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Almond ossi di morti cookies.
Almond ossi di morti cookies. Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty/Jim Scherer

Italy is among the cultures in which the dead are commemorated on All Souls’ Day at the beginning of November. Special foods mark the occasion, including cookies called Ossi di Morti (bones of the dead). Flavors, textures, and shapes differ, though cookies shaped like bones are especially popular. Mine are rubbed with confectioners’ sugar to give them the dusty patina of bone. These rustic cookies are hard and crunchy like biscotti, designed for dunking in espresso or sweet wine. Kids could dip them into tea, cider, or juice.

ALMOND OSSI DI MORTI (BONES OF THE DEAD) COOKIES

Makes about 2½ dozen

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Pay attention to the texture of the dough, and aim for slightly moist. If the dough is too dry, it will crumble when you try to roll it. (Don’t undercut the kneading time — you have to work the mixture thoroughly to hydrate the flour sufficiently.)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

Salt

1 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted, cooled, and finely chopped

1 large egg white (about 2 generous tablespoons)

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and almonds; make a well in the center. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg white, almond extract, and 1½ tablespoons water. Add to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until moistened and crumbly, about 1 minute. Using your hands, knead the mixture in the bowl until it becomes a cohesive dough, about 2 minutes more (should be about the consistency of sticky marzipan; if necessary, add extra water, about ½ teaspoon at a time, kneading well after each addition).

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Working with 1 small portion of dough at a time (cover the rest with plastic wrap to prevent drying), roll into a 10-inch rope (about 3/8 inch in diameter) and cut into 2 5-inch lengths. Cut a slit in each end, push apart the sides into a Y shape, fold each arm of the Y in on itself, and mold to resemble a bone end. Arrange about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake until browned around the edges and light golden brown on top, about 16 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. (Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.) Just before serving, toss the cookies in the confectioners’ sugar to coat thoroughly. Tap off the excess sugar, then rub the cookies to create a white, bone-like patina, and serve.

TIP: To form the joint ends of the cookie “bones” 1) cut 1-inch slits at both ends 2) push apart the 2 sides to resemble a Y 3) fold each arm of the Y in on itself and 4) pinch and mold the folded arms to resemble the joint end of a bone (think classic dog biscuits here).
TIP: To form the joint ends of the cookie “bones” 1) cut 1-inch slits at both ends 2) push apart the 2 sides to resemble a Y 3) fold each arm of the Y in on itself and 4) pinch and mold the folded arms to resemble the joint end of a bone (think classic dog biscuits here).Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Variations

> ALMOND-HAZELNUT OSSI DI MORTI COOKIES

Makes about 2 ½ dozen

Follow the directions for Almond Ossi di Morti, making the following changes:

1) For the nuts, use ¼ cup blanched, chopped almonds and ¾ cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, cooled, skinned, and finely chopped.

2) In the egg-white mixture, substitute ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract for the almond extract.

> LEMON-CINNAMON OSSI DI MORTI COOKIES

Makes about 2 ½ dozen

Follow the directions for Almond Ossi di Morti, making the following changes:

1) In a medium bowl, stir the sugar and 1½ teaspoons finely grated lemon zest until moist and fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon along with the flour, salt, and almonds.

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2) In the egg-white mixture, substitute ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract for the almond extract and fresh lemon juice for the water.

> ANISE OSSI DI MORTI COOKIES

Makes about 2 ½ dozen

Follow the directions for Almond Ossi di Morti, making the following changes:

1) Decrease the quantity of almonds to ¾ cup. Add 2 teaspoons ground anise seed and 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed, lightly toasted and cooled, to the dry-ingredient mixture.

2) In the egg-white mixture, substitute ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract for the almond extract.

> COCOA OSSI DI MORTI COOKIES

Makes about 2 ½ dozen

The recipe that inspired this one called for pine nuts and grappa, the strong Italian spirit. I prefer almonds, but if you happen to have grappa or brandy on hand, you can substitute it for the water.

Follow the directions for Almond Ossi di Morti, substituting 1½ tablespoons of Dutch-process cocoa powder for 1½ tablespoons of the flour and vanilla extract for the almond extract.

Adam Ried appears regularly on America’s Test Kitchen. Send comments to cooking@globe.com.