Catholic Recipe: Fave dei Morti
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup finely ground almonds (unblanched)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
- Vegetable coloring, if desired
- Yield: 2 dozen small cakes
- Prep Time: 5 hours
- Difficulty: • • • •
- Cost: $$$$
- For Ages: 11+
- Origin: Italy
Also Called: Beans of the Dead
Fave dei Morti, beans of the dead, are the little bean-shaped cakes that Italians eat on November 2, Il Giorno dei Morti, or All Souls' Day. These small cakes, made of ground almonds and sugar combined with egg, butter, flour, and subtle flavorings, are traditionally eaten throughout Italy on the day that everyone decorates the graves with flowers and says masses for departed souls.
The day starts at five in the morning with the tolling of church bells and services for the dead. Churchyards are beautifully decorated with candles and flowers. Women in black, with black shawls tied over their heads, devoutly tend the family graves. After clearing away dried leaves and sticks, they adorn the plots and mounds with wreaths and bouquets. These range all the way from elaborate floral pieces for the rich, to brilliant garden flowers and pungent herbs, arranged, perhaps, in bottles and tin cans.
In spite of the somber beginning of Il Giorno dei Morti, the day is far from gloomy. To young men in and about Rome, the Day of the Dead is the proper time to send engagement rings to sweethearts. And to young couples this festa is the occasion to announce betrothals. Fave dei Morti, sometimes white, or tinted delicate pink, or chocolate color, play an important part in these rites. For the man sends the ring to his fiancee in a conventional small square white box that is packed in an oval container, full of the bean-shaped cakes.
In Sicily, where the cult of the dead is probably strongest, Il Giorno dei Morti is a great festa, especially for the young. Children anticipate the day as eagerly as they anticipate Epiphany, when Befana, the little old witch woman, brings presents, or Easter, when they receive sweets and eggs. The youngsters believe that if they respect their elders and pray for the family dead during the year, the morti, or departed ones, will return with gifts on their festa night.
The enchanting candy dolls displayed at this season in shop windows, are among the children's most coveted gifts. These astonishing creations appeal not only to the eye, but to the palate as well. In the neighborhood of Palermo, the candy dolls are especially varied. Many are brightly colored and wear tinsel-trimmed costumes. There are dancing girls and plume-adorned knights, fair ladies and humble villagers, not to mention storybook characters and historical heroes. Some dolls are large and expensive, others small and modestly priced. But to every boy and girl, whether rich or poor, Il Giorno dei Morti means a candy doll plaything — a gift to the living from the dead.
Fave dei Morti, beans of the dead, are rich and delicate little cakes. Despite their macabre origin, you will want them often. Color them orange and serve at Halloween or Thanksgiving parties with ice cream in goblin or pumpkin molds. Or leave them white and store in tightly closed tins, to serve with coffee or tea to unexpected guests.
Combine sugar, butter, and ground almonds. Beat egg and add to other ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Add flour and flavoring. Work dough until smooth and make into a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate 2-3 hours. Then cut off bits of dough and mold into kidney-shaped pieces about as big as large lima beans.
Bake on greased cookie sheet in moderate oven (350° F.) about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan with spatula.
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