the perfect Shavuot treat: layers of mascarpone cream to remind us of the sweetness of Torah, and several shots of espresso to get us through the night of learning (Tiramisu means “pick me up” in Italian!).  Or what about Mother’s day?  You could surprise her with something girly and new, replacing the traditional coffee with sparkling wine and adding juicy strawberries: welcome spring!


2 cups (about 1 lb) mascarpone
1/2 pint whipping cream (makes about 1 1/2 cups whipped)
4 eggs*
26 Italian ladyfingers (savoiardi)
1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 1/2 lb strawberries
1 1/2 cups Prosecco or champagne (for kids, use Kedem sparkling grape juice)
Mint and small meringues to decorate


In your blender or food processor, puree 1/3 of the strawberries with the wine or juice until smooth. Set aside in a small and shallow bowl.

Using an electric whisk, or in your food processor, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. When they become frothy, add the mascarpone; process until combined and set aside.

In a perfectly clean bowl (you can wipe it quickly with a few drops of lemon or vinegar to make sure it’s degreased) beat the egg whites (which should be clear, with no traces of yolk) with an electric whisk until they start forming soft peaks.

Gently fold the whites into the mascarpone cream with a spatula, using an upward motion. Fold in the whipped cream as well. Chop 1/2 of the remaining strawberries and add them to half of the mixture. Also add enough strawberry/wine juice to make it pink.

Dip each ladyfinger into the remaining strawberry/wine mix for 5 to 8 seconds, flipping them a couple of times (letting the cookies soak too long will cause them to fall apart). Arrange the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of a glass or pyrex 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or two smaller square or round pans). Spread the pink half of the mascarpone mixture on top. Make a second layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with the white mascarpone mixture.

Slice the remaining strawberries and use them to decorate. You can also add some fresh mint leaves and meringues. Cover tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. You can also make the tiramisu in individual Martini cups: tres chic!


Yield: 10–12 servings, or more according to serving size

*Raw eggs always carry a small risk of salmonella infection: to reduce the chance of contamination you can pasteurize the eggs prior to use. Or you can purchase pasteurized eggs – If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: you will need to add a touch of cream of  tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar) to the whites; about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular eggs.




Panna Cotta alla Melagrana – Pomegranate Cream Custard


Panna cotta (cooked cream in Italian) is a traditional dessert from Northern Italy, prepared by simmering milk, sugar and cream and mixing them with gelatin. It literally takes minutes to make, but never fails to “wow” the guests. For a holiday version, I spiced it up with ponegranate seeds – a symbol of prosperity and good luck in many different traditions, not to mention a perfect contrast of color and flavor with the cream. Serve it for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year, or a romantic anniversary dinner!

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup whole milk,
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 2
  • 1 package powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

Soften about 2/3 of the gelatin in a few spoonfuls the cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk with the sugar and the cut vanilla bean. Once it’s hot, stir in the gelatin mixture and mix until smooth. Allow to cool, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the heavy cream. Pour about 3/4″ of this mixture into 4 glass cups and transfer into the freezer for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.

Soften the remaining gelatin in about 2 or 3 tbsp of the pomegranate juice. Heat the rest of the pomegranate juice, stir in the softened gelatin, mix well and allow to cool. Once the first layer of cream mixture has thickened, pour in a layer of pomegranate mixture, mixed with a few pomegranate seeds, and put the cups back into the freezer. Repeat with one more layer of cream and one of gelatin and pomegranate seeds. Top with a few more pomegranate seeds right before serving.

Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears (Sfogliata al Gianduja e Pere)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

The combination of hazelnuts and chocolate is wildly popular in Italy – I’m sure you have heard of Nutella!  The original version is Gianduja – a concoction made of chocolate and hazelnuts invented in Turin during the Napoleonic blockade, when the precious cocoa beans had become scarce and the famous Piedmontese chocolatiers had to find a way to make them go further-. It didn’t hurt, of course, that their hazelnuts (from the Langhe area of Piedmont) were said to be the best in the world, and that Turin was the birthplace of solid chocolate. As you can imagine, the result was much more interesting than other hard-times-inspired products (such as the French chicory “coffee”), and even after the end of the blockade the Torinese kept enjoying their new delicacy, and named it “gianduja” after a local marionette character.

Besides enjoying the tasty combo in the form of a spread or in confections (the delicious gianduiotti – the first-ever chocolates to be individually wrapped!), make sure you try my gianduja puff cake!


1 pound of puff pastry (home-made, or 1 package store-bought)
3 medium pears
5 ounces dark chocolate (I used 70 % Scharffen Berger) 
½ cup ground hazelnuts
6 chocolate-flavored tea biscuits, or small biscottis
2/3 cup (scant) sugar
pinch of salt
1 organic lemon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter, or hazelnut or almond oil
2 tablespoons milk (or non-dairy almond or soy milk)
flour (to dust the counter)


Peel and core the pears, slice them thinly and combine them with the lemon juice, the sugar, and the grated lemon zest. Grate the chocolate and coarsely chop the cookies. If using butter, melt it in a pan or in your microwave.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a rectangle and brush the top with the melted butter or oil; top with the crumbled cookies, the drained pears, and the grated chocolate. Roll up the pastry as if making a strudel, sealing the edges and closing the ends.
Brush the top with the yolk (mixed with a couple of tablespoons of milk or parve almond or soy milk) and bake in a pre-heated 250 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. Enjoy warm or at room temperature, on a cold winter night :-) .