Baked Sunday Mornings: S Cookies

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I’m slowly building my repertoire of Italian pastries, and I’d like to think that I’m getting fairly familiar with a wide array of regional specialties. (I’m even thisclose to finally posting my blog series based on my two recent trips to Italy– this has been literally years in the making.) But S Cookies? Never heard of ’em. Although… now that I think about it, I guess a lot of American-Italian bakeries have some form of them– dipped in chocolate, or “striped” using a cookie press, or topped with colored sprinkles? At any rate, these were very new to me, which meant I had to go geek out and do cookie research! Known in Italian as biscotti ad esse or biscotti a forma di esse (literally “cookies in the shape of S”), they seem to originate in Sicily, but it’s a pastry that has spread to other regions. I couldn’t find much on the history– it seems to be, and this is what Baked Occasions says in the recipe intro, that every family has their own beloved version. I couldn’t find anything that explained what the ‘S’ signifies, so I’m gonna out on a limb and speculate that it stands for the ‘S’ in Sicily?? At any rate, I am happy to adopt BAKED‘s version and add it to my Italian pastry collection. Since Baked Sunday Mornings is now in the home stretch of recipes, we are no longer aligning as well with the corresponding occasions for which the recipes were meant, so hey, let’s make Christmas cookies in April!

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The method of making the dough is quite different than any dough I’ve made before. The first step is heating milk and sugar until most of the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. After it has cooled down, I mixed eggs in the stand mixer and added the sugar-milk. I then streamed in oil and added vanilla bean paste, which produced a very oily mixture, but it came together fine after mixing for a few minutes. The final additions are baking powder followed by a blend of flour and salt.

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Things went mostly according to plan, except a slight uncertainty on the quantity of flour. I wasn’t sure if I should go with the volume or weight, which were a bit different. The recipe calls for 6 cups or 770 grams of flour… which is not the same thing– it’s about ½ cup off. Since we tested the book using volume measurements, I went with that and converted it to 720 grams since I prefer using weights whenever possible. However, the dough is described as “crumbly”, and it definitely wasn’t crumbly after all the flour had been added, so I did go ahead and add that extra 50 grams of flour, which made the texture firmer. (So if you’re using volume, I’d say it’s closer to 6½ cups.)

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The dough was very stiff and difficult to scrape out of the mixing bowl. It was an interesting texture– it wasn’t exactly sticky, yet I’d call it… clingy. It didn’t stick to my hands, but it stuck to the cutting board before I had rubbed it with vegetable shortening. The next step is to knead a little shortening into the dough, which makes it smooth, shiny, and gives it an oily texture. (My guess is that Italian grandmothers used lard for this.) The dough needs to rest for 30 minutes before proceeding.

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We are instructed to break off pieces of dough and roll long ropes, which are cut into thirds and shaped. I found it a lot easier to just break off smaller pieces and roll one at a time. The dough is very easy to work with, and these are pretty low-fuss cookies to bake off, as they do not need to be chilled before going into the oven. Once they are placed on the baking sheet, you’ll make a small cut into the tips of each S– I’m not sure what the significance of this is.

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Each of my trays was perfectly light-golden in 16 minutes. This recipe yields a large batch, which I could have easily cut it in half, but this way I got to gift cookies to friends, so it worked out okay.

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The cookies have a crisp texture similar to biscotti, but not quite as hard and crunchy. They are meant for dipping in coffee or tea, but I liked them a lot on their own. I’m not a dipper, so I prefer this slightly softer texture. Like a lot of Italian pastry, they are not overly sweet. The only thing I would tweak is to add a little more vanilla bean paste.

If you want to add S Cookies to your own personal Italian repertoire, head over to Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe, and check out the other bakers’ letter-shaped cookies while you’re there. 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.

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