Happy Santa Lucia day, everyone. Like St. Nicholas, St. Lucy is a big-time Advent figure. As one of the Saints listed in Mass she is generally a big deal—which kind of fascinates me. There might be more to this story, but I think a lot of her clout comes just from her name, which means light. So, because of her name, timing in the Church year, and the season, she happens to get more attention than other Saints with similar stories.
Rather than thinking this reveals some kind of scam—that hagiography is a twisted mess of associations and thus must have no true knowledge to convey about the actual people ignorantly worshiped by superstitious religious types—I think it shows how the Saints express the universality and help perform the nature-sanctifying work of the Church. For whatever reason, Saint Lucy is associated with the light of God and thus is very important during Advent, when we concentrate in hope on the light that grows stronger every day as we approach Christmas.
Anyway, St. Lucy was an early Christian in the Roman Empire, martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian. She secretly became a Christian and took a vow to remain celibate against her mother’s wishes—who had betrothed her to some stupid guy. Her mother got sick, was miraculously healed through Lucy’s prayers, and was consequently okay with the Christianity and the virginity. The fiancé, however, was not and sold Lucy out to the Roman government after she distributed her dowry to the poor. Here is where she becomes awesome. They had a really hard time killing her. They miraculously couldn’t move her or burn her. In art she is often shown holding two eyeballs because they plucked her eyes out, which then miraculously reappeared! (Another story is that she took her own eyes out to make her stupid fiancé stop bothering her). Either way, so weird and gross. She’s the patron saint of the blind.
Now I’d like to take a moment to apologize to the people who only want me to give them recipes and maybe tell a story about having friends over for dinner. It seems I am not a good representative of my faith; the only two posts I’ve written about Saints emphasize the fantastical creepiness of the holy life more than anything else—say, it’s appeal or reward. I just realized that maybe even revealing the fact that I believe this stuff makes you think I’m crazy. Huh. Anyway, something that is normal: biscotti. Whatever you believe, whatever you want out of life, however crazy you think I am, there is something we can all agree on: biscotti.
My Catechism reading group is having a St. Lucy party tonight before everyone leaves town for Christmas, and I was looking at Lussekatter recipes (traditional Swedish buns served with coffee) for the occasion when I came across a fun food fact: Italian Santa Lucia eyeball shaped biscotti are a thing. For the past couple years I’ve been making eyeball gingerbread cookies for St. Lucy’s feast day—mainly because I’m constantly making normal-shaped gingerbread cookies this time of year and I thought it was funny to make eyeballs with the dough scraps. But, behold, all this time I’ve been in tune with a real traditional feast food. So, I went to my go-to biscotti recipe and made some creative adjustments (I obviously didn’t have time to make Lussekatter after work anyway).
I discovered this biscotti recipe years ago when I was trying to figure out what to give my dad for Christmas. I like to think of myself as a good gift-giver, but I find it really difficult think of presents for my dad. Half the time I end of getting him books that I love (I hope you caught the emphasis), lame-o golf balls (useful but unimaginative), or another hand-knitted scarf. The past few years I’ve learned to stick to my strengths: baked goods and drinks. Special whiskey from the distillery in my town, the only good wine from Texas (Becker), gingerbread, and my dad’s favorite treat: biscotti. I thought I had come up with all creative variations—orange zest, walnuts, pistachios, chocolate chips, pecans—but apparently not! I never made them look like eyeballs.
Santa Lucia Eyeball Biscotti (slash, normal biscotti)
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis (or, according to my grandpa, “cooking with cleavage”)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup room temperature butter
- the zest of one small lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- a couple handfuls of dried cranberries
- a little bit of melted chocolate or colored icing
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, lemon zest and salt until combined.
- Add the eggs one at a time.
- Add the flour and baking powder (you can whisk or sift them together first if you want to) a little at a time until just blended.
- Stir in the cranberries (and any chopped nuts if you’re interested).
- Form the dough into a 13-inch long log on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
- Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes, then allow to cool for 30 minutes.
- Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log into 1/2-inch-thick slices (for normal biscotti cut in a slight diagonal, for eyeball biscotti cut straight across so they look more eyeball-shaped).
- Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet and bake until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes.
If you desire your biscotti to look like eyeballs, proceed to melt some chocolate or make the icing of your choice while they cool from their second bake. Once the biscotti are completely cooled to room temperature, spoon small circles of melted chocolate or pipe “pupils” of icing onto the biscotti. If using chocolate, it’s best to refrigerate the cookies on wax paper for 20-30 minutes so they set. It might get messy, but hey, we’re dealing with eyeballs here.