Quaresimali are fatless cookies made during Lent (Quaresima), from Carnival to Easter, in many parts of Italy, and they are usually hard biscotti with nuts. But in the province of Florence quaresimali are chocolate alphabet cookies. The tradition may have begun in a convent, the dark letters (previously darkened by caramelized sugar, now cocoa powder) a symbol of mourning for Christ, and the nuns could use the letters to spell the Gospel.
These cookies are fun to make, children love them, and you can make any letters you want, in any season. I've spelled out a message for readers in my picture.
Makes about 24 cookies
• 3 egg whites
• 1⁄8 teaspoon salt
• 1⁄4 cup superfine sugar
• 1⁄4 cup powdered sugar
• 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 tablespoons soft wheat flour
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat egg whites and salt until foamy. Add superfine sugar slowly, beating until stiff (but not dry) peaks are formed. Sift powdered sugar and cocoa over beaten eggs and use a spatula to combine ingredients well. Don't worry about deflating the mixture. Sift flour over the mixture, again using a spatula to combine ingredients.
Transfer mixture to a pastry bag equipped with a number 10 tip. (Or use a large plastic sandwich bag and snip a 1⁄4-inch diameter hole off a corner.) Pipe 2-inch letters of the alphabet onto parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. You can put them close together, because they won't spread. Bake for 12 minutes. If you use parchment paper, remove the cookies from the paper the moment they come out of the oven. With a nonstick mat, remove with a spatula while still warm.