Little morsels or biscotti from 16th century Italy

Transcription of original recipe
Translated recipe
Redacted 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.  
Translated recipe
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 in shape.  
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.  
Redacted Recipe
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
pinch salt
The oven was preheated to 360°F and a 9 x 13” non-stick pan was greased with butter.  
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 substitute.
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 appendix 1 , 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 cakes.
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 appendix 2 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 were written.  

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  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.