It’s that solemn time of the year again when Roman Catholics, a few pagans, and many others across the globe commemorate their dearly departed in early November. The annual ritual of celebrating deceased loved ones stretches back to time immemorial. Ancient Roman pagans paid tribute on prescribed days, visiting tombs and even picnicking with their ancestors in the city’s suburban cemeteries, leaving bits of food and dribbles of wine for them. These rituals were later woven into local Catholic customs and, while it is no longer common for Romans to bring food to the cemetery, they do visit, with special bus services running to Prima Porta and Verano Cemeteries in early November 2 for All Soul’s Day. Bakeries in Rome mark the holiday with these special cookies called fave dei morti, or fava beans of the dead, which start to appear in October and fill baskets and trays in bakeries where they are sold by weight. Favas were a symbol of death in antiquity so the name is fitting!
Makes 40 fave dei morti
1 heaping cup (115 grams) blanched almond flour
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (110 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix together all the ingredients by hand to form a firm dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times, then halve. Roll each half into a log about 3/4 inch (2 cm) in diameter. Slice both logs into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces and, with your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each. The indentation will resemble the shape of a fava bean.
Place these fave on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until dry and just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on the baking sheets, about 30 minutes. They will be soft when they come out of the oven but will harden as they cool.
A very special thank you to Cafe Fernando for the metric conversions and for this variation: To make cocoa and espresso fave dei morti, use 2/3 cup (83 grams) of all-purpose flour plus 1/4 cup (25 grams) of Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder instead of the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder instead of the ground cinnamon.
Recipe reprinted from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Purchase your signed copy here.