More than once I have referred to my obsession with Italian cookies. Here, I am sharing my latest conquest - Mostaccioli. Parts of this intro appeared as a guest post on Ginni Kelley's The Spicy Eggplant blog. A fellow FBC-er, it was great to meet her and begin a supportive collegial relationship. Check out her blog for amazing recipes that are more exotic than what you tend to find here.
We don't often think of spices when we imagine cookies. These feature cloves. Does cloves in cookies sound odd? Keep in mind that cloves make a minor appearance in many gingerbread recipes. Here, although combined with cinnamon, it is the flavour of cloves that shines through for a startlingly yummy eating experience – of course there is chocolate as well...
Mostaccioli are classic Italian cookies, appearing at every Italian wedding and baby shower. The name comes from the word “must” (moosht) or “mosto” – which is a kind of grape juice from the winemaking process. It seems that there was a time when these cookies were sweetened not with sugar, but with mosto.
As I write this, I am reading Marlena de Blasi's "The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club". Here I am thinking that "mosto" is some ancient thing and there on p.132 she describes "four or five kilos of new grapes in a copper, tin-lined pot over embers for a day and night, the fruit lowly, very slowly, giving up it's juices then reabsorbing them to form a dense compost. Once filtered, the compost becomes il mosto, a precious condiment used in both sweet and savoury harvest dishes." She goes on to describe making "torta di mosto". Clearly, mosto has not yet been relegated to the history books.
Researching cloves led to some fascinating reading... They were (and continue to be) used medicinally - e.g for treatment of toothaches [Source]. It is a very strong spice that can overpower others, and was (among other things) used to mask the smell of rotting meat [Source]. In the 16th century they were considered more valuable than gold [Source]. My own little tip - near the end of summer when those bothersome yellow jackets threaten to ruin your outside eating experience - put a dozen cloves into a wee dish, just barely cover with water - and bye bye pests.
What about the cloves and Italy? How do they figure into the history of cuisine from this region? In some cases, the internet gives the impression that cloves appear mainly in the cuisine of Asian, African, and Near and Middle East countries. Estimates of when cloves reached Europe vary - sometimes placed as late as the 11th century. Yet there is evidence to the contrary – the least of which is that the term we use for this spice has Latin (Roman) origins. “Because these hard brown buds resemble a carpenter's nail, the Romans called the spice clavus, meaning nail in Latin. From this Latin root (came)… the present-day English name, clove”. [Source] Cloves have even crept into Italian savoury dishes - as in versions of Bolognese sauce seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. Is your mouth watering yet? For now, content yourself with this magical cookie. I am so happy I no longer have to wait for shower parties to enjoy these!
There are many recipes for Mostaccioli on the internet. I have noticed that many Italian "family" recipes start with "6 cups of flour" - they must be used to making mountains of cookies - though undoubtedly the baker is not alone in the kitchen and we can imagine a joyful family team working together. There are quite a few variations - for example adding orange juice/zest and glazing with chocolate. I found happiness with this recipe from Canadian Living to which I have made several modifications.
Get ready: preheat the oven to 350 F; prepare parchment lined baking sheets; toast walnuts; let butter come to room temperature. Note: the dough has to chill for two hours, so account for that in your baking plan.
1/3 cup (75 mL) walnut halves or pieces
Toast the walnuts before chopping: spread them on a cookie sheet and toast at 350 F for 5-10 minutes. Let them cool and then chop into 1/8” pieces. Set aside until later.
1 and 1/4 cups (300 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 mL) cocoa powder
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
Prepare the dry mix by whisking together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, cloves and salt. Set aside.
1/4 cup (50 mL) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) milk
1 cup (250 mL) mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped walnuts
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and then beat in the egg.
Add the dry mix (from above), alternating with the milk – two additions of each, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
Stir in the mini chocolate chips and the chopped walnuts.
Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until firm.
Onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, place heaping 1 TB (20 ml) scoops about 2 inches apart.
I roll these and then shape them into little “bricks”. Tip: If the dough is sticky, sprinkle some flour onto your hands and/or chill the dough some more.
In a 350 F oven, bake two sheets at a time on racks positioned in the top and bottom thirds of the oven – rotating and switching cookie sheets at the half way mark.
Bake for 11-12 minutes or just until tops begin to crack.
Glaze with icing sugar glaze only, or jam followed by icing sugar glaze. (see photo)
1/2 cup apricot jam
1-1/4 cups (300 mL) icing sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) brewed coffee
1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla
Glaze(s): The jam should have a mostly smooth consistency. If necessary, remove large chunks of apricot or blitz it all to make it smooth. The jam is going to be a very thin, shiny glaze under the icing sugar glaze. Microwave the jam for 20-30 seconds to make it runny and brush it on to the tops of the cookies ideally while they are still warm.
For the icing sugar glaze, add the vanilla to the coffee, and blend this into the icing sugar until you get achieve a thick but runny consistency. Add the coffee gradually since you may not need it all.
Once cookies are cooled, pick each one up and dip the top part into the glaze. Place on a wire rack so that any excess icing can drip down and through the rack. Store cookies in a tin, separating layers with waxed paper. These freeze well.
Notes and Tips...
- Cloves - don't try to make your own cloves - as in taking whole cloves and grinding them in your mortar and pestle - you will never be able to do this well enough to avoid fibers in the final product. [Source].
- Chocolate chips - I experimented with this. When I use regular chocolate chips, you are not guaranteed "chocolate" in every bite. Using mini chocolate chips solved that problem. If you cannot get minis - then slightly chop regular chocolate chips.
- Jam Glaze - am pondering using something like an apple jelly next time to achieve the ultimate smooth jam glaze.
- Coffee - you can brew strong coffee or use instant espresso.
- Make ahead: prepping the walnuts the day before and well as measuring and mixing dry ingredients makes baking day easier.
- More Italian? If you also like Italian cookies check out these Anise Cookies and Italian Tarrone. I make several other Italian cookies, but am just realizing I have not yet added them to this site - soon...
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