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.
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.
I’m a little behind on my Christmas duties having been laid up with a nasty cold for the last week. But one thing I managed to do before I got sick was bake these Anginetti cookies.
They’re a recipe I got in August from Florida-based cook Michael Salvatore Gottuso and I’ve thought about making them for Christmas since then. They remind me a lot of the sweet taralli cookies my mom used to make, although she made hers in the shape of circles rather than “knots.”
The recipe actually comes from Michael’s nonna and I’m so grateful to both of them for sharing this recipe so freely. It makes A LOT of cookies (I cut the recipe in half and got at least four dozen), so it’s perfect for shipping off to friends or for tucking into the freezer when company stops by.
The dough is a breeze to work with – so pliable and easily formed into little knots. I think kids would have fun rolling out the dough into logs and shaping the cookies too, so get your children or grandchildren involved and start a tradition.
As Michael says, there’s no right or wrong size — make them as small as your patience permits or as large as you like.
Bake until they’re still pale on top, but slightly tan underneath. (I baked them slightly longer than the recipe called for because I like these cookies to be a little “harder” with some crunch.)
Then let the cookies cool, frost with the icing, and top with sprinkles right away.
My friend Marie, of Proud Italian Cook, recently posted her recipe for anginetti and they look delicious too. Hers are flavored with lemon, as are Michael’s, but Michael’s also contains anise extract, a classic Italian flavoring for cookies. Use whatever appeals to you and your family.
Once you’ve tried them, I’ll bet they become part of your traditional Christmas cookie repertoire.
Recipe from Michael Salvatore Gottuso (thanks to his nonna)
Mix together 7 beaten eggs with 1 cup sugar until well blended. Now add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon anisette extract (make sure to use pure, not imitation), juice of one lemon, juice of one orange, 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh orange zest, and 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon zest. Blend well. Add 3 sticks melted unsalted butter (make sure they are cool).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Now sift unbleached flour enough to make 8 cups SIFTED flour. In batches sift together the sifted flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 8 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it’s aluminum-free) and gently blend into the bowl until it’s a soft, not too sticky, pliable dough. You may have to gently knead with your hands. Don’t panic if it’s still a bit sticky. To get to the right consistency, simply dust a little more flour into the bowl and onto your hands and only add enough until you are at a smooth dough. Then stop and let it rest for a good 15 minutes. Pull out the dough in small balls, like a golf ball size and roll into a rope, then turn it into a knot (like a “wreath”). Place onto sturdy baking sheets. Remember there is not “set” size so no debating on this. Make that your own preference. My family likes them a bit bigger than some other families do. The cookies cook fairly quickly and are NOT supposed to be a dark brown. Bake for 10 minutes, check the bottom to see if it’s light brown. When you are done with your last batch going in, it’s time to make the icing glaze.
Mix everything together till you get a nice consistency: juice of 2 lemons, juice of 1/2 orange, 4 cups of confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon anisette extract, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest. If it appears too loose, in small batches add more confectioner’s sugar. Dip the cookies on their tops into the icing and let the excess run off. Grandma suggests that you also dip the bottoms as that will encase the cookies in the icing and keep them fresh longer. Place the iced cookies on racks and top them with small confettini (multi colored non-pareils).