"You must try these," said my friend Elaine. "My mother makes these amazingly easy Italian sesame cookies and they are wonderful."
Now Elaine's mother's family, like my mother's, comes from Southern Italy, among the waves of immigrants that poured through Ellis Island from the late 19th century through the 1930's and later. In our childhoods - hers in New Jersey, mine in New York - there were wonderful neighbourhood Italian bakeries filled with cookies studded with pignoli, pistachio and hazelnuts, stuffed with figs and scented with sesame, anise, oranges and lemons. How I miss them. Somehow the Italian bakeries I've visited in Brooklyn recently, where my younger son lives, just are not the same - the cookies left too long on display, dry and tasteless. Somewhere (outside of Italy) there must still be that perfect Italian bakery of my memory!
So I tried Elaine's mother's recipe for Italian sesame cookies and she was right, they are wonderful. And easy. And like the cookies in the Italian bakeries of my childhood. Southern Italian/Sicilian (with the Arabic influence - in the sesame seeds - that sweeps through the whole of the southern Mediterranean).
Now there are endless recipes for "Biscotti Regina", or "Queen's biscuits" aka Italian sesame biscuits. Some add eggs, or baking powder, or brown sugar, or anise extract, or anise seeds, or lemon or orange zest, and most, if not all, have their advocates.
But this treasured family recipe is the purest and simplest. Just butter, sugar and flour, scented with vanilla and rolled in raw sesame seeds. That's it. Perfect.
All you need is: makes 3 dozen
1 cup sweet butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups plain flour
Blend all above together
Scoop by the teaspoonful and roll in the palm of your hand to form small logs - about 1 1/2-2 inches long
Roll each long in raw sesame seeds
Place on greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart as they will spread slightly
Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 12-15 minutes
When first out of the oven the cookies are slightly soft, but crisp as they cool.
Elaine (and her mother) sometimes serve these with lemon mousse - a perfect combination.