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Wedding Cookie “cake” and “S” cookies

My son Michael got married last Saturday, and like any good Italian-American mother, I offered to make him and Beth (his bride) a wedding cookie cake for the reception.
Decades ago, you couldn’t go to a wedding reception in an Italian-American family without seeing trays of cookies for the guests, alongside a multi-tiered traditional wedding cake. They also include a scattering of Jordan almonds, or “confetti” as Italians call them.
I was dubious about whether this was truly an Italian custom, and I got my answer after attending a couple of weddings in Italy on my mother’s side of the family – the Northern Italian side. Nobody there seems to follow this tradition, at least not my mom’s relatives.
But one year when I was in Abruzzo, cousins of my late husband were busy baking up all sorts of cookies for a wedding tray – cookies that included the delicious bocconotti – recipe here.
I never got around to making the bocconotti for this wedding tray, but I did make anginetti, Italian Christmas “brownies”, chocolate biscotti and sfratti, an Italian Jewish cookie.
My friend Lilli agreed to make her wonderful almond paste cookie, and I included those on the tray, and in another separate display.
And of course we had to have pizzelle. My father’s wife, Rose, graciously offered to make them – and she outdid herself, making about 150 in total. They merited their own separate tray since they are so fragile.
I also wanted to make “S” cookies, or “esse” in Italian. I’ve eaten them in Frascati and in Rome, and loved them so much I’ve brought them home with me, but never quite found a recipe that came close to what I’ve eaten there.  These, a recipe from Mary Ann Esposito, are almost identical – a crispy sugar cookie that keeps its crunch.
Since the bride and groom’s initials are M and B, I thought I’d experiment with those initials too. They were a little trickier to shape and not so successful, so I went back to the “S” shape, but made sure to place the “M’s” and “B’s” on top. Another way they’re baked is in a figure “8.” Just make whatever shape you like.
The cookies added a nice extra something to the dessert table, featuring a most unusual cake topper.
It’s a sculpture of the bride and groom, Beth eating a doughnut and Michael eating gelato. Ever the animal lovers, at their feet are their two cats, Walter and Mervin.
On the way out, guests each took home a personalized bottle of limoncello – all made by Michael months before the wedding, with a photo of the two of them on the label.
And here’s the happy couple just after they took their vows.
Auguroni and mazeltov to my favorite newlyweds!
#Live long and Prospero!

“Esse” or “S” Cookies
recipe from “Celebrations Italian Style” by Mary Ann Esposito
printable recipe here

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup solid vegetable shortening, melted and cooled (I used butter)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla
coarse sugar for topping

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
-In another bowl, whisk the legs with the sugar until light and lemon-colored. Whisk in the shortening, lemon juice and vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, mixing well to blend the ingredients. Let batter sit, covered, for five minutes.
-Fill a tipless pastry bag two thirds full of the batter to form 3-inch long Ss or 8s on cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart, and shape each one into a 3-inch long S, using the back of the spoon. (I didn’t bother shaping with a spoon. They spread out in the oven quite a bit. Also, at this point, I sprinkled with coarse decorating sugar. If you don’t have any, use plain granulated sugar.
-Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until pale golden in color. Watch carefully and rotate the sheets to prevent burning. Let the cookies cool slightly on the cookie sheets before removing to cooling racks.

Lilli’s Almond Paste Cookies

 If your house is like mine, cookie baking is in high gear as the holidays approach. One of my favorites is this recipe from my friend Lilli. Originally from Salerno, Italy, Lilli is a terrific cook who can throw together a delicious meal on autopilot. That goes for sweets too. Her biscotti recipe here is the best around. It’s my go-to recipe whenever I get the urge for cookies.  These almond paste cookies are another great example of a classic recipe I got from her years ago. 

 I’m lucky enough to be a recipient of her baking prowess on many occasions, but especially as Christmas approaches. I’ve made these almond paste cookies many times, but Lilli’s are always better than mine, even though I use her recipe. They’re made with just three ingredients – egg whites, sugar and almond paste. But after so many years of making them, she’s got the right “touch.” I called her before posting this recipe to find out any special “tricks” in getting these cookies just right — and there are several that she shared with me, and that now you’ll  be privy to as well if you follow the recipe at the end.
Unless you’ve got a Lilli in your life, try making them yourself. You can top them with an almond, with pine nuts, or with candied red or green cherries in the Christmas spirit. They’re really easy to whip together in your food processor and will taste great, even if they’re not as perfect as Lilli’s.

Lilli’s almond paste cookies
printable recipe here

1/4 cup egg whites (not quite two large egg whites, but more than one)
1 scant cup sugar (take out two tablespoons)
1 heaping cup almond paste (more like a cup and a few tablespoons)

The consistency of the dough for this recipe can vary according to the almond paste you buy. Some brands are softer than others, affecting the final results. In any event, make sure the almond paste is at room temperature. Cut it into thin slices, so that when you mix it with the other ingredients, it will blend well and not leave any large pieces in the dough.

Put the egg whites into a food processor and whir for a few seconds until they start to turn white and lose their transparency.  Keeping the machine running, add the sugar, then the almond paste, a small amount at a time, until the dough becomes a solid mass. Remove the dough from the food processor, and with a spatula, feel around to make sure there are no unblended pieces of dough. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Roll the dough into small balls and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. With the heel of your hand press down a bit to squash them a little. Decorate either with an almond, pine nuts, or a half of a candied cherry pressed into the center. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, watching closely so they don’t become too browned.

These cookies harden in a few days, even when left in a tin. They freeze beautifully, so if you don’t plan to consume them right away,  freeze them and thaw them before serving to maintain the freshness and softness.