I was glancing through Nick Malgieri’s Cookies Unlimited book last night and came across this recipe. My eyes lit up. I could taste the pungent cloves and cinnamon. Memories of the sticky glaze dusted with sprinkles came rushing back to me.
I had to make these cookies for Christmas. Today was our big “Cookie Making Day” with our neighbors and their kids. We made a gazilion sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms. The chocolate crinkle dough was still chilling in the fridge while I made these Italian treats.
”Apparently, the original recipe for mostaccioli cookies dates back to 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ! If that’s true then the mostaccioli recipe is one of the oldest cookie recipes on record. Of course, food historians not only disagree as to when the cookies were first made and where they were first made, but they also question the origin of the word itself. Some food historians believe the word, mostaccioli, comes from the latin “mustaceum” meaning a cake cooked with grape must, others believe the word is Greek in origin. Some food historians argue that regardless of the origin of the word, it was the Arabs who introduced the cookie to the world. In any case, the Roman senator and orator, Cato, described the mostaccioli cookie (or cake) in a text written sometime in the 1st century A.D. However, the “cake” he described included rye flour, cumin, cheese, anise and eggs. Obviously, the recipe changed over time. There is a general consensus among food historians that the recipe now in use started to be popular around 1653. According to one legend, St. Domenico, the patron saint of the Kingdom of Naples, gave out mostaccioli cookies to the local populace in Sariano, Calabria after a terrible earthquake hit the region and the people there were in dire need. Since that time on the Feast Day of St. Domenico, August 16th, people in Sariano, Calabria celebrate by making mostaccioli cookies. Apparently, mostaccioli cookies are also auctioned off on that day and the money is given to charity. Whenever and wherever the cookies were first made is a moot point, but everyone seems to agree that Italians, especially Southern Italians, fell in love with these highly-spiced cookies and have been making them for over three centuries. In North America mostaccioli are generally presented as diamond-shaped; some recipes include chocolate and others do not. However, in Italy, the cookies come in a variety of shapes and flavors. Cookies can come in shapes of baskets, birds, snakes, horses, dolls and figures of women (For photos and more information on mostaccioli’s fascinating history see www.infocrotone.com). Apparently, some mostaccioli are so beautifully decorated in Italy that people would rather display them, then eat them up. In fact, a collection of 36 ancient forms used to make these cookies were once put on display at the National Museum of Applied Arts in Rome. There are hundreds and hundreds of recipes for mostaccioli cookies on the internet (P.S. Not all the mostaccioli entries on the internet refer to cookies, some are pastas). In any case, not only do the recipes call for different flavorings, they also use different types of doughs. Some doughs call for yeast, others for baking powder and/or baking ammonia. Some doughs are hard, others are soft. Some recipes include chocolate, others do not. Most recipes include honey and sugar. Even though the original recipes included mosto cotto, very few do nowadays (Still, it’s an interesting variation). Also, the names of the cookies differ from region to region. In Calabria they are called “mustazzola” and “mastazzolu”; in Sardinia, “mustazzolus.” Prior to World War II mostaccioli cookies were generally only served at weddings, though in some areas in the South, they were also served for the Christmas festivities. Nowadays, of course, they are sold in shops, and so are available throughout the year, and anytime is a good time to feast on them.”
Mostaccioli-Italian Christmas Spice Cookies
Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri (C) 2000
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup finely ground almonds (I used unblanched slivers)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
grated zest 1 large orange
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking powder
1 stick cold unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sweet wine or vino cotto (You could also use water or dry red wine. I used 1/3 cup Martini Rossi Vermouth.)
One 1 pound box confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup orange joice
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the almonds and sugar until the almonds are finely ground. Add the orange zest, flour cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves and pulse several times to mix. Cut the butter into 12 pieces and add to the work bowl. Pulse until the butter is mixed in (about 20-25 times).
Ad the eggs and wine; pulse until the dough is evenly moistened, tough it probably will form one ball. Allow to stand for 1 minute to absorb the liquid, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. *I could not fit all the ingredients in my food processor. See recipe note above.
Scrape the dough onto an oiled work surface and roll into a log, 12 inches long. Cute the log into six pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch cylinder, flatten slightly the palm of your hand, then cut each 12-inch cylinder diagonally into ten or eleven pieces and place the pieces on pans about 1 inch apart. Place the pans in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 300 degrees. Bake the cookies about 10-14 minutes, or until firm and light golden.
Whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the water and orange juice. Add the water a little at a time. If it is too thick, add a little more water a tablespoon at a time.
Transfer the cookies to a rack and drizzle on the icing. I did two coats of the icing drizzle. The original recipe says to dunk the cookies in the icing. I wanted to see a little bit of the cookie color. Add some sprinkles.
Allow the cookies to cool completely; they will remain chewy on the inside.
I doubt you will have any leftover…but if you do, store in an airtight container.