Quaresimali and Frittelle di San Giuseppe: Tuscan Lent Sweets

Quaresimali Lent cookies made by an artisanal bakery, can be purchased at Migone Confetti, via Calzauoli 85/r near Piazza della Repubblica in Florence

As Easter approaches in Italy, the local diet of meats and animal fats are exchanged for fish and legumes, complemented by classical Lent desserts to abide by Lent diet changes. In Tuscany, these are the Frittelle di San Giuseppe and Quaresimali.

Frittelle are typically made on Father’s Day, which in Italy takes place on the same day as the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) on March 19.  St. Joseph or San Giuseppe was the husband of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, and choosing to celebrate father’s day on this date in Italy is designed to create more meaning and spiritual connection.   Served throughout the country, each recipe varies slightly depending on which region it is being made. In Tuscany, Frittelle di San Giuseppe are made using balls of cooked arborio rice mixed with lemon and orange zest. Other variations from different regions may add raisins or nuts.

Another typical dessert in Tuscany during Carnival is quaresimali. Quaresimali are chocolate covered biscotti that are made in the shapes of the letters of the alphabet, and they are rumored to originate from a convent in Florence. The darkness of the quaresimali symbolizes the mourning of Christ, and nuns would use the alphabet cookies to write out the Gospel. The cookies originally got their dark color from melted sugar but now it is common to use a chocolate coating for the symbolic meaning, though some recipes call for cocoa powder. The cookies are now a treat intended for children, though all ages can still enjoy its chocolate-y goodness. To make these delicious desserts, here is a recipe from Profumo Di Mamma:

For five baking sheets of cookies:
200g flour
200g sugar
50g cocoa powder
50g hazelnut spread (or 50g hazelnuts turned to powder by a chopper)
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of cinnamon powder
1 tsp baking powder

Whisk the egg whites until foamy, then add sugar, the hazelnut spread and vanilla extract. Continue whisking until the batter is firm.

In a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and cocoa. Add a spoon at a time to the batter and mix until combined.

You will have a dense but soft batter.

Using a pastry bag, pipe letters on the baking sheet, covered with parchment paper. The operation is hard, so do it when you have time and want to get something off your chest!!
Let the cookies stand for an hour, then bake at 300°F for less then 10 minutes.
Wait a couple of minutes, then transfer cookies on a wire rack to cool.

Cookies can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature up to one week or more.  (autumn noury)