Ossa di Morti

Introduction & Recipe


The day after All Saints Day is All Souls Day,” il Giorno dei Morti”, a day to pray, to go to the cemetery and to remember family’s members and friends that passed away. 
For the children it was a completely different occasion, only on two holidays we would get toys and gifts “il Giorno dei Morti” and la “Befana”, the Epiphany.
On All Souls Day my siblings and I, still in our pajamas, would get up early and run into the formal dining room that my family used for special occasions or special guests, to look for the gift and the trays of goodies that the dead, “i morti” had prepared during the night for the children that had been good during the year.
The night previously to All Souls Day, we hid all the graters because as a popular dirge sang: “I nuotti viennu i muorti e t’a’ arranciulian i peri”, which translate ‘at night the dead will come to grate your feet’ and if they had found the grater they would have used it.
Soon as time went by and I resolved the mystery of the dead, I was helping my parents to prepare the trays and pack the gifts for my siblings.
The trays were full of dry fruits, pomegranates, quinces (strangely, we never ate them ), fruits made of marzipan, “Martorana”, and cookies like “tatu”, “pipatelli”, “muscardini” and what in Palermo are called “mostaccioli” and in other parts of Sicily called “Ossa di Morto”. 
Muscardini and mostaccioli required good teeth unless they were made the same day.
In the center of each tray there was the “pupaccena” a small statue made of sugar and painted in vivid colors representing legendary figures, usually a knight for the boys and a damsel for the girls.
The children would eat their preferred cookies and morsels and at dinner share with the grownups all the delicacies left.
The muscardini are made with a mixture of flour, sugar, and cinnamon and cut into small pieces; it is the same recipe to make mostaccioli or “Ossa di Morto” except that the mostazzuoli
 Palermo style are aromatized with powdered cloves: also they are cut into a bigger size and shaped into various forms of symbolic Christian figures.


Photo particular from

Currently all bakers aromatize the small muscardini and the mostaccioli with cinnamon and cloves: it makes the mostaccioli and the muscardini more flavorful and both cookies can be made using one recipe.  

The other variety made in south-western Sicily is made with a mixture of flour, sugar, almond, flavored with a combination of cloves, cinnamon powder and lemon zest; it is baked with a different technique. 



· 8 oz. flour                                            

· 8 oz. sugar                                               

· 2 oz. water equal to ¼ cup + 1 teaspoon

· ½ teaspoon fresh clove’s powder 

· ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder 

· Flour for dusting 



The Dough
Combine the water and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil remove from the stove and mix in the flour, being careful not to make any lumps. Blend in the clove’s powder and pour the mixture on a dusted working table. 

The Cookies
As soon you can handle it, knead dough briefly, compact it, roll it out to ½” thickness and cut in 1 inch diamond squares.

Decorate some of the squares, marking them with a knife or the prone of a fork, or take 1 piece at a time, work and roll it into a 3” rope, 

pinch the center to ½“thickness, stretch and shape the ends into a lump to resemble a bone.

                                            Mostaccioli Palermitani

                                  Photo particular from

Place the mostaccioli into a dusted pan, 1 inch apart and store in a dry place for a few days until they become white as snow. 

The Baking
Preheat the oven at 325 degrees.

Use a brush to dampen the bottom of each cookie with water and place them 2” to 3” apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets; bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cookies will deposit the light golden colored sugar at the bottom of each muscardino.


Ossa di Morto or Mustaccioli  

As Made in South-western Sicily 



· 2 cups flour

· 1 cup sugar

· ½ cup almonds coarsely ground

· ½ teaspoon fresh cinnamon powder

· 4 cloves finely ground

· zest of 1 lemon

· Flour for dusting

About ¼ cup and 1 tablespoon water 



The Dough
Make a well with the flour, place in it the sugar, almonds, cinnamon, finely ground cloves and the zest of the lemon.
Add water and mix all ingredients with the help of a fork and then using your hands knead to bring dough together. If dough is too dry add water by the teaspoon. It should have the consistency of shortbread.
Do not over mix. Do not handle dough more than necessary. Refrigerate dough for ½ hour.
Prepare pan: grease and lightly dust a cookie sheet.


The Biscuits
Knead the dough briefly, compact it, roll it out to ½” thickness and cut in 1 ½ inches diamond squares. 

Or knead the dough briefly, compact it and roll it into a rope 3/4” thick and cut into 4” pieces. Pinch the center of each piece to ½“thickness, stretch and shape the ends into a lump to resemble a bone. 

Place the “Ossa di Morto” into a dusted pan, 1 inch apart.
Prepare pan(s) for baking: grease and lightly dust a cookie sheet.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and immerse the mostaccioli a few at a time and as soon they came to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and place each piece into the greased pan, 2 inches apart.


The Baking
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until cookies are a light golden color.

When cooled, store in an airtight container.