Croatians bake all year round so All Saints’ Day is no exception. In Dalmatia, the old tradition is to make sweet, chewy almond cookies. They are called bobići in Split and favete in Šibenik. They come in 2 colours - snow white and dark brown - the symbols of life and death.
Yes, they are a sibling of the Italian fave dei morti, cookies baked for Ognissanti or All Saints’ Day.
Fave dei morti are widespread in Italy but we probably imported them from Trieste. There, in the wider Friuli region, they are called Fave Triestine and they come in three colours. White for brith, red for life and dark brown for death.
Both bobići and favete have stayed true to the original recipe. They are soft almond cookies made without flour. This is why they are chewy on the inside with a dry, crispy finish.
You could think of them as a Croatian take on Halloween cookies. But bobići and favete relate to much older legends and traditions.
Did I also mention they taste fabulous? They do. So let’s bake first and talk history later.
Croatian All Saints’ Day Cookie Recipes
- 1Combine almonds and sugar evenly. Add nutmeg, Maraschino and beaten egg whites and gently bring the dough together. It should be firm and slightly sticky. If the egg whites were large and the dough is too wet, add more ground almonds.
- 2Divide the dough in two equal parts by weighing it. Add crushed biscuits into one part and grated chocolate and cocoa into the other. You now have the dough for the white and dark cookies. Cover with cling film and chill for 30 min.
- 3Spoon out bits of the dough and roll it between your hands to form a ball, the size of the real fava bean. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 15 min at 120 C [250 F].
- 4Leave the cookies to cool completely. They will be hard on the outside and chewy on the inside. Store at room temperature for up to a week.
Bobici, favete or Croatian fave dei morti
When you find yourself in Dalmatia, peek into a Bobis patisserie. This is the oldest local chain with excellent desserts and pastry. They stock bobići all year round.
Many people think that bobići and favete are Christmas cookies. Because they are small and dry. But you only need to translate their name and the connection to fave dei morti will become obvious.
In Italian, fave dei morti means fava beans (broad beans) of the dead. Equally, the word bobić is a diminutive of bob, which also means a fava bean. Šibenik favete is an adaptation of the Italian favette - again, a small fava bean.
So, what is the connection between fava beans and All Saints' Day?
There are different legends but most show a common belief. That about fava beans containing the souls of the dead. For that reason, ancient Egyptian priests wouldn’t even touch the black fava, let alone eat them.
On the other hand, ancient Romans feasted on fava beans at funeral banquets. They even ate them on the graves of their departed.
The Christian tradition embraced the fava bean symbolism around the 10th century. Especially when the story of the St. Odilo of Cluny spread around. It was about how he fed his priests with fava beans on All Souls’ Day to help them get through the vigil.
Why we make and eat All Saints' Day cookies
Once the fava acquired a positive meaning in the Christian tradition, it was time for the next level.
Known for elaborate desserts, Austro-Hungarian chefs created a cookie which recalls the shape of the fava bean. It is believed that fava dei morti had their debut in the 18th century Trieste, an important Austro-Hungarian port city.
For the richer city dwellers, a simple broad beans dish on All Saints’ Day wasn’t going to cut it any more. The bourgeois preferred sweet chewy almond cookies. They were more sophisticated and easier to handle.
And they could be given away, which was an add-on to the Ognissanti tradition.
Gifting fave dei morti
Some historical records tell us that fava dei morti cookies have been around for more than 300 years. Today they are most common in Italy, with recipes varying throughout regions. Children are often promised fava dei morti for respecting and praying for the dead.
In Croatia, fave dei morti have transformed into splitski bobići or šibenske favete and we mostly baked them on the coast.
Although these All Saints’ Day cookies are dedicated to the departed, they also represent life. This is why they come in two colours. To remind us of the everlasting cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Try baking these sweet almond cookies. They are not too difficult to make and they will give you a deeper connection with this important Christian holiday.
With commercialisation of all traditions, paying respect by creating something makes a difference. After all, Croatian take on food is all about doing things slowly and from scratch.
Invest time and yourself in this baking project. Think of your loved departed ones as you work with your hands. Once finished, pack your sweet bobići and give them as a gift.
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