Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pane dei Morti

Italy has never really had a Halloween tradition per se; the important days at this time of year are Ogni Santi, All Saints' Day, on November 1st and Il Giorno dei Morti, All Souls Day, on November 2nd. During these celebrations, you won’t find costumes, scary decorations or children trick-or-treating on the street. Instead, people go to mass to pray for the deceased, followed by the cemetery to visit their loved ones and bring flowers and candles to their graves.

As with other feste in Italy, each region makes their own particular delicacies on these occasions. Pan dei Morti, or Bread of the Dead, are dark, spicy, chewy biscuits, originally from Lombardia, that are sold in bakeries around this time although they disappear after November 2nd. They are usually eaten after dinner on Ogni Santi and Il Giorno dei Morti. The biscuits, in common with many traditional Italian baked goods, are quite dry but full of complex flavour: cocoa, cinnamon, pinenuts, figs, raisins, wine, ancient flavours that have been used for celebratory occasions for hundreds of years. These are biscuits firmly rooted in Italy's past which is perhaps why they remind Italians of their ancestors.

I won't deny that there is a long list of ingredients and the method, though simple, is rather long-winded and fiddly. However, I think they are worth the effort...

Auguri per Ogni Santi.


100g amaretti
250g sponge fingers
150g dry biscuits (I used gingernuts but Rich Tea would be good too)
50 g cocoa powder
250g plain flour, 00 if possible
120g dried figs
60g blanched almonds
60g pine nuts
300g caster sugar
6 egg whites
120g raisins
100 ml vin santo or other sweet wine
10g baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
some freshly grated nutmeg

First, put the raisins in some hot water to plump up.

Put all the biscuits (amaretti, sponge fingers, other biscuits) in a food processor and blitz to make crumbs. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Next, blitz the almonds, dried figs and pine nuts together and put in the mixing bowl with the biscuit crumbs.

Add all the other dry ingredients to the mixture and mix well. Finally, drain the raisins and add to the mixing bowl, together with the baking powder, sweet wine and the egg whites.

Start to mix it all together. It's extremely sticky so it's easiest to do this by hand (I wear latex gloves to make this a bit easier).

When the mixture has come together, transfer to a floured board and form a loaf shape. Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, cut vertically into 1 cm thick slices.

Using your hands, form the slices into vaguely lozenge-shaped biscuits.

Put them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, leaving room for them to expand slightly as they cook.

Bake in the oven for 25 mins.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool, dredge generously with icing sugar before serving.

They last very well for 4-5 days in a cake tin and go very well with a glass of vin santo.


  1. Thanks for sharing such a lovely delicacy! It reminds me how the French also celebrate La Toussaint - nice change from all the Hallowe'een pumpkins!

    1. Yes, both France and Italy are great when it comes to celebrating with food!

  2. What a wonderful sounding biscuit packed full of such lovely ingredients. Just by this alone I know I would love them. I always think it is worth the extra effort when baking to try more challenging recipes as the results speak for themselves!

    1. You're absolutely right and actually, these aren't even difficult, just a bit long!

  3. Fascinating biscuits - there are some lovely flavours in there. They sound ideal with some vin santo and well worth the effort.

    1. Thank you - yes, the biscuits are quite unusual but the flavours work very well together.

  4. Very nice biscuits, a long list of ingredients but I'm sure the result is lovely. I've many sweet/bitter memories connected with these two days: ogni santi and il giorno dei morti.

    1. Yes, there are a lot of ingredients but once all the preparation is done, they're quite easy to make.

  5. What a fabulous post and recipe Katharine....I love recipes like this and I also love the tradition that surrounds them too. Karen

    1. These are certainly very traditional biscuits - I made them to give GL a treat - a little taste of home!

  6. I have never heard of this and it looks so delicious with almonds, figs and raisins... all those ingredients are my favourite!

    1. I love the ingredients in these biscuits too and the spices add a lot of flavour without being overpowering.