While America’s most popular chocolate sandwich cookies were invented by a manufacturer (Martha being Martha of course makes her own), not so in Italy. One of the country’s signature cookies, baci di dama (“lady’s kisses”), hails from the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy and boasts a much more colorful origin story. Legend has it that Prince Vittorio Emanuele II of the House of Savoy requested a new dessert from the royal pastry chef in 1852. The latter only had four ingredients on hand—almonds, chocolate, sugar, and butter—and came up with baci di dama. Both the flavor and the shape were a hit, and the rest is history!
Today, “lady’s kisses” are often made with hazelnuts instead of almonds, but Martha uses another beloved Italian ingredient in “Martha Bakes”: chestnuts. They’re ground up and mixed into the decadent chocolate cookie batter as well as the creamy filling.
Next up in this Italian-themed episode is a cookie with an equally intriguing name: brutti ma buoni, which translates to ugly but good. These crunchy-chewy treats are essentially hazelnut meringue cookies streaked with dark chocolate. So not only are they ugly but good, they’re also dairy-free and gluten-free! Some say brutti ma buoni originated in Prato, Tuscany, as a way of using up egg whites left over from making another local dessert, the egg yolk-heavy Mantuan cake.
Prato, Tuscany is responsible for the creation of another famous Italian cookie, in the 14th century: cantucci, which also go by biscotti di Prato. The twice-baked treats are typically made with almonds, which were abundant in that region at the time. Americans know the cookies simply as biscotti, but Italians call them cantucci and use the word biscotti to refer to any crunchy cookie, like the British do with biscuit. Martha's recipe calls for pistachios in addition to the traditional almonds, plus dried apricots and cherries.
"Martha Bakes" season 9 airs on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings).