Ossi dei morti (bones of the dead) biscuits

Italian 'bones of the dead' biscuits.
Italian 'bones of the dead' biscuits. Photo: William Meppem
Dietary
Kid-friendly

Variations of these crunchy, brittle biscuits – said to resemble human bones – are baked all over Italy to commemorate Tutti Morti, the Day of the Dead, on November 2. If you are not celebrating Tutti Morti, these biscuits are also great for Halloween. Substitute the hazelnuts with blanched almonds if you prefer, or use a combination of the two.

Ingredients

120g raw hazelnuts, skin on​

zest of 1 medium orange

1 tsp coffee grounds

1 tsp cinnamon powder

180g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

20g cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)

pinch of salt

40g egg white (from 1 large egg)

1 egg yolk

1 tsp milk

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan-forced) and line two oven trays with baking paper.

2. Spread out the hazelnuts on a small baking tray and roast for 10 minutes. Transfer to a clean tea towel, draw in the sides then rub together to remove most of the skins.

3. Transfer nuts to a food processor, add the orange zest, coffee grounds and cinnamon, and blitz until nuts are very finely chopped. Add the icing sugar, cocoa and salt and process to combine. Add the egg white and process until the mixture comes together and forms a sticky, solid but malleable paste. If it looks dry, you may need to add more egg white, a teaspoon at a time, until it comes together.

4. Lightly dust your hands, and the kitchen bench, with some icing sugar, and turn the paste out. Knead gently for a few seconds to bring together, then divide into six even pieces. One at a time, roll each piece into a rope 28cm long.

5. Cut each rope into four small logs, each measuring roughly 7cm. Transfer to the prepared baking trays, leaving a gap of about 4cm between the biscuits. (If you find it tricky to roll the dough, you can also pinch off small pieces about the size of a cumquat and roll between your palms into balls first, then logs.)

6. Whisk the egg yolk and milk together, then lightly brush the mixture along the tops of the biscuits to glaze them. Place the trays in the preheated oven and bake for 18-20 minutes until the biscuits have puffed up and are cracked and shiny on top (bake for 18 minutes for a biscuit which is crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, and for 20 minutes if you prefer a brittle, crunchy texture).

7. Dust with icing sugar, then cool completely before serving, or storing in airtight jars. The biscuits keep for up to a week.

Despite its macabre name, Tutti Morti is a day of celebration and affection, like the Ching Ming festival of my Chinese culture, when families picnic and reminisce at the graveyards of departed loved ones. I love that these rituals establish a relaxed and even joyous way of connecting with memories of the dead for the whole family. Children, of course, are always excited about the sweet treats.