Last week I featured traditional recipes from Sicily. This week, I have selected four traditional Christmas cookies that were actually created by Italian immigrants in the United States. Lemon Drop cookies paid homage to the lemons of Amalfi and Sicily. Neapolitan Tricolore, or Rainbow cookies, honored the Italian flag of the baker’s homeland. Likewise, Italian Butter Cookies and Cannoli Cookies are really Italian American, but it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a large platter of these luscious, traditional treats. One of the recipes uses Fiori di Sicilia extract. It may not be familiar to many, but will make a perfect stocking stuffer for the baker in your family. This seemingly magical ingredient will become a favorite, with its vanilla, citrus and floral scents all in one extract.
Italian Butter Cookies
A staple of every Italian Christmas cookie platter, these versatile delights are filled with jam and dipped in chocolate.
- 1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond flavoring/extract
- 1 large egg, brought to room temperature
- 1/2 cup raspberry or strawberry jam
- 4 oz chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate (melted)
- multi-colored sprinkles
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together using a hand or stand mixer at medium speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and almond extract and mix to incorporate.
Slowly add the flour to the mixture and mix until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can pipe out the dough first and then place the baking sheets into the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Fit a pastry bag with the piping tip of your choice and fill the bag with the dough. Pipe the dough into 2-inch long segments, spacing each about an inch apart. Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes or until they are lightly golden brown on the edges. Cool the cookies on the sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.
Place the chocolate chips/chocolate into a double boiler to melt over a low flame. While the chocolate is melting, spoon 1/4 teaspoon of jam onto the bottom of half of the cookies and then sandwich with the remaining cookies.
Dip the sandwiched cookies about 1/3 of the way into the melted chocolate, taking care to let the excess chocolate drip off. If desired, drop sprinkles over the chocolate and return the cookies to the baking sheet so they can set.
Delicate, but full of pistachio, vanilla and orange flavors, if you have not prepared these cookies before, they are sure to become a holiday favorite.
- 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 tsp Fiori di Sicilia extract
- 3 tbsp amaretto liquor
- 1 tsp fresh zest – orange or lemon
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips
- 1 cup roasted unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
- 2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs and ricotta cheese until combined, then mix in the extract, amaretto and fresh citrus zest. Next, mix in the baking powder and salt until combined.
Mix in the flour and then stir in chocolate chips and pistachios. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a medium cookie scoop or spoon, drop about 1-1/2 tablespoons of cookie dough for each cookie leaving 2-inches between each.
Place the cookies in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350°F. Bake cookies 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and bottom. The cookies will firm as they cool.
Once the cookies have cooled, melt the semisweet chocolate in a double boiler over a low flame. Using a small whisk or fork dipped in the melted chocolate, drizzle the chocolate over the cookies and allow to set before serving.
Neapolitan Tricolore Cookies
The layers of these cookies are held together with Amaretto infused apricot jam. Since the cookies use the colors of the Italian flag – green, white and red, they became very popular for Christmas.
- 1-1/2 cups almond flour
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 7 oz (by weight) of the almond paste
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 3 large eggs
- zest of one orange
- red and green food coloring, enough to create a bright layer
- 2/3 cup apricot jam
- 2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur
- 6 oz dark chocolate
- 1 tsp light corn syrup
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes
To make the almond paste, add the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until needed.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch square cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment. If you do not have three pans, you can bake the layers one or two at a time.
Whisk the flour and salt together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the almond paste, sugar and almond extract with the paddle attachment until crumbly. Add the butter and beat at high speed until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add the zest and stir until mixed in.
Add the flour mixture in thirds, mixing on low until just combined. Divide the batter into three bowls. Mix the green food coloring into one bowl, the red food coloring into the second bowl and leave the third one plain. Spread the dough/batter into each cake pan and smooth to create an even layer. Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool in the pans for 20 minutes and then turn the layers out onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment.
To make the filling: In a saucepan, mix the jam and the Amaretto; simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. If the jam is too lumpy, blend with a hand mixer. Let it cool for a few minutes before using.
To make the chocolate glaze: In a double boiler over a low flame, mix the chocolate, corn syrup and butter. Stir constantly until smooth.
Now for the assembly – Place the green layer in a parchment lined quarter sheet or jelly roll pan. Spread it with half of the filling. Place the white layer on top of the chocolate layer and spread with the rest of the filling. Place the red layer on top and press the layers together gently with your hands. Refrigerate the layers for at least 5 minutes. While the cookies are cooling, make the chocolate glaze. Spread the glaze over the layers and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The final step is optional, but traditionally, the cookie contains seven layers. So once the glazing on top and on the sides have fully set, flip over, remove the parchment and glaze the bottom. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Cut the layers into bars of about 1 inch and then cut the bars into squares.
These delightful cookies are a staple for the holidays, with a fresh lemon flavor, topped with a lemon glaze. For Christmas, I use white as well as red and green sprinkles for the decoration.
For the Cookies
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3-5 drops lemon oil or 2 tsp lemon extract
- 1/2 cup oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 8 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
For the Frosting
- 6 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup of milk (or more as needed)
- 2-3 drops lemon oil
- sprinkles for decoration
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cookie sheets by lightly greasing with shortening. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, milk, lemon oil, sugar and vegetable oil. Add the flour and baking powder, 1 cup and a few teaspoons at a time. Mix just until a dough forms. It will be very sticky. Add a touch more flour if necessary to make the dough workable.
Dip a cookie scoop into some flour and the scoop out the dough, dropping about one inch apart onto the prepared sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the tops are just lightly-browned.
Remove immediately from the cookie sheet onto a wire rack and allow the cookies to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting: Mix together the powdered sugar, milk and lemon oil (or extract) in a large bowl. You may need to add more milk to get desired consistency; the frosting should be thick but runny. Set some wax paper under the cookies on the wire rack to cool. Using a spoon, drizzle the frosting on the cookies. Add sprinkles before the frosting sets.