As Christmas approaches, it’s time to gather together your recipes for all of your baking. An Italian Christmas just isn’t complete without cookies and they are a wonderful feature of the season. We all have our recipes at home that have been handed down from our mothers and our mothers’ mother. 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. This year, we are sharing with you some of our favorite traditional Italian Christmas cookies.
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.
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.
Occhi di Bue
The bakeries in Italy have something special about them — a paradise of biscotti, cannoli and tarts that lend themselves to various occasions. Occhio di bue (which means bulls-eye in Italian) are quite simple – just crunchy sweet pasta frolla with a generous amount of Nutella! These delicious cookies are not too easy to find, but don’t let that stop you – try the recipe yourself.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick + 6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp orange zest
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and butter and mix at low speed. In a separate bowl, combine egg and egg yolk, vanilla and orange zest and lightly beat with a fork. Add to flour mixture and beat on low speed. Turn dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven 350°F. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick, cut out equal amounts of solid circles and rings (2 ½ Inches) and bake 10-15 minutes. Let cool. Dust rings with cocoa powder and place over solid circles. Fill with Nutella, chocolate, or even jam.
I just returned from Sicily and found these remarkable and unusual cookies in Modica, which is famous for its chocolate. These half-moon-shaped cookies are filled with a delicious combination of the robust chocolate from the region, spices and most surprising – ground beef!
For the dough
2 1⁄2 cups ’00’ flour, plus more for dusting
1⁄3 cup sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
9 large egg yolks
For the filling
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 1⁄2 oz fatty ground beef
1⁄4 tsp coarse salt
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 oz Sicilian candied fruit (orange, lemon, pear) finely chopped
2 oz Modica bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz sugar
1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large egg whites
1 large egg
powdered sugar, for dusting
In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, sugar, butter and pulse until the butter has broken down into large pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of ice-cold water and pulse until the dough naturally pulls away from the sides, pulsing in more water, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed for the dough to be cohesive.
Transfer the dough onto a clean work surface and press it into a disk about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
To make the filling, heat the oil over medium-high flame in a medium skillet. When the oil shimmers, add the beef and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and any grease to a heat resistant bowl and set aside to cool completely.
In the clean bowl of the food processor, add the almonds and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. Add the chopped candied fruit, chocolate and sugar. Pulse until the ingredients have the consistency of a coarse, moist meal, about 30 seconds. Add the beef and cinnamon. Pulse 2–3 times to combine. Transfer the filling into a large bowl and stir in the egg whites to combine. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and lightly flour a third large sheet of parchment paper and a rolling pin. Place the dough on the floured parchment and roll it out to an even sheet 1/8 of an inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut the dough into 32 circles. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons of the filling to the top third of each circle. Use a paring knife to cut a 1-inch slit horizontally into the center of the bottom third of each circle. Fold each circle in half, pressing the air out with your thumbs and evening the filling out within each cookie (it is fine if some of the filling peeks out through the cut in the dough). Crimp the edges with a fork or your fingers to seal, then transfer the cookies, cut side up, to the lined baking sheets, taking care to leave at least 1½ inches between each cookie.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon cold water. Brush the top and sides of each cookie with the egg wash, then bake, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through, until the edges of the cookies are a light golden brown, 15–17 minutes. Remove the baking sheets and let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Once fully cooled, dust with powdered sugar and serve.