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.
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.
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.)
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Mix all the ingredients, adding the flour until it forms a soft, but not sticky, dough.
- 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).
- Place the cookies on cookie pans, cover with plastic and put in the refrigerator overnight (or freezer for a few hours).
- 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.”
- 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.