Italian Sesame Pillows (Biscotti di Regina)

October 24, 2012

in Cook What You Like, Cookies and Confections

Tender on the inside with a delightful sesame seed crunch on the outside, these lightly sweetened cookies are thought to originate in Sicily, specific to the island’s northern town of  Palermo.  Also known as biscotti di regina or Reginelle, they supposedly were named for Queen Margherita who had a penchant for baked sweets.  She must have been a foodie for she also has a pizza named after her. Yes, she’s that Margherita, queen consort of the Kingdom of Italy from 1878-1900.

Showing up often on cookie trays in Italian homes, especially around Christmas, and this easy to make cookie will soon be part of your baking tradition.  This recipe includes orange zest which marries well with the vanilla extract.  Some bakers like the cookie with just vanilla (omit the orange zest) or the anise version achieved by substituting the orange zest with 3/4 teaspoon aniseed.

These little pillows can be made into log or round shapes, with or without sesame seeds.

Recipe: Italian Sesame Pillows (Biscotti di Regina)

Summary: Orange-scented tender cookies covered with sesame seeds


  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 orange, medium
  • 3/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg, large and slightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave and cool to room temperature.   While the butter is cooling, finely zest the orange (use the naked orange for another purpose), and toast the sesame seeds in a small sauté pan on the stove over medium high heat.  When sesame seeds are lightly toasted, pour seeds into a small bowl to cool.
  2. When the melted butter is at room temperature, in a medium-large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using a wooden spoon, mix in butter and orange zest. Add beaten egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  3. Press dough together with hands. Pinch off a tennis ball size of dough and roll it into a 3/4 inch diameter rope, cutting it into 1 1/4 inch lengths. Roll cut pieces in sesame seeds to completely cover. Repeat with remaining dough.
  4. Place cookies on baking sheets 1/2 inch apart. Bake at 350º F oven until cookies are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and immediately transfer cookies onto cooling racks. When cool, store cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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