Insanely Good Cookies!
Pan..what? Yes say it with me – PAN DEI MORTI COOKIES. In Italian, this literally means bread of the dead. Don’t be fooled. These amazing little bites are VERY much for the living and YOU must make them!
Before we bake, let’s back up and see what these are all about. These cookies are very typically Italian in that they are not too sweet and are full of fruits, nuts, and spices. They, like some other Italian cookies, are also made with sweet wine – Vin Santo, Marsala etc. You can substitute for the wine – maybe with orange juice or something else but your cookies will be different and not have that little something that is quite special in terms of flavor. The wine is, of course, cooked into the cookies. I like to use Marsala for mine.
Very often, they are served along side a sweet wine like vin santo, and Italians like to dip the cookies in the wine – a very very Italian thing. My mother and father used to do this often with many cookies and pastries. I’m sure that is where I got it – I’m a dipper!
Italians celebrate their food. They, as I have mentioned often before, have a festival or sagra for almost every food. My cousin, Paolo, in Milan, who often contributes to my newsletter, has spoken of this as well.
In Italy, All Soul’s Day or Il Giorno Dei Morti is initially celebrated on November 2nd with a Mass for those who have passed and prayers for their souls. This day isn’t only a religious feast day. In Sicily, children put their shoes out in anticipation of someone filling them with treats. In Lombardia in the north of Italy, where Milan is located, they make PAN DEI MORTI COOKIES. These cookies are dense, crisp on the outside and chewy in the center. They contain cocoa, but not chocolate and oh the flavor! Actually, when you bite into one, you experience several flavors at once: chocolate flavor, the hint of wine, the natural sweetness of dried fruits, and the crunch of nuts. They are soooo good!
PAN DEI MORTI are easy to make. They just take a little time. They last quite a few days in an air tight container or you can freeze them. When I make them, I often measure out my dry ingredients and crushed biscotti and cookies in two separate plastic bags the day before baking– seal them up, and mix and bake the next day. It cuts the time a little for baking day. That, of course, is up to you. Let’s bake!!
PAN DEI MORTI COOKIES
Makes: about 6 dozen (depends on how large you make them)
Prep: about 45 minutes
Bake: 25-30 minutes
1/2 C. Raisins or currants
1/2 C. Sweet wine such as Marsala, Vin Santo, even Vermouth is fine etc. ( I like Marsala)
10 oz. (about 2 3/4 cups) Almond or Plain Biscotti or the crisp type ladyfingers – crushed
7 oz. Amaretti Cookies- crushed(these are very crisp cookies like a snap – found at Italian or specialty markets and Fresh Market)
4 oz. (1/2 cup) Dried Figs
4 1/4 oz. ( a little more than 1/2 C.) ground almonds ( you will grind these with the dried figs)
2 C. Flour
1 1/2 C. Sugar
1/2 C. Cocoa powder
1 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 Tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp. Allspice
1/2 C. Pignolis – toasted
6 Egg Whites, not beaten
1 Generous Tsp. Fresh Orange Zest
Powdered Sugar for dusting
Soak the raisins or currants in the sweet wine for a couple of hours.
(Often I grind and crush the biscotti, cookies, figs, and almonds a day ahead and seal them in plastic bags. Then I also measure out the dry ingredients and bag those together also. It cuts the time on baking day.)
Crush the biscotti or crisp ladyfingers and the Amaretti in the food processor OR put in a bag and use a hammer! Then place in a large bowl.
Then grind the figs and the almonds together and add them to the crushed cookies in the bowl.
Measure out the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, spices, salt. Add them to the bowl and mix together.
Add the pignoli and mix.
Now pour in the egg whites, wine along with the soaked raisins or currants, and the orange zest.
Mix well and work this all into a smooth dark dough. At first, it will be very crumbly – keep working it. I like to begin this in a large bowl and when it starts to come together, pour it onto a board or surface and finish forming your smooth ball.
You can cut it in half for ease of use.
Take about 2 tbsp. of dough and form it into a football shape for each cookie. Flatten with your fingers. I like to keep a little pile of flour on the side and put some on my fingers or sprinkle on the dough – making it easier and less sticky. Don’t use too much flour though. Each cookie can be about 4 inches long. You can make them smaller if you like.
Place the cookies on parchment paper or wax paper on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. Do not over bake.
Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar and cool. Keep in a sealed container or freeze.
PAN DEI MORTI COOKIES are simply amazing warm right out of the oven. Not only are they fun to eat – they are fun to make! Serve and enjoy with a small glass of sweet wine, espresso, or coffee, or liqueur.
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography