December 1st is probably one of my favourite days of the year. Not only does it mark the end of November (always a tough month for my family), but it marks the beginning of the holiday season.
I always give people fair warning. If you’re in my presence from December 1st onward you are more than likely to be exposed to 24-hour Christmas music stations, non-stop discussion of cookie baking, musings about what the best options are for Christmas Eve dessert and incessant calendar-watching as I strategize about what days are best to make the various holiday treats that my family makes every year at this time.
Well … this December is going to be just a little bit different. Oh, there will be non-stop Christmas carols and cookie-baking to be sure, but it’s all going to be taking place on another continent.
For the first time in my life, I will be spending Christmas in Italy with my father’s family.
My mother, my brother and I will all be flying over in a few short weeks where we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a truly Italian Christmas.
Part of me still can’t believe that this is truly going to happen. I keep looking at our plane tickets and asking myself, “Am I really getting on an airpline in a few weeks to travel to Italy for Christmas?”
While I have had the priviledge of the most beautiful Christmas celebrations with my mother’s family, there has always been a little voice inside that has urged me to spend at least one Christmas in Le Marche. Having lost my father ten years ago this past November, it seems that much more important that I finally make this dream come true.
Last weekend, I called my aunts and uncles in Italy and could barely contain my excitement. While I look forward to seeing what Ascoli Piceno will look like all dressed up for Christmas, and while I can’t wait to see my family again, truly what I am most looking forward to is the chance to be in the kitchen with my aunts and my mother.
As I get older and as I watch my aunts get older, I come to cherish more and more the time that I can spend with them. My favourite moments with them are always in the kitchen, where they are most relaxed and comfortable. It’s there that they feed both my tummy and my soul with their beautiful ways and their incredible stories.
I cannot wait.
But even though I won’t be here for Christmas, that does not mean that I won’t be doing at least a litle baking before I go.
In the spirit of my upcoming Italian Christmas adventure, I got the baking season off to a start with a traditional Italian cookie that I have actually never baked before: Mustazzoli.
I followed the recipe in Francine Segan’s tremendous Dolci: Italy’s Sweets.
Made with buckwheat honey and flour, this was a most interesting cooking to make. While I have tasted Mustazzoli before, this was my first time making them. The dough was certainly a bit challenging as it was a bit sticky. I shaped it into a log and scored it to make slicing easier once baked.
The cookie had a spongy, chewy texture and a deep honey flavour. It’s certainly unusual but I’m so glad that I tried the recipe.
While I was preparing to make the Mustazzoli, I decided to look through some of my other Italian cookbooks and happened upon a recipe for Mostaccioli in Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. Interestingly, in the head note to her recipe, DePalma mentions that the number of variations that she found for this particular cookie was staggering. Her own variation includes spices, nuts and chocolate!
Whether you know them as Mustazzoli or Mostaccioli, I hope you’ll find a recipe that intrigues you and give it a try.
In the meantime, let the Christmas baking begin. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year!
Here are some Mustazzoli/Mostaccioli recipes that you might be interested in: