Monday, July 25, 2016

Italian "S" Cookies

I'll be the first to admit that Italians aren't the world leaders in cookies. That's not to say there aren't some incredible Italian desserts like tiramisu, cannoli (oh hot dang cannoli!), gelato (hello!) and delicious nougat laden with hazelnuts called torrone. 

But if you are ever faced with an Italian cookie platter, it leaves much to be desired. Most of them look bland, pale and uninteresting. They are usually on the drier side - on purpose - that's just the way they are made. They lack the fudgey, ooey, gooey, crispy and melty textures of American favourites, or even the buttery melt-in-your-mouth character of some British or Eastern European cookies.

They're mostly just.... dry and crumbly. I'm sorry! I'm so sorry. There some exceptions, however, like the peach cookies that my Zia and my mom used to make which were the bomb mostly because they were so pretty and looked like actual peaches, and because they were soaked in booze. I do also love biscotti when made right (like my Mom's incredible recipe) and when dunked in chocolate. And then there were these infamous "S"-shaped cookies that we appropriately called "S" cookies. They are simple, but really delicious. 

In the neighbourhood where I grew up - an awesome one it was - we were all very close. No backyard really belonged to anyone and we shared our space like a giant amusement park. For me to run down 4 houses past my own and swing on their bench, play with their dog or pick their blackberries was totally normal. This one Nonna at this one little brown house always called me in if she saw me and fed me "S" cookies. Eventually I just started hanging out there when I was hungry...

They weren't laden with chocolate chips or oozing with caramel. They were not dipped or glazed or filled. They were just crisp, tender, a bit buttery but not too buttery and a tad custardy with clean vanilla flavour. They were usually coated simply in granulated sugar and if you have a cup of coffee around, oh man do they ever love it! They soak it up instantly and just dissolve on your tongue.

Whether it's the nostalgia or the clean crisp flavours, I really do love these cookies.

This recipe has very little sugar compared to almost any other cookie I know and it is most similar to shortbread with added richness of 2 egg yolks. The original cookie is a puffier, somewhat less rich one based on a much wetter dough, but I've changed it up just a bit to create this ultra tender texture.

Ground almonds enhance the flavour by adding richness and help to create that tender crumb.

The dough comes together in just 5 minutes but it does need some resting time in the fridge so that you can roll it into "S" shapes.

Bake them just until they take on just a little bit of colour, but not much. They shouldn't be browned.

Enjoy these any time of day or night, or feed them to the kids trespassing on your lawn. They'll remember you for it.


Italian "S" Cookies
makes 15 cookies

6 tbsp (84g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (40g) icing sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (25g) ground almonds/almond meal

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, icing sugar and lemon zest together with a spatula or a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in egg yolks, vanilla extract and salt until well incorporated. Sift flour over the bowl and add ground almonds. Fold it in until evenly blended. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Take tablespoon portions of dough and roll it into a small log. Shape the log into an “S” shape and carefully transfer to prepared baking tray. Continue with remaining dough. Brush “S” dough logs with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until just lightly golden around the edges and firm to the tough – they should not get too browned. Let cool completely and serve with coffee!

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