Ossi di Morto: Bones of the Dead to celebrate life

BoneDead

When I was young, I distinctly remember hiding out for nearly a whole day in a Jeep in my mother’s friend’s garage.

I remember hearing them calling for me, and me refusing to answer because I was so very, very upset with all of them.

What happened to make me act out like this?

I was not allowed to go to my great Uncle Norman’s funeral. In fact, I was the only member of my family not allowed to go. My brothers, just a year and 2 years older than I was, were allowed, but I was literally shipped off to another state to spend the day.

I know my parents were just doing what they felt was best. They didn’t want to expose me to such sadness and grief, I’m sure, and they may not have wanted my little self nagging them in the middle of their mourning, either. I certainly don’t blame them now, but at the time I was livid!

When my daughter lost her Grampa John, instead of a sad funeral we were able to bring her and a friend to a wonderful celebration of life, where they could see pictures, slide shows, and share lovely memories with others. What a difference that made to all of us.

Many cultures far older than ours have been celebrating their ancestors on special days for hundreds and hundreds of years. Mexico’s Day of the Dead is probably the most well known, although similar days take placing in Bolivia, Brazil, Japan, and Eastern Europe. In China, the seventh month of the Chinese calendar is the Ghost Month, where ancestors come back to visit their families still on this side of the veil.

Italians celebrate those departed from us on All Soul’s Day, November 2. Families gather for visits to cemeteries, and special treats are baked. One of the most popular is Ossi di Morto, or Bones of the Dead. Not as firm and hard as biscotti, they’re crisp and chewy, and meant to be dipped in coffee or wine while you share stories and family history together.

There is no one absolute, traditional recipe for Ossi. Different regions, different families have their own special recipes. We developed this recipe for our Cookie Companion cookbook. We love the sweet almond flavor and the chewy interior. Each bite invites you to take another, and slow down for just a bit… to remember.

Let’s make Ossi di Morto.

In the bowl of your mixer, blend:

Add:

  • 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

To get just a drop of oil at a time, try dipping a straw or coffee stirrer into your bottle, then letting the dangling drop plop into your mix.

Beat the mixture on medium speed until you have a soft, smooth dough.

Transfer the dough to a heavily floured work surface.

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 pieces that are approximately 4″ long.

You can use your fingers to shape the dough into rough bone shapes, plumping the ends to look like the joints.

I like to make my bones a little more shaped. To do this, split each end of the rope with a bench knife about 1″. It will look like you have little “Y”s on the ends.

Curl the fingers of the Y to the center and tuck in. Press and pinch gently with your fingers.

Transfer the “bones” to the prepared baking sheets and refrigerate overnight, uncovered. Yes, uncovered. You want a little dry skin to form on the outside of the cookies.

See? Just a little dry and firm to the touch the next day. 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.

And here it is – light, crisp exterior, and a chewy almondy interior. The textural contrast reminds me of our Almond Cloud Cookies, and to me is completely addictive. Just one more bite!

Whether you’re making these cookies for a traditional celebration, or for a more modern Halloween party, these cookies are a distinctive way to bring sweetness to your table.

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Ossi di Morto (Bones of the Dead).

Print just the recipe.

I hope you’ll feel comfortable to take a moment to share a comment with us about your loved ones. We’d like to share and celebrate their life with you, our friends. ~ MaryJane

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. KellyH

    My sons have never known my parents. Every year, on Yule, we have a special dinner where I set out extra places for our loved ones who’ve passed. We tell them about my parents and try to make it as happy as we can with silly stories and similarities they share. This year there will be another place set and more stories to share. I think it’ll mean more to them since they’ll have their own memories to share.
    Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tradition Kelly. I know your children will carry those memories and stories forever. ~ MaryJane

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  2. lorrainesfav

    My Mom made Thanksgiving every year and really went all out to prepare a beautiful dinner and table. When she became ill she passed the honor of Thanksgiving dinner to me. I really did my own version of our Italian Thanksgiving that first year and enjoyed having the family at my table. My Mom raised her glass and said “You really got the whole dinner just right” I was thankful to have her at my table and have her approval of my dinner. I really do miss her and still carry that tradition at my house each year.
    Thank you for sharing your story with us, it is always a joy to hear of special traditions and memories. ~Amy

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  3. marika9868

    What a surprise when I opened the blog this morning. Yesterday, I sent boxes to my college kids filled with mummy cookies, caramel corn and Ossi di Morto. I guess it is the season…

    Ossi di Morto are new to us, even though my husband is of Italian heritage. I was originally drawn to them simply for their creepy halloween vibe. But I liked the symbolism and tradition when I read about it. My kids have lost two grandparents this year, one just a couple weeks ago. I didn’t explain the cookies’ meaning to them, however. I just included a note telling them the name of the cookie and to “look it up”. After all, they are in college! I hope they make the connection on their own, but if they don’t I will be sure to fill them in.

    One technical note: They puffed in the oven ALOT more than I expected from the photos. Naturally, in an effort to conserve refrigerator space, I had put them on the cookie sheet a little too close together, and some of my bones “fused”. A little surgery and they separated just fine. But the lesson is, don’t be stingy with the spacing!
    I’m so sorry to hear you’ve recently lost a loved one. I hope the kids do check out the meaning of the cookies and take some time to tell their friends some stories of their grandparents. With the holidays coming up too, that is always a great time to share those family memories. ~ MaryJane

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  4. gaa

    Just last night I made a batch of Almond Cloud cookies (with added bittersweet chips!) to share with my sister and her husband who are coming this weekend for a visit. I was thinking about my mom, who I lost many years ago, while I baked the cookies, as I do anytime I make anything with almond as the primary flavor, because my mom loved almond. I KNOW she would have loved almond clouds. So with my mom still foremost in my thoughts this morning, I opened the blog post today to see Ossi di Morti. The symbolism of the cookies together with their almond flavor make them a natural for me to bake. I love you, Mom, and miss you. Thanks for teaching me the joy of baking and the even greater joy from sharing the results of my baking with others.
    Oh my goodness, thank you for posting this. I didn’t expect to tear up so much with these comments but they are a lovely reminder of how food and baking brings us together. <3 ~ MaryJane

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  5. am1653

    I so want to make these! Any suggestions for making them GF? Should I just sub in KAF GF blend? I enjoy experimenting but it can’t help to ask someone who has tried it.
    I would think these would be a good candidate for GF. I’d say swap in the KAF GF blend for the flour and add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum. That should get you a pretty good dough that will hold together. It won’t be as chewy as the wheat flour version. If you want to try a chewy GF almond cookie, I’d say check out the Almond Cloud Cookies. Let us know how it goes. ~ MaryJane

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  6. "Momo "

    When my grandmother’s mother died, her body was on display in my grandparent’s home, as was the custom for that lady’s generation, although my grandmother was not comfortable with the tradition. My cousin and I were 4 and 5; I am the younger. We didn’t understand what death was, and several aunts wanted us to be taken out of our grandparent’s home. Instead, my grandmother took us each by a hand and led us into the living room where her mother’s body laid in her casket. She explained to us what dying meant, and let us look and ask questions. It was a sweet moment to share our sadness with our grandmother, learn what had happened to her mother, and allowed us to say goodbye to our great-grandmother. It was a bittersweet moment when I took my own young children to my grandmother’s funeral, and I shared with them my experience when I was a little girl and was confronted with death for the first time. I repeated that with my own 5 year old when my mother died. My grandmother, my mother, and I all agreed that the death of a loved one MUST be shared with the children in the family so that they will understand and not be frightened by our own sadness.

    My husband was not told of his own father’s death for days, and he resents the way in which he was treated to this day, when he is in his 70s. He was only 5 when his father died suddenly, and never forgave those who didn’t recognize his grief, but sent him to the movies instead of allowing him to know, to participate, and grieve. Children need to experience grief to learn how to handle their deepest emotions regarding those they love, too. It can be done well, or very, very poorly, and the latter leaves ugly painful scars.

    I would be extremely uncomfortable and would feel ghoulish making sugar skulls or the day of the dead items, or these cookie “bones”, but I have other ways to remember my family dead. Those things are just too foreign to my culture to even think about. Cloud cookies, on the other hand, sound delightful!
    Thank you so much for sharing Momo. I can absolutely understand that these customs aren’t for everyone and I applaud you for sticking by your feelings. I do hope you give the Almond Cloud cookies a try someday, and give your hubby an extra hug from me. ~ MaryJane

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  7. mreid118

    These sound wonderful-I so enjoy reading the stories and commentary about each recipe you post. I’m wondering how these would be without the almond flour…and am not sure how finely I can grind almonds without a food processor…alas, I only have a blender! Any suggestions?
    If you have a good strong blender, you should be able to grind the almonds just fine. I’d give it a try. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. knemeyer

    My mom is a wonderful cake baker and decorator, but I never could get into it as much as she does. My Nana was from the South and I always loved the foods she cooked for us. I especially loved her pies and this is where my love for pies started. One of the last ones I learned to make from her was a French Cream Cherry Pie. The shortbread-style crust, the rich combination of whipped cream and softened cream cheese and last but not least the cherry filling make such a beautiful and tasty pie. I always make it every Christmas in honor of her and it’s the jewel of the Christmas desserts! Honor your relatives that have inspired you to cook and bake but don’t be afraid to make it your own so you have something to pass down to yours!
    The pie sounds amazing, thanks for sharing. Your Nana’s specialty just may make an appearance on my family table someday soon. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  9. OSsi

    I think they were a bit much work and really rather disappointing with outcome.
    I made them to send to our grands in VA and TX, but bones did not look like bone after baking and as far as the almond flavor, I was really disappointed. I used all the required ingredients and still felt more flavor was needed.
    However- The Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies went over extremely well.

    Reply
  10. njm

    I lost my mom just a few months ago and it has been a hard transition. But I will always be grateful that when I was young, probably 7 or 8, that the first thing she taught me was to make a pie crust, and then cakes and caramel frosting from scratch. And we used to sit on the counter and lick the beaters when she made, as they were called the, toll house cookies. I always wondered why there used to be a tsp of water in the recipe?
    I am sorry for your loss and know from experience how hard this time can be. Hold onto those memories! The addition of water helps to bind the dough. Elisabeth

    Reply
  11. bina

    At our Passover Seder, we always go around the table and each of us talks about a person we wish were there with us. This is a lovely way to remember the dead. Your cookies are adorable, but also look a bit like dog bones. I will look forward to making them.
    I love that tradition. I like to sit with my daughter and her friends and tell stories about people they didn’t get a chance to meet. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  12. rochelle_keefer

    Even though our fridge is full from the birth of our daughter a few days ago, I’m seriously considering going in the kitchen and throwing these together. My great-grandma was alive for 25 years of my life and I was there when she passed on very peacefully. Her name was Evelyn and we have given the name to our daughter so I have been thinking about her a lot. She always had cookies made! I love the history of this recipe and as my newborn sleeps away… I think I need to make these cookies. Thanks for the beautiful inspiration and everyone else’s comments. I enjoyed reading the different traditions of remembrance!
    So beautiful, thank you so much for sharing this. I’m thrilled to hear about the baby and Evelyn is a lovely name. We wish you all the best, lots of rest and many years of baking together. XO~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. "Mike Nolan"

    When I baked these, they sort of leaked out the sides and flattened out, and are almost hollow inside.

    Any idea what I did wrong? The dough seemed a little crumbly and was starting to dry out as I was shaping them, maybe not moist enough?

    I’m hoping to do another batch yet today.
    It was good to talk to you in chat Mike. I hope the fixes that we talked about (keeping the dough moist, etc.) work out this time. Keep us posted. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. "Mike Nolan"

    The second batch came out better, but they still don’t look quite as boney as the ones in the blog. And I don’t have any of the non-melting sugar, guess that goes on my wish list.

    My wife is going to her office on Halloween as her favorite baker–me. :-)

    She’s wearing a pair of my pants, one of my flannel shirts and one of the chef beanies that I wear when working in the kitchen, all flour coated, of course.

    So I think I’ll send both batches of cookies in, one labeled ‘Ossi de Morto” and one labeled “Respinge per la famiglia” (Rejects for the Family).
    Oh Mike, how sweet! I’m sure all of the cookies will be met with happy smiles and eager faces. We’d love to see pics of your baker lady twin! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. lana kokayeff

    I just baked these bones of the dead cookies, and they swelled up in the oven, lost their ‘boney’ shapes, and looked absolutely shapeless. Ugh!!!As a long-time baker, my guess is that 2 teaspoons of baking powder is way too much for the recipe, and perhaps 1/2 teaspoon would be a better amount to use. I am reeally disappointed! Specially, since I followed the recipe exactly, no short cuts or alterations. Please let me know if you have any adjustments.

    Lana
    Lana,
    I’m sorry to hear this. In all the testing we did (about 6 batches+) we did not see this result. If you would like to try and cut down on the powder, you can definitely give it a try, but here we found the amount to be correct. Keep us posted. ~ MaryJane

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  16. Tonia

    My first birthday after my dad died (he died in February, my b-day is in December) my mom and I traveled by train from Wenatchee to Seattle and my brother met us there (he lives in Tacoma). We went to eat at one of Tom Douglas’ famous restaurants. The meal was fabulous and for dessert we ordered 4 desserts — coconut cream pie (for dad), donut holes w/dipping sauce (dad would’ve loved!), and two other desserts I can’t remember but that were really good. When we ordered the waitress looked at us kind of funny ’cause there were only three of us! We got a little teary eyed when we ate the coconut cream pie, but in a good way. My dad loved his desserts and he would’ve loved that pie — in a way he was there with us.
    What a wonderful way to celebrate your dad. I’ll think of him next time I make coconut pie and have a bite in his honor. thanks for sharing. ~ MaryJane

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  17. Laura

    “Italians celebrate those departed from us on All Soul’s Day, November 2.”

    That’s probably because All Soul’s Day is a Catholic day of remembrance for the dead. It is always celebrated on Nov. 2nd, unless that happens to be a Sunday…then it might jump to the next day. Prayers & Mass are offered for the departed.

    I also think these cookies have more of a “creepy Halloween vibe,” as another poster stated. I suppose it depends on your intention and, if you grow up with them, seem rather normal.

    This would be a good GF cookie! Having some experience here, I would say be careful to not over bake. GF cookies of this sort can look normal until they cool and then they are rocks.

    Reply

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