Celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day vary throughout Italy, but they always have two things in common: first, the whole family dresses up in their best clothes and gathers at the local cemetery to visit their loved ones’ graves and remember their lives. Secondly, the children are given some kind of baked sweet, part of the greater tradition of the “deads’ treats”.
These sweet, enriched loaves, filled with nuts, spices and dried fruits, might remind you of the more known Christstollen and Lebkuchen (from Germany) or Pepparkakor (from Sweden). There’s many different Italian variants: in Trentino Alto Adige they are called horses of the dead, and shaped like their namesake. In Sicily the bones of the dead are smaller and glazed with white icing. In Tuscany the pan coi santi is prepared with pork fat shortening and can be enjoyed with savoury or sweet meals alike.
The pan dei morti I propose you in the following recipe is typical of the area around Milan and its name translates literally with bread of the dead.
Makes: 12 to 13 biscuits | Preparation time: 20 mins | Cooking time: 20-25 mins
- White flour: 250 g
- Savoiardi (Ladyfingers): 250 g
- Sugar: 200 g
- Figs, dried: 100 g
- Dried biscuits: 100 g
- Raisins: 80 g
- Cocoa powder, unsweetened: 50 g
- Pine nuts: 50 g
- Almonds, peeled: 50 g
- Egg whites: 4
- Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
- Nutmeg powder: half a tsp
- Icing sugar: to taste
Soak the raisins in a bowl of water at room temperature for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Squeeze them to get rid of the water and dry them with a kitchen cloth.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Put the dried biscuits and the savoiardi in a food processor and mix them until they are reduced to crumbs. Put the biscuits in a bowl and repeat the same process first for the almonds and pine nuts, than for the dried figs. Each time you are done using the food processor for one of the ingredients, empty the food processor by adding such ingredients to the biscuits crumbs in the bowl.
Add sugar to the bowl, along with the flour, the cocoa, the nutmeg, the cinnamon, the raisins, the baking powder. Beat up the egg whites until they are very firm, then put them in the bowl as well and mix all the ingredient until you’re kneading a fairly compact dough.
Place the dough on a lighlthy floured work surface and shape it into a loaf about 12 cm wide; cut the loaf in slices with a thickness of 1 cm each.
Place the slices on an oven tray lined with baking paper, making sure to leave enough space between one and the other so that they do not stick together whilst cooking.
Bake at 180°C for 20 to 25 minutes; let the Pan dei Morti cool down before garnishing it with icing sugar and some whole pine nuts.
Tip: Not everyone is a fan of raisins; why not try some dried cranberries or blackberries?