“S” Cookies – How Could A Failure Taste So Good?

My Italian friend Josephine M. makes these great “S” cookies and I wanted to give them a try. I guess I should start by explaining what the “S” means for those that are not of Italian descent or never seen/eaten them. Supposedly the “S” stands for Sicilian (originating from Sicily). However, I could not find any true history on these cookies to substantiate that so still a mystery to me.  

What I do know is that many Italian families serve these “S” cookies around the holidays, Easter and Christmas being the primary celebrations. Some of my Italian relatives make these cookies year-round and serve them for breakfast, snack, and dessert. They are a perfect accompaniment for coffee or espresso any time of day. Or dipped into wine after dinner. 

The variations for these “S” cookies makes even my head spin. Some recipes use butter instead of oil. (My family used oil – I think it is a Southern Italian thing.) Some add flavorings such as anise or lemon. Some sprinkle the cookie top with sugar or frost and add colored sprinkles. So really, you could use the recipe below as a base and add whatever else you like/want into it.

Here’s something I did find interesting according to CiaoItalia: “S cookies were originally made using a funnel attached to an old-fashioned meat grinder, but they can be formed with a pastry bag. Sometimes they are shaped like a figure eight.” However, the dough in this recipe is firm enough that you can shape the cookies with your hands.

What I remember from childhood is that these were the first biscuit-like cookie I ever tasted and was disappointed at first bite thinking they would taste like a traditionally sweet cookie. I think it is just me, but I had to acquire the maturity as a person to appreciate this cookie, and especially with coffee, and wine!! 

So far so good.

I started shaping these S cookies into a backward S without realizing it. When I figured it out, I just left them backward. I’ll eat those first!

What happened? While these cookies do resemble an “S”, they don’t look anything like the traditional cookie. 

These are very light cookies. They tasted great (almost melt in your mouth). See below for what they are supposed to look like.

Whoops – what went wrong? I think the original recipe had an error in it. So the dilemma is – do I keep both recipes, the correct one, and the incorrect one, because I really like the cookie I made, even though the ingredient proportions weren’t correct. Hmmmm.

I called Josephine to make sure I had the correct recipe. What we determined is that the recipe I had was from a self-generated cookbook (you know the ones that were popular cookbooks from churches and social organizations) and the person who was in charge of recipes for this cookbook used a capital “T” (which signifies tablespoon) instead of a lower case “t” (which indicates teaspoon) for the baking powder. Because I trusted Josephine, I just went with the odd proportions without question. Fortunately for all, the cookies turned out delicious and okay looking – just not what I was expecting.

I’ll give you the corrected recipe. If you want to try the cookies I made, substitute the 4 teaspoons baking powder with 4 Tablespoons baking powder (or scale it back to 3 to be safe) and you’ll get the lighter, flufflier version that I originally made. 

"S" Cookies - How Could A Failure Taste So Good?

Yields 5-6 dozen

20 min

20 min

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs (and additional egg white for egg wash)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oil (canola or olive oil)
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • Optional: Lemon or anise extract/flavoring (add with egg mixture if using)
  • frosting and colored sprinkles (to top cookies if desired)

Instructions

  1. PREP: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Beat eggs, oil, and sugar together.
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together and add to the egg mixture a cup at a time until fully incorporated.
  4. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead a few times if necessary to create a smooth dough.
  5. Cut sections off the dough and roll into logs about the size of a finger. Shape into S shapes and place them on the cookie sheet.
  6. Brush eggs with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until cookies start to turn golden.
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