How old do you have to be to eat a cookie? I mean: what’s the youngest age? 2? 1? 3? Whatever it is that’s how far back my memory connects to biscotti regina. I can’t remember my first bite, but I know them like I know my own blink.
In my family, they were “the seeded cookies.” Mom, are you gonna make the seeded cookies?
Sesame seeds, that is. And the seeds must have the hull on (don’t get the pale, pitiful unhulled sesame seeds). Get the one with hulls. The more bullish seed. The ones that make a statement. You can eat them raw and the taste pops. But with this cookie they also get toasted in the oven on the backs of the vanilla-strong cookie dough.
Usually seeded cookies make a grand entrance in the kitchen at Christmas time. Along with my mom’s pressed butter cookies (in some circles called “spritz” cookies, but we never called them that). The butter cookies are delicate and decorated with dipped chocolate, crushed walnuts, and pieces of candied cherries.
The seeded cookies are the blue-collar plain Janes next to these dainty pretty ones. But one bite of that deep toasty, sesame, vanilla-flavored biscotti and you’ll have a new favorite cookie.
Italians call all cookies biscotti. They call this one “Regina” (regina means queen) because they must have been a favorite of an Italian queen. (Pizza Margherita is so-called after an Italian queen. See how important food is in Italy?) These cookies come from Sicily originally. My first sighting in Sicily was in Cefalu and then in Palermo. Seeing those very familiar childhood-to-lifelong cherished cookies in a Sicilian pastry showcase, or packed in a cellophane bag on a Sicilian shelf, was time-warping & transporting. My roots in a cookie!
You gotta bake these cookies. Our family recipe makes a lot of cookies. That’s okay, you want a lot. When done, they resemble small Italian loaves of bread. They have the perfect crunch and can stand up to a dunking in espresso. Oh, dear, oh, yum. Take the secret family recipe below…and run!
Biscotti Regina (Sesame Seed Cookies)
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 1/8 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 cups for coating dough
2 tablespoons vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3-4 cups unhulled sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a mixer with a paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and incorporate. Add 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla, mix to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder and add to the wet ingredients. Mix to combine, don’t overmix, until a dough forms.
Place about a cup and a half of milk in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle most of the sesame seeds on a long piece of waxed paper or parchment. Pinch off a small dollop of dough (about 1-2 tablespoons) and shape into a small log. Coat with milk and set on the seeds. Holding up the sides of the waxed paper, rock the dough log in the seeds to coat then transfer to a cookie sheet. You can do 4-5 at a time. Continue with all the dough.
Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown. With a spatula gentle push cookies from baking sheet onto a flat paper bag to cool.