There is nobody like an Italian nonna.
Mine made the best french fries, pan-fried in olive oil with just a bit of salt. No matter what I do, I can never get mine to come out as good. She made these huge loaves of bread, and I'd always sneak back into the kitchen for another slice. I couldn't help myself. Her gnocchi were like pillows, and she'd make hundreds at a time. I tried making gnocchi once, and after rolling a fork over the fourth or fifth piece to get those little grooves, I was ready to give up and throw the whole thing out. She was so patient and generous and kind, and she'd call me joyarella, sometimes singing joya, joya, joyarella while swinging me around in a circle. I wished I had paid more attention and learned everything I could from her. It's my one life regret.
At Christmas and Easter, she'd make these cookies called mostaccioli that were chewy and a bit crunchy, with this chocolate glaze and spicy nut taste. I'd sit there silently complaining, wishing she'd make chocolate chip cookies like everyone else's grandmother. It wasn't until it was too late that I realized how special they were. Now, everyone in my family has their own chocolate chip cookie recipe, but nobody makes mostaccioli. A few weeks ago, I decided to change that.
Recreating the recipe wasn't easy. It had been maybe twenty years since I'd last eaten one. The internet isn't exactly flooded with mostaccioli recipes, and whatever I could find were all different from one another because Italian cooking is completely regional and even short distances between towns can mean big differences in how things are cooked.
As usual, my mother saved the day. HONEY, she said, when I first told her my plan. You need to use honey. Those words became my guide, and when I found a recipe that both used honey and said to cut the cookies into the diamond-shapes I remembered, I knew success was mine for the taking.
The recipe's an easy one to put together. You dump everything in a bowl and mix. The challenge is working with the dough. It's very sticky and soft, so everything - your hands, the board, the knife or cookie cutter - needs to be extremely well-floured. It's a good idea to keep a big bowl of flour and hand towel next to you the entire time. You'll need it.
My father pitched in a few helpful tips after the fact. Let the cookies cool and dry for at least 12 hours before you glaze them. Let them sit out for at least another day before you eat them. If you try to do everything in one night, the cookies won't dry out enough to give them their slight chewy crisp. Find a diamond-shaped cookie cutter and use it. My grandmother didn't use a knife. Obviously. That would have taken too long. Thanks dad.
Ingredients for about 30 large cookies:
For the chocolate glaze:
Make the Mostaccioli:
Roast the almonds at 400° for five to ten minutes. Watch them carefully as they roast because they will burn quickly. Grind the almonds in a food processor until they have the consistency of flour.
Beat the eggs and then add the remaining ingredients one at a time, mixing each into the dough so that it's fully incorporated.
The dough will be very soft and sticky, so you'll want the board and your hands and knife/cookie cutter very well floured. I kept a bowl of flour next to me at all times, and I used all of it and then some.
You'll need to make one cookie at a time, and it's going to be messy, so be patient. Take some dough and press it flat until it's about half an inch thick. Cut into a diamond shape with a knife or cookie cutter.
Place the mostaccioli on a lined cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes at 400°. They'll be soft when you take them out of the oven. Let them cool on a wire rack for at least an hour, but preferably overnight, so they can harden a bit.
When you are ready to glaze the cookies, melt the water, sugar and chocolate in a pot over low-medium heat for at least fifteen minutes. The glaze will have reduced in size by about half and will be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Brush the glaze on the cooled cookies, and let them rest overnight so that the glaze hardens.
These cookies last for at least a week.