04 October 2015

Mostaccioli for St Francis of Assisi

October 4 is the feast of St Francis of Assisi, namesake of Pope Francis and probably one of the most popular saints even among those who aren't Catholic. He fasted strictly, so a big meal seemed out of place for his feast day, but I did want to do something special. I found several versions of a sweet known to have been St Francis' favorite, honey almond cakes called "mostaccioli." Matt and I were a little confused; isn't mostaccioli a kind of pasta? These definitely aren't pasta, but they are delicious and simple to make.


1/2 lb blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1 egg white
1/2 cup of flour (approx.)

Coarsely grind almonds in a food processor. Add cinnamon, honey, and egg white, and pulse together. Slowly add flour to make a thick paste. Knead together until stiff but smooth. Roll out to 1/4" thick and cut into diamond shapes, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long. Lay diamonds on a greased baking sheet and let rest an hour and a half, then bake at 250 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the bottom edges are just turning golden. Leave on the pan for a couple of minutes to set, then remove to wire racks to cool.

I cut my diamonds on the small side, and it made about 24. Using whole wheat flour makes them more authentic to St. Francis' day,* but the recipe would work fine with all-purpose flour. The mostaccioli had a lovely, delicate flavor, and the ground almonds gave them a great texture. I'll have to make these again next year. And the food processor did most of the work! If you don't have a food processor (or a blender, which would work too), you could definitely chop the almonds finely by hand, and then mix everything together in a bowl.

*A brief lesson on flour, because I couldn't very well make that claim without going and researching it tonight: Ground wheat flour naturally contains all three parts of a grain of wheat: bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran contains fiber, some of the B vitamins, and iron; the germ contains protein, vitamin E, most of the B vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3s; the endosperm contains carbohydrates and trace amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals. The endosperm is white; the bran and germ are brown or brownish.

Sifting flour to make white flour by removing the bran and germ has been done since the Middle Ages, but only by the wealthy who could afford to waste them. (Removing the bran and germ meant that the wheat yielded less flour, plus it took longer to produce.) Because this sifted flour still contained the beta carotene-rich oil released from the wheat germ in the grinding process, the "white" flour was slightly yellowish. The advent of modern roller mills at the end of the 19th century, replacing mills with grinding stones, allowed millers to strip the bran and germ from the wheat before grinding the endosperm, thus producing truly white flour.

Over the course of the 20th century, flour producers began enriching their white flour, adding in vitamins to replace some of those they were removing with the germ. In the U.S., enriched flour contains added iron and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid, and sometimes calcium. White flour can be found either bleached or unbleached in the U.S.; the brighter white of bleached flour is most often achieved by treating the flour with benzoyl peroxide, chlorine gas, or both.

White whole wheat flour is not a combination of white and whole wheat; it is ground from white spring wheat rather than the more typical hard red wheat, and has a lighter color and milder flavor more closely resembling that of refined white flour while still possessing its full bran and germ. (The grains I grind to bake with are white spring wheat and spelt, an ancient cousin of wheat.)

And that was not exactly brief! But hopefully you learned something useful or interesting; I really enjoy learning more about historical and modern food production.

1 comment:

  1. I've been wondering what exactly "white whole wheat" meant. Thanks for the lesson!