Feliz Día de Los Muertos, everybody! And if you’re a person of faith, Happy All Souls Day. Today is a date on the calendar that holds a lot of tradition and meaning, in many cultures.
Traditionally, these cookies are Italian cookies used to celebrate All Souls Day, which is today. The name is Ossi di Morto or Ossa de Mordere, and that means “bones of the dead.” Because of the tie-ins between Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and All Saints Day/All Souls Day, my idea was that they’d be a fantastic way to celebrate both days and both celebrations together, as one. They are so similar it seems only right… and we’ll get to that in a sec.
Growing up, my nana told me all about All Souls Day. My nana was 100% Irish, born to a mother who was a first-generation American, and her mother in turn was right off the boat so to speak. The tales and superstitions were a plenty. I grew up hearing all about them, and all about the reverence and respect for the dead this time of year is about. Traditionally, today is a Christian day to remember the souls of the departed, which to Catholics is known as the Commemoration of The Faithful Departed. Its a day to pray for those who’ve passed on, to remember them. You may be thinking, “Uhm, thats the same thing that the Day of the Dead is.” And you’re right. But you might not know that originally, the Day of the Dead was celebrated in summertime. During the 16th century Spanish colonization, Mexicans moved their celebrations of Día de Los Muertos to October 31, November 1 and 2 to coincide with the triduum of All Saint’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. November 1st is All Saints Day, however in Mexico it’s known as Día de Los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Día de Los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) and is primarily honoring deceased infants and children. The prayers were traditionally posed to the goddess known as Lady of the Dead, now known as La Calaveras Catrina– the popular skeleton woman we see in drawings and depictions.
Of course, the Mexican way of “celebrating” these days are actual celebrations; food- yes, those sugar skulls too, parties, parades, decorating ancestors graves and of course prayer too. The Catholic version of All Souls Day is more somber, however in Italy they do light candles in the streets and have a bigger, louder celebration of today than perhaps most other Europeans. Brazilians also have a similar way of celebrating today, they call it Dia de Finados and it’s a public holiday.
I did grow up loosely Catholic- so I’m well aware of the ins and outs of these days and I prefer the Mexican version myself, even though I am not of Mexican heritage.
What better way to honor your ancestors than by celebrating their lives? Grief and mourning is okay, and normal. But those who are gone are no longer in pain or suffering- that suffering is left for us, so we should celebrate their lives and the love we have for them. And that love will never die.
So I made these cookies and set up my altar and I’ll celebrate this evening in my way-combining traditions of many countries together with my own and remember those I’ve loved who are no longer here with me in their physical body.
OSSI DI MORTO COOKIES (adapted from King Arthur Flour)
- 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon almond extract, or a few drops bitter almond oil, to taste
- 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons milk
- non-melting white sugar or confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
- Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets. Lightly spray with cooking spray because these cookies will stick!
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Beat in the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon to make a smooth, soft dough.
- Transfer the dough to a heavily floured work surface and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope about 1/2″ to 3/4″ in diameter, and 16″ long.
- Cut each rope into 4″ pieces. Working with one piece at a time, pinch the center, giving it a slender “waist” about 1/2″ thick. Plump the ends into knobs so the whole thing resembles a bone. They will puff up A LOT, so make the bones a little over-exaggerated. Make sure the dough is always moist, too, either by dampening your hands or sprinkling a bit of water on the dough.
- Transfer the “bones” to the prepared baking sheets and refrigerate overnight, uncovered.
- The next day, remove the cookies from the refrigerator. Allow them to rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Towards the end of the rest, preheat the oven to 300°F. Bake the cookies for 15 to 25 minutes. Bake less time for a cookie that’s lightly crunchy on the outside and chewy within, and longer for a hard, crunchy cookie. I baked mine for 20 minutes and they were perfect.
- Remove the cookies from the oven, cool, and roll the cookies in non-melting sugar. If you don’t have non-melting sugar, coat in confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
Now before anyone starts in on me with the “These aren’t real! They’re supposed to have ground almonds or almond flour in them!” nonsense, let me say this: yes. True. However, most people reading this either A) do not have almond flour or ground almonds on hand or B) do not want to spend the money to buy it just for one recipe. That means yes, they are a bastardized version of Ossi de Morto.
So just like me, and the United States, and even the way Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated now, these cookies & this entire post is a melting pot of ideas, cultures, holidays and traditions. Whether you’re religious or not, celebrating and revering the dead is something we should all do.
On that note… today I’m thinking about all my family members that I miss so much, and the ones I never met that came long before me.
“La muerte es uno de sus juegos predilectos
y es su amor más permanente.”
Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
“There is no death, only change.”
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952)