This year, we put the sign up again, knowing things might get a bit tense--Lisa was trying several new traditional Italian recipes. This time, she was making an authentic spiced cookie recipe: Mostaccioli. This cookie can be thought of as an Italian gingerbread. There are two basic types: one for forming and sculpting cookies shaped like animals, angels and the like; and the other, a diamond (or rhombus) shaped, chocolate coated cookie.
The origins of Mostaccioli are thought to be Arabic and were made during ancient Roman times (called mustaceum in Latin) using grape must. The "must" or "most" part of the name is derived from the use of grape must, the byproduct of the pressing of grapes in the making of wine. Vino cotto--a molasses like syrup, made from boiling down the grape must until it is thick--is a natural sweetener that has been around long before sugar was introduced to the Mediterranean region.
- 5--6 cups all purpose flour (leave 1/2 cup out to adjust dough stickiness)
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 pound coarsely ground raw almonds (about3-1/2 cups). Leave some nutty texture.
- 6 eggs room temperature (IMPORTANT: leave the eggs out of the fridge for 30 minutes before using)
- 1 pound honey 1-1/3 cups
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- zest of 3 oranges
- juice of 1 orange
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- High quality semi-sweet or dark chocolate for the glaze
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- In a large bowl, sift or whisk together dry ingredients. (flour, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, and cocoa).
- Add ground almonds and incorporate with the dry ingredients.
- Next, place sugar and the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment installed, and beat the eggs for 3 minutes until thickened.
- Add the honey into the same mixing bowl and continue to whisk until well blended.
- Add orange zest, juice and extract.
- Remove the whisk and replace with a paddle attachment. Add flour/almond mixture until just combined. (Dough will be soft and sticky).
- Place the dough onto a floured work surface and adding a little bit of flour at a time, knead the dough until you have a dough that is barely sticky. It should not be totally dry, but you don't want it wet.
- Wrap the dough ball with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or as long as overnight if you want to bake the next day.
- Line half sheet pans (this recipe might require 3-4 pans) with parchment paper.
- Working with dough in small batches, place on well-floured wooden board and roll out to 3/8" - 1/2" thick. If necessary, dust a bit more flour on your dough and work it in until the dough has lost any stickiness. A stick dough will be nearly impossible to roll out.
- Using a long chef's knife, pizza cutter or a bench scraper, cut the dough into diamond shapes, then carefully transfer onto a half sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Use a small spatula to lift and move each cookie to prevent messing up their geometric shape. You should leave about 1/2" space between your cookies--this dough doesn't spread much at all.
- Gather the odd leftover pieces and reform into the next batch for rolling and cutting.
- Continue rolling and cutting your cookies until you run out of dough.
- Bake at 350° F for about 15-18 minutes. Bake for less time if you want a softer cookie, a little longer if you like cookies with a harder bite.
- Let cool completely before glazing with chocolate.
With mostaccioli, you can either place the cookies on a cooling rack and pour the tempered chocolate over them using a large spoon, or using a small spatula or tongs you can dip your cookies into a bowl or measuring cup into your tempered chocolate.
I highly recommend leaving a couple of your Mostaccioli out for Babbo Natale along with a mug of cioccolata calda on Christmas Eve.