Food

Mostaccioli (Pugliese Spiced Christmas Cookies)

TIMEDecember 16, 2021

Mostaccioli are dense, dark, nutty cookies shaped like diamonds and covered with a chocolate glaze. The key ingredient to make traditional mostaccioli is vincotto, a syrupy cooked grape must (mosto in Italian, hence their name, mostaccioli), or vincotto di fichi, a thick, slow-cooked fig syrup. Both are very common in the Italian South, usually used to drizzle over Christmas and Easter sweet treats, or, as in this case, to sweeten mostaccioli. You can substitute vincotto with molasses or honey.

These cookies are typical of the Southern Italian region, from Campania to Basilicata, from Abruzzo to Puglia. The first time I met them, they were almost hidden in a large tray of almond paste cookies my husband’s aunt had brought us from Lecce, in Puglia, to celebrate Christmas. Even though almond paste is one of my favorite treats, I kept coming back to the spiced, chocolate-glazed diamonds. That was the beginning of an ongoing love story with mostaccioli, now firmly part of my Christmas traditions at home.

If you do not feel like making this cocoa powder and sugar glaze, you can use melted dark chocolate instead: Dip the mostaccioli, then arrange them on a piece of parchment paper until the chocolate sets.

Makes 60 cookies

For the Cookies

 

  • 4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces almonds, toasted and coarsely ground
  • 1 1/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • Zest of 1 organic orange
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon (8 grams) baker’s ammonia (ammonium carbonate)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup fig vincotto, or molasses
  • 1/2 cup water

 

 

For the Glaze

 

  • 2 1/2 cups (500 grams) sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/3 cup (200 grams) cocoa powder

 

 

Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line three rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, almonds, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, orange zest, and baker’s ammonia.

Add the olive oil, vincotto (or molasses), and water, and mix until you get a smooth, dense dough.

On a lightly floured working surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a 1/3-inch-thick disk, then, with a sharp knife, cut out 1 1/2-inch-by-1 1/2-inch diamond-shaped cookies. Arrange the mostaccioli on the lined baking sheets, keeping them well spaced apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes, until golden brown. They will still be slightly soft to the touch. Transfer the mostaccioli to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the glaze: In a saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, and water in a saucepan and stir to mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup becomes thick, glossy, and sticky, about 10 minutes.

Grease a wire rack with olive oil, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (or easily cleaned work surface), then arrange the cooled mostaccioli on top of the rack. Spoon the hot glaze onto each mostacciolo, letting the excess drip from the mostaccioli.

Let them dry completely; it might take up to two days. The icing will turn from glossy, sticky, and shiny to brittle and opaque. Then you can keep them for weeks in a tin box or other airtight container.

Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan-born and bred food writer, food photographer, and author of five cookbooks, including “From the Markets of Tuscany.” She is currently working on her sixth cookbook. Find her online at her blog, JulsKitchen.com