An Italian Cookie Christmas... Pine nuts, almond paste and citrus make these 3 cookies very Sicilian. The ingredients are so sunny and bright with flavor, they shake up winter.
I did consider doing a post using grapefruit, cottage cheese and raw carrots. It is possible that your eyes may glaze over if you see one more preparation that includes "cream butter and sugar and add eggs mixing well." But 'tis the season of sweets and during the holidays Italians pull out all the stops. If we're putting together a Cassata, we're contemplating the wisdom of adding panforte to our to-do list. Then there's Ciao Chow Linda's boozy Baba Au Rhum or Proud Italian Cook's Limoncello Tiramsu or What's Cookin' Italian Style's Lemon Polenta Biscotti. You see the dilemma - Italians typically only do sweets on special occasions. But when they do - they do it right. I'm surprised there isn't a Feast of the Seven Dolci!
Even if you're "cookied-out," note these sweets for 2012. The pignoli cookies are classic - delicate almond-flavored puffs studded with pine nuts. The Italian knot cookies are soft, pliable, citrus billows often seen at weddings. And the "S" cookies made with olive oil instead of butter pair very well with Prosecco! Which is my best ringing endorsement for that Sicilian cookie.
Pignoli Cookies (from Tastes of Italia)
For fun: You might also want to try Mister Meatball's "Best Pignoli Cookie"
(makes 30 1-inch cookies)
1 8-ounce jar of almond paste (do not use almond paste that come in tubes - it has a different consistency)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
3 egg whites (keep 1 egg white separate)
1 cup pignoli (pine) nuts
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease baking sheet very well (even better, grease both sides of parchment paper and put it on baking sheet. These cookies bake better if there are no edges on your baking sheet. Cream your almond paste and granulated sugar. Add the confectioners sugar and 2 egg whites and beat until smooth. The dough will be wet and sticky. You can refrigerate to make it a bit easier to work with - I grease my hands. In a small bowl, beat the last egg white. Pour pignoli nuts in another bowl. Grease your hands and pinch off 1 inch of dough (can pinch off larger for fewer cookies). Roll into a lumpy ball and then roll in beaten egg white and then in the pignoli nuts. Place on cookie sheet - two inches apart. They will spread!
For the small 1-inch balls - bake about 12-15 minutes. Larger ones may need a few more minutes. Watch carefully that they do not brown. This are not a crispy cookie - they should be soft and chewy. Cool on wire rack. These are the fussiest of the recipes. But if you sit down and have them with a cup of coffee or an amaretto, they truly are a taste of Italy.
"S" Cookies - 24 cookies
Leave these plain, add sprinkles or brush with a citrus icing (1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, 2-4 tablespoons of milk, 1/8 teaspoon orange extract)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon orange extract
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your cooking sheets. In a medium bowl, sift (I don't sift) your flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat your olive oil and sugar until a bit fluffy. Add your eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add your extracts and beat for 45-60 seconds. Add in your flour - about 1/4 at a time and mix well after each addition.
Guess what? The dough will be sticky! Flour your hands and pinch off about an inch. Form into a ball, then a log and then turn your log into an "S." Put on cookie sheet. Repeat - placing your S-dough 2-3 inches apart. If using sprinkles, sprinkle now! Bake for 8-10 minutes. (You also don't want these to brown.) Cool for 1 minute in pan and then transfer to wire rack. If using, brush with icing. Let cool completely and store in airtight containers. These do keep well - at least a week - but they never last longer than 48 hours here (and I hide them!).
Italian Knot Cookies (makes 24) (I think at this point the camera lens was smudged with dough)
The orange scent while baking is a walk is a heavenly bonus. As with the "S" cookies - simply sprinkle with sugar before baking or add confectioner's icing after baking. Or leave plain and have them for breakfast.
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter - softened and cut into pieces (or in my case - blobs)
1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
juice of 1/2 orange
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 baking pans. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the zest and juice and briefly mix. Add the flour in 3 additions and mix well. If dough is too sticky, refrigerate for an hour (mine wasn't).
Pinch off a two-inch piece of dough. Form into a ball and then a log - about 8 inches long and form into a lose knot or simply cross the ends. Space them about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes (just until the edges look like they are browning). Can cool in pan. But I cool on a wire rack after a few minutes.
If you're in the kitchen a lot consider listening to Holiday Spectacular form This American Life. (It came to me from Brian Ferry's blog The Blue Hour and if you don't know it - you should.) Your baking time will fly by and I am sure everything I baked tasted better because the cookie dough also listened to the stories.
I will be stopping by all of you to wish you soft lights in the solstice, Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah and for the politically-correct among us, you may like the University of Minnesota's mandatory greeting "Happy Winter Celebration."
May soft hugs, almonds, citrus, and treats be yours during this season of sweets. (And what's an extra 2 pounds among friends?)