Lucetta lives in a small town in the South of Puglia. Her house is on a dusty road in a neighbourhood that 40 years ago was all fields and grass. In the meantime, houses have been built, often by families, who traveled to Switzerland to seek their fortunes with one goal only: to save enough money with which to finance their dreams for the future, dreams, which for most families, remained firmly anchored in the dusty soil of the South. Many families ended up staying in Switzerland, but many more, once they had saved the magical sum that would enable life back in Italy, went back. So houses were built in the village, the size of property directly proportional to the number of years spent abroad, some families own multiple properties, one in the village and another 30 km to the south on the seaside, where they move for the summer. Lucetta, never left the village – she looked after her parents and over the years has become an integral part of the neighbourhoods fabric – over the last 40 years, life here has settled into a simple rhythm of friendship, support and exchange. Days start early – the women meet for coffee and biscuits, most mornings at 6am, in one of the scrupulously clean kitchens, to chat and welcome the day before it gets too hot to move. Houses are dark inside, small windows keep out the heat and the light, which for a Northerner is odd, a visit to a 90 year-old neighbour one afternoon, led me past riotously blossoming plants into a small room at the center of a house. The room had not a single window, the walls plastered with the large wedding photographs so favoured in Italy of daughters and sons, nephews and nieces, communions and baptisms and photographs of Padre Pio and the virgin mary in gilt frames. The effect: a tribute to a future for a grandmother living out her days in the past and the dark. It made me sad, but that may not be how she felt.
Lucetta has brothers and sisters and they always visit for Easter and Christmas bringing their children – Lucetta is an amazing cook and the family gathers round her table for feasts. On a recent visit we were sent over to take photographs of her making Mustazzoli, which is why I can share the recipe and the photos with you. I am convinced these biscuits were the origin of what we sell in Switzerland as Magenbrot, and I am even more convinced that the Italians brought the recipe with them from Italy in the 70ies, and that Mustazzoli are a better but drier version of this “Swiss” classic.
Mustazzoli are pretty little lozenge shaped biscuits, they go well with an espresso, although most of what is sold under that name really doesn’t deserve the title. The biscuits are baked as you can see top second from left and then dipped in a cocoa sugar glaze. Lucetta didn’t want to be photograhed here so I just photographed her hands showing how to decide when the glaze is ready for use on the biscuits – the glaze needs to remain in one thick thread between your fingers, see photo above bottom left, if you don’t wait for this to happen, your mustazzoli won’t dry – you can see mustazzoli covered in too thin glaze second from left and at far right, the glaze dribbles and drips and doesn’t cover the biscuit properly. A properly covered mustazzoli looks like this:
If the glaze consistency is not correct you can add more chocolate, Lucetta uses the best she can find, which happens to be Lindt 90% cocoa. You can see a trial dipped Mustazzoli on the bottom second left. And the glaze as it becomes glossy and the texture is perfect to cover the biscuits. The next bit is a labour of love, each single mustazzoli is dropped in the glaze and turned until it is fully covered in chocolate, and then fished out. My question why we cannot throw them all into the glaze at once and then pull them out one by one was met with friendly disdain – and the response “no, then they wouldn’t be covered properly”. You can see that when Lucetta makes mustazzoli, she makes larges quantities.
Lucetta’s Mustazzoli recipe;
- 3 tablespoons cocoa
- 500g sugar
- 200 ml water
Bring to boil and boil until thickened – once you are into a syrup stage start testing the glaze as shown above, add in 90% chocolate to thicken, but don’t boil once you have added the chocolate. At some point you will get to the a thread stage, read more about it above. Test the biscuits in the glaze,
Biscuits (preheat oven to 160-180°c)
- 500g flour
- 125g sugar
- 200g ground almonds, I’d use blanched almonds
- 5 tablespoons cocoa
- lemon rind grated from an organic lemon
- cinnamon (use real cinnamon not cassia . which is what is sold in the US as cinnamon and which has a sharper taste)
- ground cloves small pinch
- 1/2 sachet of ammonium bicarbonate
Mix all ingredients for the dough, roll out to about 1-2 cm thickness, mark into lozenge shapes, and then bake at between 160 – 180°C for approximately 5-10 minutes – Italian recommendations on baking times are hazy. When I asked I was told – oh it varies on the flour, the temperature, the weather, so bake a small batch of 5.-10 for 5 minutes, if they are ready use that time as the indicator for the rest of the biscuits.