As Christmas approaches, it’s time to gather together recipes for all your holiday baking. Italian cookies are a wonderful and memorable feature of the season. Bring some additional joy to the household by getting family members involved in making the cookies. Not only are the results delicious, but it will provide memories for children and grandchildren that will last a lifetime and a tradition is born. Cookies also make tasty gifts when visiting friends at house parties.
Marion’s Fig Cookies
Without question this recipe has been the most requested and popular of the Christmas cookie recipes presented by the Italian Tribune.
2 cups dried figs, hard tips discarded
1½ cups dried dates, pitted
3/4 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup whole walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
½ cup orange marmalade
½ cup honey
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp finely grated fresh orange zest
1 tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 sticks butter, cut into ½”cubes
1 large egg
½ cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg white beaten with 1 tbsp. water for egg wash
grated chocolate, for decorating
To make the filling: In a food processor, combine the figs, dates and raisins and process to finely chop. Place the mixture in a medium bowl, add remaining filling ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
To make the dough: In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine. Add the butter and blend with your fingertips until most of mixture resembles coarse meal.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg, milk and vanilla together. Add to the dry mixture and stir to make a rough dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Cut the dough into four pieces, cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets.
On a lightly floured surface, one at a time, roll out each piece of dough into a 12” square. Cut the dough into 4” by 3” rectangles. Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling down the center of each rectangle. Fold the long sides of each rectangle inward to the center to enclose the filling; pinch the edges to seal. Turn the cookies seam-sides down and press gently to flatten the seams. With a floured knife, cut the logs crosswise into 1 ½” wide slices and arrange ½” apart on the prepared baking sheets. Brush with egg wash and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. While still warm, decorate with grated chocolate.
Transfer to wire racks to cool. Serve at room temperature.
Almond Horn Cookies
These delicious cookies are always a delightful treat. You may want to double the recipe if you’re having guests over for the holidays!
10 oz almond paste
4 oz whole almonds
1 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp almond extract
1 egg white
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375°F. In a food processor, process whole almonds until finely ground. Place the sliced almonds in a bowl and crush coarsely by hand. Break up the almond paste with your hands and add to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the processed almonds, mix and then add the egg white and almond extract. Mix until the dough binds together. Separate the dough into 14 equal pieces. Each should weigh 1 ounce.
Roll each piece into a ball and roll in the sliced almonds. As you roll each piece, shape them into logs and form the U.
Once you have formed all 14 cookies, place each piece on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until the almonds begin to turn golden. Cool completely.
Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips and dip the blunt ends of each cooled cookie and cool on tin foil. Allow the chocolate to cool completely before serving.
These traditional Christmas cookies originated in southern Italy. Most mostaccioli include chocolate in the icing, but this recipe has no chocolate at all and instead uses molasses. Give the recipe a try. The cookies are quite delicious.
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of one orange
½ cup molasses
½ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz shortening
For the icing
8 oz confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp milk
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
Traditionally, all the ingredients are mixed by hand, but if you use an electric mixer it will usually result in a lighter cookie. Combine all the wet ingredients – molasses, milk, vanilla and shortening, as well as the sugar and mix. Combine all the dry ingredients, minus the sugar and add the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix until a dough is formed, adding flour or milk as necessary to obtain a consistency that is firm and a bit sticky. Do not overmix – otherwise the cookies will develop a bread-like consistency instead of a cookie-like texture. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 20-25 minutes in the refrigerator.
Roll the dough about 1/3” thick and cut into diamond shapes. Place on an oiled or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for 12 to 15 minutes.
While the cookies are baking, make the icing. Place all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and slowly add the milk. Add just enough milk to make a mixture that is about the consistency of pancake batter. Add the milk carefully – even a little too much will cause the icing to become too thin and more confectioners’ sugar will be needed.
When the cookies are done, remove them from the oven and place them on a cooling rack with wax paper underneath to catch any icing that drips off. When the cookies have cooled, apply the icing with a pastry brush or by dipping the cookies into the icing. If doing the latter, the icing should be a bit thinner so any excess can easily drip off. Let the cookies dry thoroughly and place them in a tin. The cookies will develop their best flavor after aging for a few days.