Little morsels or biscotti from 16th century Italy
Transcription of original recipe
Notes on the Ingredients
Role of biscotti in the meal
The provisioning of the side-board
Further evidence on the importance of biscotti
in Italian menus
Transcription of original recipe taken from Opera dell’arte di cucinare by
Bartolomeo Scappi (1570)
Per fare morselletti, cioè mostaccioli alla Milanese.
Cap CXLII. Sesto libro folio 420.
Piglinosi quindeci uove fresche, & battanosi in una cazzuola, & passnosi
per lo setaccio con due libre & mezza di zuccaro fino fatto in polvere,
& mezza oncia di anici crudi, overo pitartamo pesto, & un grano o
due di muschio fino, & mettanosi con ese libre due & mezza di farina,
& battasi ogni cosa per tre quarti d’hora, di modo che venga la pasta
come quella delle frittelle, & lascisi riposare per un quarto d’hora,
& ribbattasi un’altra volta, poi si habbiano apparecchiati fogli di carta
fatti a lucerne onti, overo tortiere altre di sponde con cialde sotto senza
essere bagnate di cosa alcuna, & dapoi mettasi essa pasta dentro le lucerne,
o tortiere, & non sia d’altezza piu che la grossezza d’un dito, &
subito si spolverizzino di zuccaro, & ponganosi nel forno che sia caldo,
overo quelle delle tortiere, cuocanosi come le torte, & come tal pasta
sarà sgonfiata, & haverà in tutto persa l’humidità,
& sarà alquanto sodetta, cioè sia come una focaccia tenera,
cavisi della tortiera o lucerna, & subito si taglino con un coltello
largo & sottile, a fette larghe due dita, & lunghe a beneplacito,
& rimettanosi nel forno con fogli di carta sotto a biscottarsi, rivoltandoli
spesso, però il forno non sia tanto caldo come di sopra, & come
saranno bene asciutte, cavinosi, & conservinosi perche sono sempre migliori
il secondo giorno che il primo, & durrano un mese nella lor perfettione.
To make little morsels, that is “mostaccioli” in the Milan style
Take fifteen fresh eggs and beat them in a casserole and pass through the
sieve with two and a half pounds of sugar fine and powdered, and half an
ounce of raw aniseed or partly crushed (aniseed) and a grain or two of fine
musk, and put with this two pounds and a half of flour and beat everything
for three quarters of an hour, so that it becomes like the pasta for fritters
and let it rest for a quarter hour and rebeat it another time. Then
one takes a sheet of paper put into a “lucerne” and greased, or a ‘tortiere’
with wafers beneath that have not been bathed in such a way (not greased)
and then put this paste into the ‘lucerne’ or ‘tortiere’ (specific pan types)
until it is not higher than the thickness of a finger and immediately powder
with sugar and put it into the oven that is hot, or the tart pan, and cook
it like a tart and when this pasta is cooked (not wet) and will in all lose
the humidity and it will be enough cooked, that is like a tender focaccia,
pull out the ‘lucerne’ or ‘tortiere’ and immediately cut with a large thin
knife, cut in slices as large as two fingers, and as long as one pleases,
and put them in the oven with pieces of paper beneath the biscuits, turn
them enough, ensure that the oven is not as hot as the one above (second
baking is at a lower temp than first), and when they are well dried, pull
them out and save them because they are always better the second day than
the first and they will keep for a month in their perfection.
Lucerne is a rectangular pan that closely resembles a modern lasagna pan
Tortiere is literally a pan for tarts, generally circular. The tortiere
can also be configured so that the pie can be baked in coals in the fire,
a little like a dutch oven.
Mostaccioli in Florio (1620) is defined as a bread or gingerbread type item.
From the text it most closely resembles a biscotti recipe and has been translated
as such throughout the rest of the text. Most likely mostaccioli is
a term used for a specific type of biscotti.
5 eggs (organic free range, size large)
12 oz sugar (pure cane)
12 oz all-purpose flour (stoneground organic white)
2 teaspoons anise seed (Pimpinella anisum) ground finely
The oven was preheated to 360°F and a 9 x 13” non-stick pan was greased
Eggs were beaten and strained to remove membranes. Sugar, flour and
anise seed was added to the mixture which was beaten with a wooden spoon
for ten minutes. After this time no air had been incorporated into
the batter, and it was transferred to a KitchenAid stand mixer and beat at
medium speed for 5 minutes. The batter was then allowed to rest for
thirty minutes. Following resting the biscotti batter was re-beaten
for five minutes. This was then poured into the greased pan and
leveled by gently tapping the pan on the counter. The biscotti were
cooked for thirty-five minutes, until the batter came away from the side
of the pan and the center was springy and dry to the touch.
The cake was turned onto a cutting board, the edges and bottom were then
trimmed with a sharp knife. This trimming, while not requested in the
original recipe was performed as the bottom and sides of the biscotti were
very dark, almost black. As we are given instructions to stop the biscotti
from browning in other recipes it was assumed that they should be as pale
as possible. Thus the dark cooked edges were removed to improve aesthetic
appearance. The cake was then cut down the middle, resulting in two
4.5” wide pieces, these pieces were then sliced thinly to yield the biscotti.
Biscotti were arranged on baking sheets lined with cooking parchment and
returned to the oven that had been reduced in temperature to 210°F.
Every 15 minutes the biscotti were removed from the oven and turned over,
the biscotti were cooked for 90 minutes. After which time the biscotti
were moved to a rack, the oven was turned off and the biscotti were returned
to the oven overnight to complete drying.
Weights and measures
In the introduction of Epulario e segreti vari (Turco 1636) we are given
the tuscan weights and measures for the 16th century. The “libra” or
pound is a measure that varied by location, is given as about 348 grams (g)
or the equivalent to 12 modern ounces. There were 12 ounces per pound,
making the medieval ounce equivalent to the modern one. The grain or
“grano” is 1/24 of a “dragma”, equivalent to 0.05g. A dragma is equivalent
to 1/8 of an ounce.
Eggs: a large number of recipes in Opera ask for “eggs newly laid
that day” or “fresh eggs”. This therefore leads us to the assumption
that as a cook Scappi had ready access to both and eggs. Unfortunately,
I do not have a hen-coop in the back yard and am therefore forced to compromise
by using organic free-range eggs.
Sugar: by the late 16th century sugar cane was being grown all around
the Mediterranean. Scappi would have had access to white sugar that
would have been obtained in cones that would have been scraped and pounded
for use. I used Domino pure cane sugar as the most reasonable available
Flour: wheat was widely grown across Europe and the higher classes
prized white flour. Following grinding by stones the resultant meal
would have bolted through successively finer cloth to remove most, if not
all, of the bran and some of the germ. I purchased and used organic
stone ground white flour in this recipe as the most readily available equivalent.
Musk: is the dried anal scent glands of the musk deer. This
cruel product is no longer readily available. There are chemical substitutes
used in perfumes but their edibility is questionable. Consequently
I made the decision to leave this ingredient out of the biscotti.
Baking: the large kitchens available to Bartolomeo Scappi were equipped
with wood fired ovens, similar to those still used today in many parts of
Italy. A fire was lit inside the brick oven, when hot the ashes were
raked out and pies were added. In addition the Italians could also
bake pies and tarts in the fire, the tart pan was on legs and could be placed
above the coals, there was then a lid or cover which was placed over the
top of the pie and also covered with coals. This method of cooking
closely approximates those used with baking in a dutch oven in a fire pit.
Given practical constraints, not least of which is living in an urban area
that bans fires, I chose to bake the biscotti in the controllable condition
of a modern gas oven.
Serving: the dishes upon which biscotti would be served are described
in Scappi (see provisioning the sideboard below). I have chosen to
serve them on an armorial maiolica plate, decorated with the arms of the
middle kingdom. Maiolica was widely used in 16th century Italy with
works of exceptional quality being made. The artists responsible for
painting these ceramic plates were highly paid and respected. Maiolica
was also technically difficult and maiolica plates of quality were often
considered as precious as gold.
Madiera wine: was frequently served with biscotti in the first course.
The production of this fine wine has remained mostly unchanged for centuries.
Role of biscotti in the meal
Opera (Scappi 1570) gives one much wonderful information, a whole chapter
is dedicated to descriptions of menus served in the Vatican throughout a
whole year. We are given menus for lunch and dinner for four days and
a fasting day in every month. When these menus are examined certain
patterns are detectable. The first service, or course, of every meal
is from the sideboard. This is literally cold, pre-cooked items that
are held in a cabinet in the feasting room. In over ninety percent
of the lunch menus biscotti of various kinds are served. These range
from Mostacciuoli Napoletani, frequently seen in spring menus, to Biscotti
Pisani and Napoletani, seen more frequently in winter menus. Often
the menu item relating to biscotti asks indicates that they are served, “con
malvagia in bicchieri”, that is with Madeira wine. . See the
, which contains translations of menus from several months that include biscotti.
The provisioning of the side-board
The instructions given by Scappi (Scappi 1570) for provisioning of the side
board on folio 327, of the forth book are instructive. Not only on
the important role this cold cabinet held in the ordering of meal plans,
but also in the serving of them as a full list of serving ware is given.
“è necessario che la Credenza, (appresso alle tovalglie, mantili,
salviette, saline, coltelli, forchine, & cocchiari d’oro, & d’argento,
& candellieri di piu sorte, piatti, bacini, & boccali d’argento,
& oro, con piatti, scotelle, & tazze di porcellana, & di maiolica,
& d’altra terra, per insalate, frutte, & altre robbe fredde) sia
provista delle sottoscritte robbe, cioè d’ogni sorte condite, asciutte,
et sciroppate di geli, di visciole, di marasche, & di cotogne, &
cotognate di piu sorte, di mostaccioli Napoletani, & Romaneschi, di lavorieri
di marzapane in piu forme, pignoccati, pistachea, coppete, & d’altri
lavorieri di zuccharo, di biscotti Pisani, & Romaneschi, et d’altri sorte,
& d’ogni tempo di cialdoni, & ciambellette”
It is necessary that the side-board, (prepared with the towels, table-cloths,
serviettes, salts, knives, forks, & spoons of gold, & of silver,
& candlesticks of many kinds, plates, basins, and jugs of silver, &
gold, with plates, bowls, & cups of porcelain, & of maiolica, &
of other clays, for salads, fruits, and other things cold) it should be provided
with the above written things, that is every sort of candied, dried and jelly
with syrups, of sour cherries, maraschino cherries, and of quinces and quince
flavored (item) of many kinds, and with “mostaccioli” (type of biscotti)
in Naples and Roman style, and works of marzipan in many sorts, (made with)
pine nuts and pistacchio, chalices and other sugar works, and biscotti peasant
style and roman style, and of other kinds, & always wafers and small
Further evidence on the importance of biscotti in Italian menus
The importance of biscotti in the Italian menu is further indicated by the
presence of biscotti and biscotti like recipes in many of the Italian cookery
texts. Of the four books investigated only one, the Libro di Cucina/Libro
per cuoco which is a 14th century Italian cookery manuscript, did not have
any recipes. In the fifth book of Romoli Domenico (1593) there is over
one hundred recipes, within this there is five recipes for biscotti, and
biscotti like items. These range from meringue type items containing
just sugar and egg whites, to marzipan like items made with sugar and almonds,
and the classic biscotti similar to the one from Scappi with eggs, sugar,
flour and aniseed. Musk is also used in about half of these recipes,
indicating that it was considered an important flavoring for these crisp
and tasty cookies. In a Tuscan tract (Turco 1636), from slightly out
of period, we find three more recipes for biscotti, including one for mostacciuoli
alla Romana. This recipe could be said to be more closely related to
gingerbread, containing almonds, candied citron peel, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom,
musk, ambergris, along with the standard ingredients of eggs, sugar and flour.
The Libro Novo (Messisbugo 1557) uniquely does not contain any recipes that
resemble the classic biscotti recipe instead having a recipe for Mostazzoli
di zuccharo which most closely resembles the gingerbread seen in 14th century
English cooking tracts, containing: candied citron, honey, pepper, saffron,
cinnamon, musk and flour. See
for translations of alternate biscotti recipes.
All translations were performed by Helewyse de Birkestad for this entry.
Two dictionaries were used to assist translation, one from the early 17th
century (Florio 1620) and one from the 20th Century (Alfred Hoare 1925).
The dictionary written by Alfred Hroare is unusually useful for a modern
dictionary as it contains many antique and dialect terms along with their
derivation. The dictionary by Florio is invaluable as it is a dictionary
based on the Italian words in use during the period in which the cookbooks
Alfred Hoare, M. A. (1925). An Italian Dictionary, Cambridge University Press.
Florio, J. (1620). A dictionary Italian & English. London, T. Warren.
Messisbugo, C. (1557). Libro Novo Nel Qual S'insegna a' far d'ogni Sorte
de Vivanda. Venetia.
Romoli, D. (1593). La Singolare dottrina di M. Domenico Romoli. Venezia,
Gio. Battista Bonfadino.
Scappi, B. (1570). Opera dell'arte del cucinare. Bologna, Arnaldo Forni.
Turco, G. d. (1636). Epulario e Segreti vari. Trattati di cucina Toscana
nella Firenze Seicentesca (1602 - 1636). Bologna, Arnaldo Forni Editore.
Translated 2003 by Lady Helewyse de Birkestad, CW. Contact me by email
at email@example.com. You may use/ distribute this version for non-profit
use only (scholarly, private use) or publication in SCA related publications
provided that this information is included.