1 cup roasted almonds, ground
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup musto cotto
1/8 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Magic baking powder
Flour as much as needed (about 3 cups)
Finely grated rind of 1/2 orange
Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
about 1/4 cup icing sugar
o Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.
o Grind roasted almonds (Do not use store-bought powdered almonds as they lack the flavor of freshly-ground almonds, besides almonds ground at home are coarser and so add more texture).
o Using an electric beater, beat eggs.
o Add vegetable oil, honey, mosto cotto to the eggs. Mix well.
o Add sugar, mix well.
o Add vanilla, nutmeg, ground cloves and cinnamon. Mix well.
o Add sugar. Mix well.
o Add ground roasted almonds.
o Add finely grated zest of half an orange and half a lemon. Mix well.
o Add 1 cup flour. Mix well.
o Add Magic baking powder. Mix well.
o Add another cup of flour. Mix well.
o Slowly add more flour until one has the consistency of a cookie dough that can easily be rolled out.
o Shape the dough into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for about 1/2 hour.
o Divide the dough into half.
o Roll out the first half of the dough -- about 1 cm inch thick or 1/5 of an inch (To avoid the dough from sticking to the wooden board and/or rolling pin one can place the dough between two silicone parchment papers and then roll it out.... Chef Elite's Silicone Parchment Paper sold at the Dollar Shops works beautifully.).
o Use a cookie cutter to cut out diamond-shaped cookies. If one does not have a diamond-shaped cookie cutter (They are difficult, if not impossible, to find!), one can turn a thin aluminum cookie cutter, 2 1/2 inches by 2 1/2 inches, into a diamond-shaped one by bending two ends towards each other until one reaches the desired shape -- 4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide. Alternatively, one can draw the diamond shape (2 1/2" X 4") on a thin flexible plastic chopping mat (can be had at Dollar Shops), cut it out, and then use it as a cookie-cutter.
o Place the mostaccioli cookies about an inch apart on a greased cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat).
o Roll out the second dough and repeat the process.
o Bake the cookies for about 11 minutes, or until the mostaccioli are a nice golden color.
o Dust with icing sugar before serving.
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. Some will love them (too much!) and others will wonder in amazement why are these cookies so loved? Photo: Mary Melfi.