Good Bread, This

Work has been busy lately. Oh, very busy. The later part of 2012 was quite hectic in the office, and the early days of the new year are off and running on the same track. Long days and never-ending to-do lists have been taking their toll on me. At the end of a day, there’s not much more I’ve wanted to do than head straight home to my spot on the couch. Curled up in my blanket, fending off the cold and dark outside, hoping to prolong the hours between work days, I started watching the HBO series “Rome.” I started and I did not stop. In the span of about 2 weeks (not counting the holidays at the family homestead) I watched all 22 episodes and relished every minute! It was what I call true entertainment: beautiful costumes and scenery, tremendous acting, relatable characters, rich storylines, British wit peppered with Roman jargon, and a plot that doesn’t stray far from the true course of events. Historical fiction. Can’t beat it with a stick.

The interest I had in the ancient world as a young student of history – fueled by reading books, watching documentaries, and translating Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico and Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin class – was reignited. I promptly bought a new book on the subject of the Roman Empire and am plowing my way through it now, remembering things I once knew, learning new things I did not. But seeing this beautiful tableau of Rome sparked another curiosity in me, beyond the historical personalities and events written in the annals of history. The vivid portrayal of this people made me begin to wonder how the Romans lived and, among other things,  how and what they ate.

A quick search led me to a number of books on Roman gastronomical history, which I am sure I will dive into soon, and to a handful of recipes, which I wanted to employ immediately. From the little I’ve read so far, everyday Roman cooking was simple and used basic ingredients available to the inhabitants of Rome – bread, cheese, honey, and wine seem to have been staples. These cookies capture that simplicity perfectly. Made with only 8 ingredients and sweetened with honey instead of sugar, the little treats are not too sweet, not too heavy…just right.

Ancient Roman Honey Cookies with Sesame Seeds
courtesy of Eating Places 
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a larger bowl, beat the butter, honey, and eggs with an electric mixer until well blended, or about two minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture, a third at a time, and beat until the dough comes together. Cover and chill for about an hour or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease two baking sheets. Form chilled dough into 1-inch balls and place balls on prepared baking sheets. Pat the top of each ball down to flatten slightly.

Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove cookies from baking sheets and roll in sesame seeds while still warm. Cool on a wire rack.
I had a bit of trouble getting the sesame seeds to stick after coming out of the oven, so I brushed just a bit of water on the top of each before rolling in the seeds and that worked like a charm without affecting the cookie or its flavor.
I imagine these biscuits would pair very well with a cup of tea or coffee. Or with hot spiced wine, a la Romani.

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