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Savoyard biscuits

In 1919, after the war, Elico Alai recalled that he had been an apprentice at a baker’s as a lad and he had learnt some of the tricks of the trade. He had a bicycle for transport and the imagination to try out new things, so he put together the simplest of ingredients that he could get: water, flour and sugar.

Savoyard Biscuits (according to the recipe from Reggio Emilia)

He tried and tried again, trying to remember exactly what his grandfather had said when he spoke of “bracciatella all’acqua” biscuits. Elico’s sweets started to be successful but he continued to look for a formula in order to invent something new. People in Reggio liked to eat cold desserts and puddings and used Sponge Cake to make them, but this tended to dissolve when the other ingredients were added. Elico therefore wanted to invent his own product to replace this sponge cake and soon started losing sleep due to his constant invention of new mixtures and recipes. When he was thirty-five, he managed to create a light and exquisitely tasting biscuit that was crumbly, in a twisted shape and was very sweet and full of beaten eggs. However, “Uncle Elico”, as he was known to all, was looking for something exclusive: he tried hundreds of versions, working the ingredients in various proportions until, one night, he created a biscuit that was so light that it would fly up in the air like a feather if you blew underneath it. It was also so soft that it could be used instead of any sponge cake. He called it a “Savoyard” because it reminded him of a kind of biscuit he used to eat when he was a child in Piedmont. At last, Uncle Elico could sleep at night.

His Savoyard biscuits were very successful: since it was a leavened biscuit, it was perfect for making any kind of dessert, including the well-loved “Zuppa inglese”, a favourite at Reggio Emilia.

Many bakers tried to copy his Savoyard biscuit over the years but no- one was ever successful: his recipe remained a well-guarded secret. Elico only revealed the recipe to his niece and she continued in his steps running the biscuit factory with the same philosophy of her uncle, so… if you want to try a real Savoyard biscuit, you’ll have to come to Reggio Emilia to get them!

The egg white is beaten until it is stiff and the sugar is added to the yolk. Then just enough milk and flour are added to bind the mixture. Finally, it is put through the biscuit machine with its cloth bag that presses out the mixture in an oval shape. Savoyard biscuits are then baked at about 200 degrees and the speed of the conveyor belt, as they pass through the oven, depends on the weather on that particular day: it all depends on the wind or the humidity of the air. When Uncle Elico was still alive, he was in charge of “sniffing” the weather before switching the oven on and he used to open and close the air vents, increasing the wood that was burning. Now Elico looks down from a frame on the wall, checking that everything is being done just as he would have wanted!