Between the two of us, M has the stronger love of pumpkin spice, and every Fall he has to get his fill of this seasonal flavor. What Americans now call pumpkin spice – a variable mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove – is similar to many spice blends around the world, and we just learned of another international pumpkin spice cousin: Neapolitan Pisto (Italian Wikipedia). The key ingredients of the Pisto spice blend are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, and coriander. Pisto is a key component of the popular Roccoco and Mostaccioli (below) cookies, which are eaten around the Christmas holidays. Mostaccioli [recipe] are diamond-shaped spicy cookies coated in chocolate, and Roccoco [recipe] are ring shaped with candied fruit. Other Neapolitan holiday cookies like susamielli use Pisto as a major component. You can buy pre-blended Pisto in Naples, but we have never seen it for sale in the US. Fortunately, you can find recipes online like this one from SBS / Italian Street Food.
Tag Archives: cookies
March 19th marks St. Joseph’s Day (check out this previous link to find all of our previous St. Joseph’s day posts), a traditional feast day in Italy honoring St. Joseph and his sparing of Sicily from famine. The tradition has now spread widely throughout Italian diaspora communities, especially those with many Sicilian origins. This St. Joseph’s Day is bittersweet since we are unable to go to New Orleans this year, and are celebrating at home, alone. Typically, New Orleans has some of the most elaborate and ornate St. Joseph’s altars and homes, churches and community groups go all out (though not this year of course). Since we have nowhere to go, we are making a small altar of our own this year, including baking some St. Joseph’s Day treats.
Traditionally, on a St. Joseph’s Day Table altar there are copious citrus fruits, cakes, lucky fava beans and other offerings, as you can see above. You also usually sit down for a vegetarian meal, typically including pasta con sarde (which we are making for dinner tonight). After visiting an altar you also usually get a bag of cookies and some lucky fava beans to take home. The types of cookies vary, but you will traditionally get some cucidati and some reginelle / Biscotti Regina (sesame seed cookies). This year we decided to make reginelle, as you can see below, since they are one of our favorite cookies any time of year, and are super easy to make. We used the recipe from Southern Italian Desserts by Rosetta Costantino. I can’t find that recipe online, so there are dozens of other versions to try: Ciao Italia, Marisa’s Italian Kitchen, or A Sicilian Peasant’s Table. Buon Appetito!
While at the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago we spotted these unique rolling pins and cookie molds amidst the wooden ornaments and whistles at a German handicrafts stand. Far from just being decorative, these “Springerle” pins and molds are used for imprinting designs on traditional German cookies of the same name. Springerle cookies are easy to make, and are basically sugar cookies flavored with anise, as in this recipe. However, traditional recipes call for a more unusual ingredient – baker’s ammonia. What makes these cookies really distinct are their festive designs, which may be stars, hearts, flowers, animals, people, or anything you might imagine. Springerle pins and molds have been common across Germany for centuries, and some of the antique designs truly are artful. If you are not near a German market, you can buy a wide variety of springerle pins or molds online.
Today is Eid Al-Fitr – the breaking of the fast after the month of Ramadan. Of course, this means lavish, delicious feasts. Every country has its own food traditions to celebrate Eid, but all have an iconic dessert or two! Sweet rice/vermicelli puddings are found in India, Pakistan and Burma as a way to celebrate Eid. In Egypt there is a classic cookie: Kahk al-Eid (literally, “Eid Cookie”). These sugary shortbread-like cookies get their kick from a combination of spices including fennel and anise – which may be listed as “Kahk Flavor” in some recipes. Cookies may be made into small circles or can be shaped with a wooden mold, as in this recipe. A simpler recipe is provided by Food Republic, if you do not have access to Kahk spice.
Rua do Carmo, 61 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro
We are very keen on the Brazilian idea of including cafes in bookstores and other places you might not necessarily expect a cafe. Case in point: Besi Cafe is located in the back of an adorable homegoods and kitchenware store. The cafe is all the way in the back and its is quite difficult to make it past all of the tempting Le Creuset implements and cast iron without buying something (though I suppose that is the point). Besi has a full menu of salads and sandwiches, however the coffee drinks and cookies are the specialties. What is called a “cookie” in Brazil greatly overlaps with what is a cookie in the USA. However, what is often absent from Brazilian bakeries is a good old Tollhouse-Style gooey chocolate chip cookie, or one of those big jumbo soft cookies you find in classic delis.
We were kind of homesick for that “big old cookie,” so we were very pleased to hear that Besi Cafe was known for their American-style cookies. When we visited, there were three varieties of cookie on offer (R$6 each): Sea salt chocolate, Triple chocolate chip (milk, dark and white chocolate), and Cinnamon with dark chocolate chips. The sea salt chocolate cookie was almost flat, but had a wonderful flavor (sea salt + chocolate is always a winner combination). The cinnamon and chocolate chip cookie was more leavened and had a strongly cinnamon flavor and was chock-a-block with chips. Of the two varieties, we preferred the chocolate for its flavor, but the texture of the chocolate chip. Unfortunately, Besi did not deliver a cookie that was top notch on all fronts, but rather a series of good cookies. We also greatly enjoyed the cappuccinos with foam art, not heretofore seen in Brazil, (R$ 8) made with Minas Gerais-gown Cafe Suplicy and the loose-leaf Moroccan mint tea ($R 5). While not a perfect imitation, the cookies at Besi are great for a quick fix when a craving hits.
Though in the USA, Santa Claus is the symbol of the holiday season, in Europe it is St. Nicholas that children wait up for on December 5th. Sint Nikolaas, in Dutch, is then typically known as Sinterklaas, and is considered the precursor to the American concept of Santa. The figure of Sinterklaas is indeed similar to Santa, a benevolent figure wearing a red robe and delivering presents to children, though he rides a horse on his journey from house to house. Kids, instead of leaving milk and cookies, leave carrots for the horse beside their shoes (which is where the presents get delivered – if you are naughty you will be left with an empty shoe).
Sweets abound at Sinterklaas celebrations both on the 5th and 6th, including one of our favorites, the crisp, cinnamon speculaas cookies. Other sweet treats include pepernoten (same as German pfeffernüsse) and kruidnoten, similar to speculaas, but in more of a nugget shape. Many Dutch recipes instruct you to make kruidnoten with pre-blended “speculaas spice” which is definitely not available in the USA. However, to make your own, the Dutch Baker’s Daughter has a good DiY speculaas spice breakdown. Another food tradition is getting a large chocolate letter representing your first name called a chocoladeletter. Sinterklaas is definitely a day with tradition – many of the festive occurrences in this 17th century painting by Jan Steen (note the empty shoe) remain unchanged today.