An Italian Christmas just isn’t complete without cookies. We all have our recipes at home that have been handed down from our mothers and our mothers’ mother. This year, we are sharing with you some of our favorite traditional Italian Christmas cookies.
Blood Orange and Poppy Polenta Shortbread Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
⅔ cup polenta
1 tsp coarse salt
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 2 blood oranges
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling
½ cup blood orange juice
1 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter an 8’ x 8″ baking pan. Line with parchment paper, creating overhang on 2 sides. Lightly butter the parchment. Whisk the polenta, salt and 1½ cups flour in a medium bowl to combine. Place the granulated sugar, blood orange and lemon zests in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until mixture is very fragrant and the sugar starts to look a little moist, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of butter and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and beat just to combine. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined. Fold the dough with a rubber spatula a few times to incorporate any dry bits in the bottom of the bowl. The dough will be wet and a bit sticky.
Using floured hands, gently press half of the dough into prepared pan in an even layer. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds over the dough and gently press. Scatter pieces of remaining dough over and press down into an even layer with floured hands. For a completely flat surface, use the bottom of a straight-sided measuring cup to smooth dough. Bake the shortbread until edges are golden brown and center is lightly golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan. Meanwhile, simmer the blood orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling often, until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 10 to 12 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let cool.
Carefully slide a small knife or spatula along sides of pan not lined with parchment paper, then use edges of paper to lift out shortbread onto a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice into quarters in one direction, then into eighths in the other direction (for larger bars, just cut in half first). Place the shortbread bars back into pan the same way they came out and set aside. Add powdered sugar to bowl with reduced juice and whisk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over shortbread in pan and use a spatula to smooth all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with more poppy seeds and let shortbread sit until glaze is set, at least 1 hour. Just before serving, retrace cuts with a sharp knife and remove bars from pan.
1 3/4 cups sliced, blanched almonds
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 tsp fine salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp light corn syrup
5 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped. Stir together the nuts, flour, zest and salt in a large bowl. Put the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture comes to a boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into almond mixture and stir just to combine. Set aside until cool. Scoop rounded teaspoons of batter and roll into balls. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between each cookie. Bake until the cookies are thin and golden brown throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 10 to 11 minutes. Cool on baking sheet then transfer to racks to cool.
Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good Cookies)
4 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp amaretto
4 oranges, zested
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a cookie sheet and dust it with some flour. Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip to soft peak. Add the sugar steadily and beat for 2 minutes. Stop the machine and add the flour, vanilla, amaretto, zest and cocoa powder. Mix for 1 minute and stop the machine. Stir in the nuts quickly and spoon out 2” sized amounts on cookie sheet 1” apart. Bake 30 minutes until crisp. Remove and allow to cool.
Zuccarini (Italian Sugar Cookies)
½ cup Butter
1/4 cup Sugar
3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp anise extract
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter and gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Stir the flour mixture into the butter egg mixture. Add flavorings stirring to blend. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease two cookie sheets. Roll dough onto lightly floured board and use cookie cutters to form Christmas shapes. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Decorate the cookies with fun Christmas themed colors or however you desire.
Sicilian Pistachio Cookies
8 oz plus another 2 oz. raw pistachios
8 oz sugar
8 oz blanched sliced almonds
2 egg whites
½ tsp vanilla
confectioner’s sugar to dust
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a food processor, combine the first measure of pistachios, almonds and the sugar. Process until the nuts are ground (with no large chunks left). Transfer the ground nuts and sugar into a clean dry bowl. Mix in the egg whites and vanilla with the ground nuts and sugar. Mix with a wooden spoon until you get a slightly sticky ball of dough. You will need to mix well to make sure the dough comes together. If needed, add extra egg whites (1 tsp at a time).
Chop the extra 2 ounces of pistachios into smaller, coarse pieces and set aside. Using a cookie scoop or wet hands, portion out the cookie dough to make round cookies with a diameter of about 1 inch and roll each one in the coarsely chopped pistachio nuts. Place these cookies on a prepared cookie baking tray and flatten them slightly.
Bake them in the preheated oven for about 10 – 12 minutes, until they just start to turn brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and let them cool down completely. Dust them with some confectioner’s sugar.