Fave dei Morti (Almond Cookies with Cinnamon & Rum)

October 27, 2013
5 Ratings
  • Makes about 24
Author Notes

Around this time of year, kitchens and bakeries alike are getting ready to prepare symbolic biscotti and other sweets for Ognissanti, All Saints Day, on November 1 and Tutti i Morti, also known as All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead, on November 2. It's a time for honoring relatives and ancestors that have passed away.

It's said that the night between these two days, the dead come back to frequent the places they did when they were alive–and practically every region in Italy has their own way of celebrating this. In Campania, a bucket of water is left out for the thirsty souls, while in Sardegna, the table isn’t cleared after dinner to give the spirits a place to eat during their big night out on the town.

Biscotti and other dolci dei morti (sweets of the dead) play a role as offerings to the dead after their long and weary travel back to the world of the living. Each region has their favorites, but the most well-known gives a nod to a tradition that dates back to Ancient Rome, where beans were symbolically offered to the dead or even served at funerals.

Fave dei morti, beans of the dead, have nothing to do with beans anymore; they are macaroon-like cookies made in various regions around Italy.

There are as many variations as cooks and depending on the region you'll find a difference in the spices, the proportions and the shape, for starters. It can be made without the wheat flour (easily becoming gluten-free by replacing the weight of the flour with almond meal), with the addition of ground pine nuts, with unpeeled almonds (you'll get that speckled-brown look), with just the egg whites (or indeed just a yolk), beaten until fluffy, instead of a whole egg, or with lemon zest or orange blossom water instead of spices.

In the north, Trieste's fave are famous and always recognisable by their pastel hues–the mixture is divided into three, with one part left plain white, one part made mocha-coloured with cocoa, one part rosy-pink with Alkermes (more traditionally) or red food coloring. In some parts of the Marche aniseed is popular, or a local, usually homemade aniseed-flavoured liqueur called Mistrà.

Pellegrino Artusi himself published three variations of Fave dei Morti (which he calls “Roman beans”) recipes in his 1891 cookbook. This recipe below is based on his second recipe as well as the typical Fave dei Morti found in the area around Ancona in the Marche, where they like a shot of rum in their biscotti. The mixture should be smooth and compact and easy to roll. Marchegiani make their fave into round balls, squashed with a thumb or other utensil, rather than oval shaped. These are meant to be crunchy (read–good for dipping into some vermouth or dessert wine) but you can find a variety of fave dei morti that are soft–the all-almond versions and the Trieste fave are usually soft. —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) almonds or almond meal
  • 3/4 cup (100 grams) flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 1 medium-large egg
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 shot rum
  1. If using whole almonds, peel the almonds by blanching them first, then pop the skins off. Let them air dry or place in a warm oven until dry, then blitz in a food processor until extremely fine and it resembles sand. If using pre-prepared almond meal, head straight to the next step.
  2. Combine all the ingredients together until you have a smooth, compact dough. If it is too crumbly, add some warm water, a very little bit at a time until the dough comes together.
  3. Roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls and place on a lined baking tray. Flatten each ball into a disc and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes or until dry to the touch and hardened but not too browned. Once cool, keep in an air tight container. These go very well with coffee or dessert wine.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kathryn Porterfield 1
    Kathryn Porterfield 1
  • durun99
  • Valentina Solfrini
    Valentina Solfrini
  • Sophia R
    Sophia R
  • Emiko

12 Reviews

Holland March 1, 2021
Would have been helpful to know how thick the cookies should be, and also how many oz a "shot" is since that varies from country to country. Mine turned out a little boozy (maybe they're too thick or too much rum), but after that the flavor is really good!
acpisme December 11, 2019
Excellent! I made these using the ingredients listed except I only cook with unsalted butter, and I use blanched almond flour/meal from Trader Joes. I did measure all the dry into the bowl and mixed them together. Then I used a pastry blender to incorporate the room temp butter into the dry mix. Lastly, I took my room temp egg and my shot of rum and blended before adding to the mix. I incorporated with a spoon before using my hand to bring it all together (and I didn't need any additional liquid). I use my small cookie scoop and got about 41 little cookies. These will not spread at all, so your spacing is really only to allow pressing them flat. I used my tart tamper, to make them uniform flatness for the best cooking. These are tasty and just lightly sweetened, and I could taste a touch of the cinnamon. Note: I used a mid-range spiced rum (what we drink) and I think that added to the flavor of the cookie. When the alcohol is a major component in a recipe, I always choose to use a decent version in to achieve the best flavor. When I make again, I might add a little salt due to the unsalted butter, to bump up the sweetness a bit. However, I like them just as they turned out! Perfect with a cup of tea or after dinner coffee. Thank you for sharing!
Kathryn P. November 6, 2014
Made these with coconut oil instead of butter for a person with allergies and also substituted raw coconut sugar for 1/2 the white sugar and xylitol for the other half. They still taste rich, moist and plenty sweet but are darker due to the caramel color of raw coconut sugar.
DaisyFire December 25, 2013
Unfortunately, these didn't really work out for me. The taste of flour still came through after they were baked. Theses were dense and chewy, which isn't necessarily a bad Inge, but with the floury taste, they really weren't something I wanted to serve to my guests. I baked a batch if amaretti instead and they were wonderful. (it's a shame because I really liked the texture of the dough for this - it was really easy to work with.)
mimie November 26, 2013
I have baked them, but forgotto add RUM! Need to bake again!
durun99 November 8, 2013
These are really tasty and even better the second day. I went ahead and melted the butter, which made it easier to incorporate it. I don't know how these would hold together without the shot of rum, as it doesn't seem like there's enough liquid in Artusi's recipe to make a dough without it.
Valentina S. October 30, 2013
It is funny how, as an Italian, I have not seen nor tried two recipes of Fave that are the same. Never. it's one of those recipes of which every household/region/grandma has their own.
I wanted to make them this week for my Nonna and, well, confusion ensued. It is also funny how my grandma's household has a recipe for everything except these cookies.
I might just go with your recipe. We'll see how it goes!
Emiko October 31, 2013
It is one of those recipes where there's a different variation depending on where you are! More and more people tend to buy these from their favourite forno too, rather than make them at home. I hope you get to try these out - and hopefully nonna enjoys them!
Sophia R. October 30, 2013
Thanks for posting this Emiko - I have been meaning to try these since I first heard about fave dei morti and the ognissanto celebrations. Back home in Germany, whatever we may have had in terms of marking Allsaints has been reduced to a 'duty' trip to the cemetery to visit loved ones long gone. I like how in Italy (and even more so in Mexico) Allsaints still has real cultural importance with special foods prepared only for that day.
Emiko October 31, 2013
Yes, it's amazing how the traditions stick around and you find these (and other typical goodies) made specifically for this celebration. It's the one time of the year to try/eat/find them!
buzzWOOF October 29, 2013
I'm wondering how the butter incorporates into this recipe if everything is just thrown into a bowl and mixed together at once - should I melt the butter first? Thanks!
Emiko October 29, 2013
No need to melt the butter, but it helps if it's soft. As you mix, it will all come together. If you haven't had time to soften it, you can chop it and rub into the flour until you get a crumbly mixture then add the rest. It's quite a forgiving recipe!