I’ve always loved Brutti Ma Buoni and make a beeline for them every time I visit an Italian pasticceria. Literally translating as Ugly But Good, they’re fabulous with a strong espresso. Even better packaged up by the boxful and taken home to enjoy at leisure. They may not be the prettiest biscuit on display but taste sublime. Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, their “ugly” exterior hides an incredibly delicious and rich caramelised nutty meringue.
Recently I have been recreating these not so ugly little beauties at home. I’ve perused dozens of Italian cookbooks and had countless conversations in my quest to bake the perfect biscuit. It’s been an interesting journey and for a truly authentic Brutti Ma Buoni here are the ‘secrets’ I discovered along the way.
Brutti Ma Buoni have a distinctive texture and slightly caramelised flavour that can only be achieved by cooking the prepared meringue batter on the stovetop until it’s lightly golden and pulls away from the side. It might sound unconventional and counter intuitive, especially after the considerable and careful effort put into creating the meringue, but truly does work.
Be careful not to overprocess the nuts to a fine meal, a quick pulse in the food processor is all that is required to retain a coarse texture. Better still roughly chop by hand with a single blade knife as the nona’s of yesteryear did. The nuts will stay drier and crisper and release less oil. As an aside I like to use a combination of almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts when baking them at home but it is not unusual to use just almonds or hazelnuts. The recipe below can easily be adjusted to use one and a half cups of any combination of nuts in total.
The biscuits can also be made with a wide arrange of different flavourings. These are optional and often reflect regional preferences. I use a little cocoa powder and frangelico to flavour my biscuits. Any nut based liqueur works equally well or if you prefer replace the alcohol with a teaspoon of pure vanilla essence. I’m told the addition of cocoa to the mixture is a Tuscan variation. Not essential but I do think it adds a delightful flavour dimension to the biscuits.
I do hope you will try these. They require just a few simple ingredients and really are not as complicated to make as they might seem. I’ve included a couple of images that hopefully help to explain the process along the way. Highly addictive and moreish Brutti Ma Buoni also happen to be gluten free. A welcome addition to my festive baking repertoire. Despite their moniker I do believe they would look incredibly inviting packaged up in cellophane and tied with a pretty ribbon.
Brutti Ma Buoni. Ugly But Good.
Makes 18 Biscuits
3 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hazelnuts, skinned
1/2 cup almonds, skinned
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon frangelico or any other nut based liqueur (or substitute with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, dutch process (optional)
pinch of salt
TOAST the nuts in a moderate oven until golden brown and allow to cool. Then pulse quickly in a food processor, keeping a coarse consistency. Set aside.
BEAT the egg whites with a good pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks.
CONTINUE to beat the egg whites, adding a tablespoon of sugar at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is thick and glossy.
FOLD through the nuts, frangelico and cocoa powder. Set aside.
PREHEAT the oven to 160C and line two baking trays with non stick paper.
PLACE the meringue and nut mixture into a medium sized saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the colour darkens and the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and is thick enough to hold its shape, about 10 minutes.
USING two spoons heap tablespoons of the warm mixture onto the prepared trays spacing the biscuits about 2 cm apart.
BAKE in a preheated oven, middle rack position for about 15 minutes, until dry on the outside and still slightly moist and chewy on the inside. If you prefer a crunchier biscuit bake for an additional 5 minutes.
REMOVE from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an air tight container.