CONCORD — If you like crunchy, crumbly sweets, you’ll love sbrisolona (pronounced SBREE-zoh-loh-nah). The Italian dessert is basically a cohesive mass of crumbs — or crumble, depending on your outlook and technique — resembling a tart-size chunky cookie. It has a delightfully gritty cornmeal texture, is crunchy with almonds, and scented subtly with almond, vanilla, and lemon. Instead of cutting sbrisolona into wedges, you break it by hand, which makes it fun to eat.
At Verrill Farm, a small group is assembled to make sbrisolona and other Italian desserts in a class led by bakery manager Miriam Michalczyk. The 27-year-old, who started working at the farm about a year ago, spent three years, on and off, working and studying in Italy. She learned to make sbrisolona — the name comes from the Italian word briciola, which means crumb, and sbriciolare, meaning crumble — in Mantua (Mantova), a small city in the Northeast, where the dessert is thought to have originated in the 16th century. In the neighboring Veneto region, the confection is called torta sbrisolona or fregolata Veneziana (fregolata means crumbly) and is described as a coarse cornmeal shortbread.
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Although Michalczyk studied both savory foods and pastry at culinary school, she says, “I’ve always been more passionate about desserts.” She likes the simplicity and rustic nature of Italian sweets. “They’re all about flavoring and not about decorating,” she says.
In addition to sbrisolona, the class is making tiramisu and panna cotta. Tiramisu, the popular trifle-like dessert, begins with a rich egg and cream mixture with mascarpone, which is layered with ladyfingers or sponge cake. Students dip half the ladyfingers in rum, the others in espresso, and assemble the dessert (the name translates to “pick me up”) in little cups. The luscious concoction is finished with a dusting of cocoa powder.
Panna cotta (“cooked cream”) is a simple cream or cream and milk mixture thickened with gelatin and chilled. Michalczyk gives participants take-home containers of caramel and raspberry sauces to pair with the silky vanilla custard.
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Recipe for sbrisolona
Marina Reiser of Lincoln is here, she says, because “it looked like fun.” Last fall, she learned Thanksgiving side dishes in a class at the farm. She likes how easy the three desserts are.
As Paul Birkner, 26, strains the panna cotta mixture, the Wayland native says, “I love cooking. And I’m big on Italian foods.” Here with his mother, Carole LaMond, Birkner says it is his first baking class. Like the rest of the group, he had never heard of sbrisolona.
The class watches as Michalczyk demonstrates how to crumble the dough for the Italian specialty. “Squish it into big chunks with your hands,” she says. Next, she gracefully drops the clumps into the pan. “Sprinkle it in a pioggia,” she says, which means “to rain” in Italian.
Bakers have to resist the urge to press the dough into a uniform layer. Big, beautiful crumbs are the heart and soul of sbrisolona.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at [email protected].