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.
When I received a copy of Cucina Povera, a new cookbook by Pamela Sheldon Johns, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Not because it has glossy pages with slick copy – it doesn’t. I was drawn to it because of the rustic, matte feel of the paper, the jagged, deckle edges of each page and most of all, the beautiful photos, recipes and stories of the people whose very lives and traditions are outlined in this book.
For these people, cucina povera (peasant cooking) was a necessity. And even though most of us can afford to indulge in small culinary luxuries nowadays, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect the bounty that’s available or waste food either. Eating what’s in season, making simple dishes from the freshest ingredients, and preserving foods for the lean days of winter are lessons we can all benefit from in order to live healthier lives and preserve resources.
Cucina Povera contains delicious recipes – from soups to pastas, meats and vegetables to desserts like this cookie called “sfratti,” plural of the word “sfratto,” which means eviction. These cookies are one of the old recipes from Pitigliano, a Tuscan town that once housed a large Jewish population. Sadly, many of the Jews were forced to flee during World War II, following Mussolini’s racial laws. This recipe is a traditional Rosh Hashanah treat from Pitigliano’s Jewish heritage.
Sfratti may be considered “cucina povera” but there’s no feeling of deprivation once you’ve tried these. Here’s a visual guide on how to make them, followed by the recipe.
After you’ve madethe filling, spread it out on the rolled-out dough.
Roll the dough over the filling.
Continue rolling until you have something that looks like a large cigar. The shape is meant to evoke the batons that officials used to bang on the doors of Jews to evict them.
For the pastry: In a large bowl, combine, the flour, sugar and salt. Stir with a whisk to blend. Stir in the olive oil and wine to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
For the filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the honey over medium heat. Add the walnuts, orange zest, cinnamon and cloves, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Divide the chilled dough into 8 pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll a piece of dough into a 4 x 10-inch rectangle. Spoon 1/2 cup of the filling along the center of the length of the dough and roll it up. Place on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk, and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Transfer the pastries from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. To serve, cut each pastry into 1-inch thick slices and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.