Ossi di Morto: Bones of the Dead to celebrate life

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. Molly

    I’ve made these two years in a row and have had the “puffed to shapeless” experience that other commenters mentioned. I’m at elevation 4500′ so I used 3/4 of the baking powder called for and upped the baking temp by 15 degrees and reduced the time from 20 to 18 minutes. Would love to have a better shaped cookie that is more biscotti-like. What do I do?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Molly, you might try extending the uncovered refrigeration time from 12 to 24 hours, which is critical to drying and setting the outside of the “bones”. Also back off another 1/4 teaspoon on the baking powder. Susan

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Molly, try reducing the baking powder even more next time (try as little as 1/2 teaspoon), and also let the cookies rest at room temperature for longer than an hour (try 2 hours). Also try exaggerating the shapes of your “bones” before baking, making the heads of the bones quite large, knowing that the shafts will puff up slightly while baking. These adjustments should give you better results with your next bake. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  2. Gloria

    I was hoping this was the long lost recipe I have been looking for. Disappointingly, it is not. The cookies came out soft and sort of cake like and gummy in the center even though I baked them for 25 minutes. Not the hard as bones I was expecting. I wonder if substituting 2-4 egg whites for one or two of the eggs would make them harder and airier inside as I remembered them. Also wondering if they were cooked at 325 if they would rise faster and turn out harder. I don’t recommend you try this recipe; very disappointing. If anyone has tried to modify this or has a recipe that is hard as bones on the outside and sort of airy on the inside, please send the recipe along.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sorry to hear this recipe wasn’t the one for you, Gloria. It sounds like you might be looking for a recipe that’s more like Amaretti, a crisp/light Italian almond cookie (it uses egg whites for lightness). By the end of the 25-30 minute bake time, the cookies should be pleasantly hard and crisp. Feel free to adjust the bake time as necessary to get the texture you’re looking for. I hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  3. 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
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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

    Reply
  6. "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
  7. "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
  8. 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
  9. 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

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