Tag Archives: lemon zest

A hundred years of S-cookies

Although Thanksgiving left me surfeited on rich food and wanting to eat nothing but brown rice and vegetables for a few days, I convinced myself to get back in the kitchen and make some very rich cookies.

These aren’t just any cookies: They’re my family cookie, a special recipe my grandmother brought with her (in her memory) when she and my grandfather fled Nazi Germany in 1940.

These are S-cookies: butter, sugar, eggs and flour, along with that magic ingredient, lemon zest, formed and baked into S-shapes, sprinkled with sugar.  They always seemed especially significant to the Sonneman family, because of the S–though perhaps other families shaped them into different letters. In any case, they’ve always been our cookie for celebration.

So why bake them now, just after Thanksgiving?

Well, no one loved S-cookies more than my father and for many many years I baked them soon after Thanksgiving so they’d arrive in time for his birthday on December 1. He would hide the tin of cookies I sent him, sneaking them out one-by-one with afternoon coffee or tea so he could savor them like fine cognac. He’d give one to a friend or neighbor only after he’d expounded on the cookies’ specialness, to make sure they appreciated each bite.

My father always thought he’d live to be 100, but he died at 93. I still miss him deeply, but I remember well that he never passed up an occasion to celebrate.

My father in Mannheim

This year, December 1 is the 100th anniversary of my dad’s birth in 1910. So, even though he’s not here to enjoy them, I just had to make some S-cookies in his honor. I’m absolutely sure he’d want us to be celebrating this day.

My parents in Chicago

The S-cookies are pretty simple to make: mix up the dough, roll and shape them and put them in the fridge overnight to firm up. The next day you dip them in beaten egg white and sugar before baking. (It’s prettier if you have sparkling sugar for the top, but I couldn’t find it in town.)

The cookies are shaped into reverse S’s so they can be dipped in the egg white and sugar, then turned over to form S-shapes

I made two batches of them and sent them out to my family as well as to our dear neighbors on Bennett Avenue in Chicago. I saved just a few at home so Steve and I could mark the occasion without suffering the consequences!

A few notes about this recipe:

  1. It calls for the zest of one lemon, but my father never thought that was enough, and neither do I. If you are going to go all out and make these rich cookies, buy an extra organic lemon or two and at least double the amount of zest.
  2. My mother tried to make these less cholesterol-laden but it can’t be done successfully. If, like me, you need to monitor such things, resign yourself to just eating one…or two, at most.
  3. My father thought I should keep the recipe a secret, but it seems to me that every culture, family or cook has their own particular must-have rich treats for special occasions. So even though I share the recipe with you, S-cookies will still and always be my family recipe. For me, that’s special enough.


  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar (update: I’ve found 3/4 cup of sugar is plenty!)
  • 3 egg yolks (save the whites for dipping the cookie dough later)
  • grated rind of one lemon (or even better, two)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • dash of salt
  1. Mix all the ingredients, adding the flour until it forms a soft, but not sticky, dough.
  2. Take about a quarter of the dough at a time and roll into a rope, cut into 2-inch lengths and shape into backward S-shapes (like rounded Z’s).
  3. Place the cookies on cookie pans, cover with plastic and put in the refrigerator overnight (or freezer for a few hours).
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the egg whites until fluffy (not as firm as meringue) and mound them up on a plate. Put sugar (sparkling decorator sugar if available) on another plate. Dip each cookie, first in the egg white, then in the sugar, and place upside down on the cookie sheet, so that it is now in the shape of an S.  (My mother writes: “You will be glad you reversed the S when you pick it up to dip in whites & sugar and then turn over so sugar is on top to bake.”
  5. Bake (at 350) for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom and turning golden on top. Cool on a cooling rack; store in a tin.

Dec. 1 is the first night of Chanukah this year–and my dad’s 100th birthday. It calls for some S-cookies!



Filed under baked goods, musings, Praise for other cooks, Uncategorized, winter

Scones: lost, found and reinvented

I made some some scones with blackberries the other day to serve with afternoon tea. Yum. They were so easy to make and tasty. And that got me thinking about how I came by this recipe.

About 15 or 16 years ago, my sister Milly gave me a calendar from Mollie Katzen’s “Still Life with Menu” book. It had Katzen’s charming paintings and a recipe for yogurt scones which I came to love so much that the calendar was always turned to the same page.

These pastries could be put together quickly, forming a wet dough that you sort-of plopped onto the baking sheet and brushed or patted with egg.  They called for yogurt instead of the more traditional (i.e. fattening) cream. And they were delectable. At first, the only change to the recipe I deemed necessary was to add (of course) grated lemon zest.

I never wrote the recipe down, because I just kept the calendar open to the scone page on top of the fridge, handy whenever I needed it, for the next couple of years.

Then it came time to move. This was about 13 years ago. I was packing up my things–but when I went to look for the calendar, it had mysteriously disappeared! I even plunged into the scary no-man’s land behind the fridge, braving cobwebs and crumbs, but there was no sign of the beloved scone recipe.

I suppose I could have bought Katzen’s book or, being cheap, checked it out from the library. Or even surreptitiously written down the recipe in a bookstore.

But instead I just tried to reconstruct it. That was pretty successful. Then I started changing it. And changing it.

At this point, I think it could be justifiably called my own recipe, or nearly so, gratefully inspired by Mollie Katzen.

The dough I use is not as wet, so you can pat it into a circle and cut it into the traditional triangular shapes.

Also, I always make these scones with berries, frozen berries–no need to thaw them– a tip that came from Nia (which she got from someone else). Steve and I picked enough blackberries this summer that I still have a couple bags in the freezer, but store-bought blueberries or raspberries will do just fine too.

I also often use whole wheat pastry flour, which works just fine. And nowadays, on the cholesterol watch, I substitute olive oil for half of the butter (the lower amount called for) and egg whites instead of whole eggs. These scones have adapted well and are still delicious!

They are perfect in any season, great in the morning for breakfast or with brunch, and just as nice as a  substantial treat for “elevenses” or afternoon coffee or tea. (Steve and I nearly always have them with tea — PG Tips, brewed for three minutes and served with milk, British style)

Yogurt Scones

  • 3 cups of flour – white or whole wheat pastry flour, or mixture. You can use up to ½ cup of oat bran in this mixture
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons butter (or 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil)
  • ½ to ¾ cup frozen berries or ½ cup currants or chopped nuts
  • zest of one medium lemon, finely grated, optional
  • 1 cup yogurt (nonfat or lowfat is fine)
  • 1 egg or 2 egg whites
  • confectioners sugar, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and brown sugar) in a large bowl.
  3. Cut in the butter (or, if you’ve planned ahead and frozen the butter, you can grate it into the dry ingredients), using a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers (working quickly).
  4. Add the frozen or dried berries and nuts to the mixture, along with the lemon zest if you’re using it and mix very briefly to distribute
  5. In a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, beat the egg or egg whites together with the yogurt.
  6. Pour the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture, and mix with a fork only until the two mixtures are distributed and the dough holds together. Do not overmix.
  7. Finish patting the dough together with your hands, and stir in a little more flour if needed. The dough should be very moist, but not sticky.
  8. Divide the dough in half and pat each half into a thick circle about the size of a small dinner plate.
  9. Cut the circle into 6 or 8 wedges, like a pie, and place the wedges on a baking sheet. (You can brush with beaten egg if desired, or add some glaze after baking.)
  10. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden.
  11. To glaze the scones, mix up some confectioners sugar with a little liquid, such as lemon juice or maple syrup, and brush it on the scones while they are still warm.

Mixed, baked and ready to serve in about 45 minutes


Filed under baked goods, breakfast, dessert, fruit, Praise for other cooks, summer, Uncategorized