Having scanned Scappi for an exciting Easter dish (seeing as there are plenty of recipes for Lent I thought Easter dishes would be a given), hoping for an early version of Pastiera or Pane di Pasqua, to my great disappointment I have been unable to find a single one! So I have settled instead for a modern biscotti made with orange, inspired by the signature flavours of Pastiera to compare with Scappi’s mostaccioli, an early example of the ‘twice-baked’ biscotti. Scappi recommends these are served at the beginning of a feast as a credenza alongside other sweet morsels and accompanied by wine to stimulate the appetite and includes them crumbled in a number of sweet dishes, as with the plum torte.
Mostacciolo are among the most ancient of Italian confectionary and modern versions retain many of the characteristics of those served in medieval and Renaissance Italy which were twice-baked, heavily spiced, sweet treats served at banquets and festive occasions. The name mostaciollo comes from the Italian grape must most which was reduced to form a syrup used as a sweetener. The recipe is thought to have originated from a type of Roman cake called mustacea ‘must cake’, described by Cato the Elder in De Agri Cultura, where the ingredients flour, lard, cheese, grape must, anise and cumin were combined and baked wrapped in bay leaves…a future recipe for The Hungry Historians, methinks, so watch this space!
In Sicily today mostaciollo are biscuits spiced with cinnamon and cloves, commonly served with dessert wine for dipping, as well as being made with orange and sesame seeds as a festival speciality on All Souls’ Day. Perhaps the most recognisable modern example comes in the form of diamond-shaped spiced biscuits covered in chocolate from Napoli, which are typically eaten at Christmas and weddings, but each region has its own version.
Scappi’s mostaccioli are therefore the link between these ancient and modern recipes. However, unlike the typically spiced biscuits, Scappi’s Milanese version only calls for aniseed and musk, representing a refined recipe tailored for the elite: a deliberate move away from the earlier heavily spiced versions and more closely resembling biscotti. This un-spiced version may sound a little dull, but it is important to remember this biscuit was intended to be served with various sweet accompaniments and a good wine. As such (and because it’s Easter!) I will serve them alongside a modern chocolate and orange biscotti with hot mocha dipping sauce (fabulous recipe courtesy of the Silver Fox himself, Paul Hollywood) and whatever wine I happen to find open at the time.
To prepare dainty morsels – that is, Milanese-style mostaccioli Get fifteen fresh eggs, beat them in a casserole pot and strain them with two and a half pounds of fine, powdered sugar, half an ounce of raw aniseed or else ground coriander, and a grain or two of fine musk; with that put two and a half pounds of flour… Then have greased sheets of paper ready, made like lamps, or else high-sided torte pans with, on the bottom, then put the batter into the lamps or torte pans, filling them no more than the thickness of a finger. Sprinkle them immediately with sugar and put into a hot oven…When that batter has risen up and thoroughly dried out and is rather firm take it out of the torte pan or lamp. Right away with a broad, sharp knife cut them up into slices two fingers wide and as long as you like, and put them back into the oven on sheets of paper to bake again like biscuits, turning them over often.
– The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, Book VI, Recipe 142
250g caster sugar
250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon aniseed
1 teaspoon grape must/ concentrated grape juice
- Preheat the oven to 160°C
- Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix to form a dough, turn onto a floured surface
- Roll the dough into a log shape, place on a greased baking tray and sprinkle with sugar
- Bake for 25 minutes until dry and firm
- Leave to cool and when only slightly warm cut into 2cm slices
- Place the slices back on the baking tray, bake for 15 mins, then turn over and bake on the other side for a further 15 mins until golden brown on both sides
- Serve after dinner with dipping sauce and digestivi – the perfect way to end a meal
In case you were wondering, these biscotti really do taste as plain as they look, which makes them perfect for nibbling on after an indulgent dinner (of which I have had far too many over this Easter period) along with a digestivi to help wash it all down. The aniseed taste is very subtle and you only get a subtle hint of the flavour and I have to say the concentrated grape juice I used as a substitute for the grape must was completely lost on me, but presumably added a little to the sweetness. Compared with modern biscotti, there wasn’t a huge amount of difference in taste and this could be used as a base recipe for biscotti to which you can add whatever flavorings you want, although I’d recommend adding a bit of baking powder as I had to roll it up in the oven to keep its shape for the first 10 minutes of baking.
All in all, a lovely and simple accompaniment to chocolatey/ boozy dips!
Buona Pasqua a tutti!