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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. ┬áThese, 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.

Close Encounters of the Blogger Kind

I had my first “blogger blind date” yesterday. Sue from “Rue Mouffetard” found my blog a few weeks ago through her fellow blogger friend Joyce from “Flour Power.” Sue, who lives in Atlanta, wrote that she would be traveling to Princeton, New Jersey to cat-sit while her daughter and family cavorted in Italy.
“Princeton? That’s where I live.” I wrote to her.
Naturally we had to meet and yesterday was the day.

Sue arrived at my house toting a gift bag. Inside was a cellophane bag filled with beautifully made biscotti scented with anise and studded with chocolate. When she handed it to me saying “I made you some biscotti,” right away I smiled to myself.

Why? Because I had a gift bag for her too, filled with guess what? A cellophane bag containing biscotti I had made for her. Were we on the same wave length or what? Mine were almond and cranberry biscotti, a recipe I’ve posted before, but this time I added some grated lemon rind.

The weather cooperated wonderfully and we were able to enjoy a delicious lunch al fresco in downtown Princeton, followed by a short walk to “The Bent Spoon,” an artisanal gelateria. (Well we did more than walk, we indulged in some of the gelato as well. Here’s a shot of Sue enjoying some coffee and cookie gelato.)

It was great fun meeting Sue and learning all about her family, her interests and her blog. I will be savoring her delicious biscotti and thinking of her until they all disappear. Even after they’re gone however, I’ll be able to enjoy them any time I want by following the recipe she posted on her blog for them.
And now you will too.
Click here for her chocolate chip anise biscotti recipe.

Lilli’s biscotti

Lilli’s biscotti

You know how sometimes you have a memory of a favorite dish and nothing else can compare to that version? Maybe it’s the cheesecake you ate at that diner, or the lasagna your mother used to make. For me, when it comes to biscotti, nothing holds a candle to this recipe from my friend Lilli. Sure, there are plenty of delicious biscotti around, but this recipe is the one I keep making time after time. It’s my benchmark and everything else comes in second. They’re crunchy without being rock-hard. They’re not too sweet, just sweet enough. And they’re as addictive as potato chips. One friend who visited ate nearly the entire plate of biscotti – leaving nothing but a lot of crumbs on the sofa. These do make a mess when you’re eating, so have a napkin handy. I don’t usually add the dried cranberries, but with Christmas approaching, they’re a festive touch. The only thing needed now is a cup of espresso – or a glass of vin santo. Enjoy.

Lilli’s biscotti

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 cup whole almonds, toasted ahead of time in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
1/2 cup dried cranberries, optional

Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don’t mix for long if using a mixer since you don’t want to break up the almonds.

Take about 1/3 of the mixture and plop it onto a well-floured counter or board. Shape into a “log” that resembles a small, flat loaf of bread, tapering the two ends at an angle. It’s a sticky dough, so you’ll need to keep your hands and board floured. Repeat two more times with the remainder of the dough. Butter a cookie sheet and place the “logs” on the cookie sheet, leaving ample room between them. Coat with a thin layer of milk or beaten egg. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden – about 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Carefully place one of the “logs” on a cutting board, using two spatulas if necessary to keep it from splitting. With a sharp knife (I use a serrated knife) slice the cookies at a diagonal. Hold one hand firmly on the log while you cut with the knife in the other hand, so you don’t break the dough and crumble the cookies. A few are bound to break. Place the cookies back on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about five minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Flip the cookies over and bake another five minutes on the other side. Makes about four dozen biscotti.