We all have our faults and idiosyncrasies, which at least in our family make for some rather rambunctious holiday gatherings. No one is perfect, no one is always right; our flaws (and in our case, the Sicilian Temper) are what make us who we are. But Nonna sees her job as assuring each and every one of us that we are perfect, flawless and should be proud (albeit acutely aware) of our Sicilian blood. This is all fine and well, although my guess is we shouldn’t always take her encouragement to heart. We are not perfect.
Case in point- Three years ago, much to my utter dismay and humiliation, I developed a food sensitivity to nuts which included a full out allergy to sesame seeds. I had become one of “those” people. As you can imagine, with all of the almonds, pine nuts and *sigh* sesame seeds that are involved with Italian cooking it was difficult to come out to my family- especially Nonna. I had no desire to be judged for what I viewed as an unwelcome character flaw. What kind of Italian is unable to enjoy nuts? But Nonna, bless her heart, did not judge. She (as she does for everyone) went to work accommodating my newly acquired limitation. Because of her efforts I am still able to enjoy most of the family staples, but there is one recipe in particular that is no longer an option for me. It breaks my heart to abstain from the following, as it is quite possibly the world’s most perfect cookie.
The Sesame Cookie (aka The Death Cookie)
It’s everything a cookie ought to be- not too sweet, pleasingly nutty and dense with flavor, the perfect accompaniment to a strong cup of coffee or as Nonna might suggest for a particularly hard one, dunked in wine.
These cookies were made by both of my great grandmothers and were considered the “every day” cookie. Grandma Chinni had several renditions of this recipe including substituting anise seed for the sesames and taking them out of the oven half way through baking to brush egg yolk on them. When last my mom made these cookies she crushed some crystallized rock candy and used the sugar as the sesame substitute for my cookies. She, like Nonna, is a great Mom.
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 TBLS baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup lard
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs slightly beat
½ cup whole milk warmed (Note: you may not need this much depending on the consistency of the dough)
Egg whites slightly beat
In your mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using the mixing paddle attachment add the lard, vanilla and eggs. Begin adding the milk a tablespoon at a time. You may not need to use all of the mild because you do not want super sticky dough.
Gather the dough into a lump and let set for about 10 minutes or so. Wrapped in plastic wrap, let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375*
Using your hands, roll dough into oversized almond shapes. Brush with egg whites and roll in sesame seeds.
These cookies need to be baked for at least 15 minutes until the bottoms are light brown.
After baking let the cookies sit out in a bowl for a day or so. Sesame cookies freeze beautifully but if you wish to enjoy them over the course of a couple of days remember to leave them uncovered otherwise they will go soggy and become less fantastic with each passing moment.