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Chez Panisse Desserts: Ossi Dei Morti

A cookie recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts . Italian for "bones of the dead," ossi dei morti cookies are traditionally served on All Soul's Day, at the beginning of November. The cookies taste very good, but they don't look especially attractive, although they do indeed look somewhat bonelike. These are very crisp cookies, not quite as hard as biscotti, but definitely designed to be dipped into coffee or wine before being eaten.

The recipe instructs the cook to roll out the dough into ropes, then cut the ropes into lengths. I assumed that the cookies would retain their bone shape, but the dough spread quite a lot in the oven, and my initial batch of cookies looked like big blobs. After some experimentation with thickness and length, I was able to create cookies that retained a hint of a bone shape after baking. But they still ended up being somewhat irregular in shape. An online search turned up several variations on the recipe for ossi dei morti, so I'm curious whether different recipes would make cookies that retain their shape better. Future testing may be in order.

Lindsey Shere instructs the cook to toast the almonds "lightly" (no specifics about what that means, exactly) and then finely chop them by hand. I can't discern any reason for this instruction, so I chopped my almonds in a mini-chopper. I figured about 8 minutes in a 350-degree oven was "lightly" toasted. She doesn't give the cook much in the way of instructions for dealing with the dough, saying merely that you should "roll it into ropes." I suggest working on an unfloured marble or wooden pastry board. Cut off a small amount of dough to work with at a time, and cover the remaining dough with a damp towel to prevent it from getting dry. Use a knife or a bench scraper to cut the rope into lengths. The recipe also specifies baking the cookies on buttered baking sheets. I tried one batch this way, and then made the rest on parchment-lined sheets, which worked just as well and is easier to clean up.

The cookies have a strong almond flavor and are intensely sweet. They'd make a nice accompaniment to a bitter espresso.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: about 15 minutes
Yield: 12 dozen cookies

2 cups unblanched almonds
3 cups sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 eggs
A few drops of almond extract (I used 1/8 tsp)
2 cups flour
Powdered sugar, optional

Toast the almonds in a 350-degree oven for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until they just begin to be fragrant. Don't let them get brown. Remove them and cool completely, then chop them finely by hand, or in a food processor or mini-chopper (you can add a tablespoon or two of the sugar to them if chopping by machine. This helps to prevent them from turning into nut butter). Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, or in a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, lemon juice, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs and almond extract and beat on medium speed until spongy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and almonds and mix to combine thoroughly. Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and press it together into a ball. Using a bench scraper or knife, slice off a piece of dough about the size of an orange. Cover the remaining dough with a damp towel while you are forming the cookies.

Using your hands, roll out the piece of dough into a rope the thickness of a pencil. Cut the rope into 3-inch lengths. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet at least 3 inches apart, as the dough spreads in the oven. Bake until just barely brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Repeat with the remaining dough, making sure that the baking sheets are cool before you place a new batch of cookies on them (if it's cold outside, you can put the sheets out for a few minutes to expedite the cooling process). Once all the cookies are baked and cooled, shake powdered sugar over them, if desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.



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