I love making these for Halloween, not just because of their name, appearance or texture, but because I really love them! Known by Italians as Ossa dei Morti, these cookies are super hard and super crunchy, so be careful when biting down! I've added toasted ground anise seeds, which give them cool licorice flavor. Bake these all year round...and totally dunk them in your espresso.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Toast the hazelnuts on a sheet pan until lightly golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Lightly toast the anise seeds either in the oven or on the stove in a saute pan over medium heat constantly shaking the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the seeds from the pan, allow to cool, and set aside.
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor pulsing until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Place in a bowl and set aside. Grind the anise seeds in a small spice grinder until the seeds are half their size, and place in the bowl with the nuts.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg whites and vanilla and mix on low speed until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
Working in the bowl with the ground hazelnuts and anise, add the flour, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and salt and mix with your hands to combine. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in the stand mixer on low speed until a smooth ball of dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and flatten slightly. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Divide the cold dough into 8 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope approximately 15- by 18-inches long by about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 5 cookies or for super long bonz, roll each log 8-inches long.
Place the bonz on a lined baking sheet and allow to sit uncovered in a dry place, 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight. This helps them become super dry and ready for baking. Place the bonz in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust these babies with powdered sugar before serving.
The bonz can be stored in an odor free airtight container for up to 1 week - if they last that long!