Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Legend of La Befana

A Christmas tale from Italian Folklore retold by La

La Befana was an old woman who lived in a small village in Italy. She was known throughout the village for her wonderful baking and the cleanliness of her kitchen. She was often seen sweeping the area in front of her home. And many had heard her say that she was so busy baking and cleaning that she rarely had time to do anything else.

One winter day, while La Befana was sweeping in front of her home, three travelers stopped to ask her for a drink of water. They told La Befana that they were astrologers (they were often called the three wise men) who were following a star to the birth place of the Christ child. She kindly gave them water and then invited them to dinner.

After dinner the astrologers prepared to continue their journey and asked her if she would like to come with them to see the Christ child. La Befana shook her head saying that she could not possibly take the time needed for such a journey. She was secretly itching to get back to her cleaning and cooking. She stood at her door and watched them leave.

La Befana went back to her sweeping. But hours later she began to feel that she had made a mistake. Maybe she should have gone with the 3 astrologers to see the Christ child. La Befana decided to follow them.

She quickly grabbed a basket and filled it with baked goods of all kinds. She then put on her shawl and with her basket and broom hurried off into the night practically running to catch up with the wise men.

La Befana traveled through the night but never caught up with the wise men. It is said that she ran and ran until she and her broom were lifted up into the air!

Ever since that night, La Befana is believed to fly through the night or run over the roofs in Italy on Epiphany eve. She stops at the home of every child, leaving them treats in their stockings if they are good and a lump of coal if they are bad.

She hopes that one of the children she visits will be the christ child.

Copyright LLL, Storyteller/Storysinger
story and recipe originally posted at StorytellingCookingandKids.blogspot.com

The name Befana is said to be a mispronunciation of the Italian word epifania which stands for epiphany. La Befana still visits the children of Italy on the eve of January 6, Epiphany. She fills their stockings with candy or a lump of coal. It is also believed that she sweeps the floor before she leaves. Many households leave her a small glass of wine and a small plate of goodies.

Biscotti - twice-baked (biscottare means to bake twice) biscuits
Biscotti are a traditional italian sweet that La Befana might have baked.

The following is a very simple biscotti recipe that "cheats" just a little.

1 box dry cake mix (your choice of flavor)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 stick melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla (or your preferred flavor)

¾ cup chopped nuts, dried fruit or chocolate pieces

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
Pour your cake mix and flour into the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the eggs, butter and vanilla.
Mix on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in nuts or chocolate if desired.

This dough will be very stiff but will not stick to the bowl when properly mixed. The consistency will be like children’s play dough.

Divide dough into two halves.
Roll each half into a log, and place on a lined 11” x 15” x 1” baking pan.
Gently press the top of the cookie log into a rectangle, about 3 inches wide.
Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove cookie pan from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Do not turn the oven off.

Remove cookies from baking pan and cut into 1 inch piece logs.
You will be cutting this on the width.

Place cookies on their cut side on the lined baking pan.
Place pan back into the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove cookies to cooling rack to cool completely.
Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Biscotti are delicious dipped in hot chocolate or coffee.
Bon Appetit!!

Pssssssst!! Here are a few biscotti variations:

yellow cake mix - chopped red and green dried cherries - almond extract.

butter pecan cake mix - sliced pecans - maple extract.

golden cake mix - sliced dried apricots - toasted slivered almonds - almond extract.

vanilla cake mix - sliced dried cranberries - almond extract.

spice cake mix - walnuts - grated orange zest

spice cake mix - sliced crystalized ginger pieces.

chocolate cake mix - chocolate piece or chips, freeze first so they retain their shape during baking.

lemon cake mix - toasted slivered almonds.

german chocolate cake mix - chopped hazelnuts - semisweet chocolate - 1/2 Tsp. ground cinnamon.

devil's food cake mix - white chocolate chips - chopped dried sweetened cherries - almond extract.