MUSTACCIOLI in ITALY  

“MUSTAZZUOLI “ 

Mustacciolo is a dessert prepared in the Italian Peninsula and in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.  

The mustacciolo has been a favorite dessert for centuries and it is habitually prepared after the harvest of grapes, when fresh juice of grapes is cooked into must and also for the Christmas holidays. 

Long before the Romans, the Etruscan prepared a cake made with must - cooked wine- and with a mush made of barley or millet: it was offered to their divinities or prepared for special occurrences. 

In Rome, the mustaceum was a cake baked with must and flour, thus the name mustaceum; it was baked to solemnize weddings and to offer to the gods and to the wedding party. 

The wedding cake, the mustaceum, was wrapped in laurel leaves to infuse the cake with a fine fragrance and flavor; when baked the heat of the oven would burn the laurel leaves which would vanish into ashes. 

In Roman customs, laurel was a symbol of glory and laurel wraths were bestowed to heroes or brave people because of their extraordinary actions. When someone by means of schemes and plots, was searching for fame, it was as foolish as in the Latin proverb “Loreolam in mustaceo querere” which translate “to look for laurel in the trifle”, meaning it is silly to seek fame by maneuvering, as it is stupid to look for laurel in the wedding cake, since it burnt and faded away into ashes as it is the recognition for undeserved merits.  

In time, the must cake has morphed into a dessert of a different kind, size and shape, the name changed and even the main ingredient, the must was at times substituted and replaced with honey or sugar.  

The later version of the must cakes called mustazzuoli or mustaccioli is prepared nearly all over Italy and each region, town and family uses different ingredients and different technique. 

Following a basic recipe to make mostaccioli, a brief description is offered to illustrate the different techniques and products utilized to bake these cookies in the Italian Peninsula and Sardinia. A separate chapter is dedicated to Sicilian mustazzuoli in the desserts section. 

THE BASIC RECIPE 

  • 1 lb. flour               
  • 1 pint of must or 1 lb. of honey or 1 lb. sugar + ¼ cup water     
  • 2 eggs or 1 pint of red wine or about 1 pint of water     
  • ½ cup toasted almonds, chopped with a knife 
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder  
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cloves 
  • Zest of 1 orange or fresh or candied orange peels 
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder 
  • Extra flour to add if mixture results too soft 

 

 

 

PREPARATION 

If using fresh orange peels follow these directions: to ready the fresh orange peels for the filling, rinse with cold water, dry and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. When cooled, cut them with scissors into very thin strips to resemble “angel’s hair”- capelli d’angelo

Mix all the dry ingredients, mound on a flat surface and form a well or place the ingredients in a bowl; add remaining ingredients.  

When using the eggs, break them and beat with a fork, before mixing in. Start to blend the flour from the inside of the well, and keep incorporating it with the liquid ingredients. 

Using your hands, bring all the flour together to form a ball with the dough. Fold and press with the palm of your hands and add a little more water if needed, to moisten the flour, or if dough is sticky, add some more flour.  

Do not over mix, set aside when dough forms into a single mass.  

 

Cover and rest at room temperature for about 1 hour. 

Clean your hands and working surface and discard scraps. 

Preheat oven at 325 degrees, grease and dust with flour cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper.  

Dust working surface with flour and with a rolling pin, flatten the dough evenly to 3/8 of an inch thick and cut into squares, rounds, stars etc., or use a cookie mold to create special designs, depending on the local traditions.  If preferred, with a damp brush go over cookies to lightly wet tops and decorate with granulated sugar or colored sugar sprinkles or almonds. 

Bake at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mustazzuoli are a light and golden color. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or coat with honey or a chocolate glace. 

Another way to mould the mustazzuoli is to compact a portion of the dough and shape into 1 ½ inch log. Cut it into pieces to form small sticks about 4 inches long and ½ inch thick, place each piece into greased pans 3 inches apart and shape it to form an “S” or into a ring-shaped cookie. To decorate, make 4-5 small cuts on top of each cookie, using a pair of scissors. 

 

MUSTACCIOLI IN THE OTHER REGIONS 

 

In the Po’ Valley to 2½  lbs. of flour and to 2 lbs. of sugar, a pint of red wine is used with the addition of grounded cloves and abundant cinnamon. Add more flour or wine to get a solid and smooth dough. The mustaccioli are cut into 2 inch rhomboidal shapes (oblong squares) and about ½ inch thick.  

In Lombardy these morselli called mostazzon are made with sugar, flour, eggs and anise seeds; they are baked in pans covered with wafers, then removed from pans, cut into 2 x 3 inches and each slice is laid on side and baked again until lightly toasted.  

In Veneto, mostacciola is an almond cake made with chocolate and various spices. 

In Emilia Romagna, mostacciola is a flat fruit cake made with candied fruits, including orange, citron and raisins, in addition to chocolate, honey, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon. 

In Tuscany, Umbria and Basilicata, the mustaccioli are mostly made with sugar or honey, flour and walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts, in few localities must is used as a sweetener. 

 In Southern Italy as well as in Latium, the mustazzuoli are mostly made with honey or sugar mixed in equal parts to flour, with the addition of eggs. Also ½ cup toasted almonds, chopped with a knife, ground cinnamon, cloves, the zest of 1 orange and a small amount of baking powder is mixed in. 

In the province of Naples the rhomboidal shaped mustazzuoli are made with cooked must, honey, eggs, toasted almonds, chopped with a knife, ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, zest of orange and of lemon and a small amount of baking powder. After baking until pale golden, they are dusted with confectionary sugar or covered with chocolate icing. 

In Puglia to 1 lb. of flour is combined with ½ lb. of sugar and ½ lb. of honey; then in addition to a tablespoon of oil, 3 table spoons of bitter cocoa, ½ cup toasted almonds, chopped with a knife, ground cinnamon and cloves, zest of 1 orange, little less than ½ teaspoon baking powder and some water is included to obtain a compact and elastic mixture. The dough is shaped in small irregular balls more or less 1 inch in diameter and placed in baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. After baking they are covered with a chocolate glaze. 

In Calabria the baking powder is replaced by a jigger of hard liquor; to 1 lb. of honey and 1 lb. of flour, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons (½ stick) of butter are mixed in, as well as ½ cup toasted almonds, chopped with a knife, ground cinnamon, cloves and diced candied orange peels. The rolled out dough is cut into various forms reminiscent of pagan traditions or into Christian symbolic figures. After baking they are covered with a chocolate glaze. 

In Sardinia, the mustazzolos are diamond shaped biscuits, made with flour, sugar, yeast, and water; they are aromatized with cinnamon and lemon and covered with vanilla icing after baking.