Mustazzoli, mustazzoli, or mostaccioli are cookies, not to be confused with mostaccioli pasta. These cookies are traditionally served at Christmas time throughout southern Italy. The cookie has Arabic origins and dates to ancient Roman times where mustaceum cakes were made using grape must. The first step in winemaking is pressing the grapes with skin and all, the byproduct (grape juice) is referred to as must. Vino cotto (cooked wine), a molasses like syrup, is made from boiling down the grape must until it is thick. It’s a natural sweetener that has been around before sugar was introduced to the Mediterranean region. It is also called grape molasses. Sicilians use either vino cotto or honey to make these cookies. Grape molasses is available in Middle Eastern grocery or specialty food stores, or you can order it online. Some people also use unsulphured molasses as a substitute for vino cotto. It’s ok to use but the flavor tends to overpower the spices so I don’t recommend it.
There are infinite versions of this recipe, depending on the town or region. These are like German pfeffernusse cookies in that they contain black pepper and spices. My family rolls the cookies in sesame seeds before baking. But since I’m a chocoholic I prefer to cover them with a chocolate glaze.
MUSTAZZOLI – SICILIAN SPICE COOKIES
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.
For the Cookie Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
2 tablespoons minced candied orange peel (optional)
1/3 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)
3/4 cup grape molasses or honey
1 egg, beaten
For the Glaze:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup warm water
MAKE THE DOUGH: In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, zest, spices, and salt. Rub in shortening using the palms of your hands. Stir in orange peel and almonds. Using your hands, mix in molasses and egg until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for 1 hour.
BAKE THE COOKIES: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease with shortening.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, roll dough into a 1-inch diameter rope.
Using a rolling pin, lightly roll it along the top of the dough to flatten into a 1/2-inch thick strip.
Make 1 1/2-inch wide diagonal cuts along the strip of dough to form diamond shapes.
Place cookies 1-inch apart on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake for approximately 18 to 20 minutes, until cookies are lightly browned on the bottom and along the edges. Remove cookies and place on cooling rack. Let cookies cool to room temperature.
MAKE THE GLAZE: Place cooling rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. The glaze will drip onto the paper making clean-up easier. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, and water, in a small saucepan. Set pan over low heat and cook for 4 minutes, stirring every so often. Transfer to a small bowl.
GLAZE THE COOKIES: While the glaze is warm, carefully dip the top of the cookie into the glaze and place right-side up on baking rack. Let cookies dry until glaze hardens, about 2 hours.