Monday, December 6, 2010

A tree and a trio of Italian cookies

The thing about decorating the Christmas tree is that you somehow need cookies. And when you have woefully decided that you are done with "over the river and through the woods to cut down your own tree on the coldest December, Minnesota weekend of the year," sometimes you need cookies with a wee bit of alcohol in them.
Maybe it was the cursing every year while setting up the tree - in a family that really doesn't curse. Or the watering at 6:30 a.m. Or the terror the tree would dry out.

And so it came to pass that this year we broke down (well, nobody would help Paul put up the tree anymore) and bought a plastic .... err that would be artificial tree. And whether you are decorating a "real" tree or a plastic .... err artificial tree - you need cookies. Sweet pliable pillows of ricotta cookies or the Marsala rings to have with wine or the old-fashioned orange-whiskey cookies. I decided we needed them all. (We'll talk about the tree-decorating cheeses I put out later. I have a gene that causes excess.)

Ricotta Cookies
These just-sweet-enough Italian ricotta cookies melt-away in your mouth. Creamy, snowy, sweetly and with ease. Everyone should try this at least once. A change from the crunchy cookies that Italians love so much, I somehow get talked into making these 3-4 times during the holidays.

Ricotta Cookie Ingredinets - about 20 cookies
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Ricotta Cookie Glaze (optional)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-4 teaspoons milk
Ricotta Cookie Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set aside baking sheets. No greasing required.
  2. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the zest and sugar. I add the zest for a brighter flavor - the cookies will not be lemony.
  4. Add the butter in chunks and the ricotta cheese and beat till smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till combined. Slowly add the flour mixture. Beat until all is combined. Dough will be soft and a bit sticky.
  5. Form into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet.
  6. Bake for fifteen minutes - until bottoms are browned but cookies are not. If desired, glaze immediately while warm and cover with sprinkles or use glaze. Cool and serve.


Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk in saucepan. Stir over medium heat till the mixtures turns liquidy and into a glaze. Brush tops of ricotta cookies as soon as they come out of the oven and cover with sprinkles.
These are not an overly sweet cookies, so if you like your cookies sweet, the glaze is a good idea. If you like a not-so-sugary cookie, simply cool.
For fifteen years we had outings where we had to lay down in the snow (well mostly that would be Paul) and "saw" the tree down. I'm not sure if both kids ever agreed on the same tree. I was missing those days and their supposed ease (memories are questionable - but often kind). And so the Marsala cookies made an appearance. With the Marsala. We're all adults now... except at Christmas.

Marsala Cookies
When I first started baking Marsala cookies, they were more like a biscuit. I wanted a grown-up version of a cookie that could be served with cocktails and wine as well as with coffee and milk. Over the years I played with a Tastes of Italia's recipe. I added salt to tenderize them, added baking powder to puff them a bit, reduced the sugar so they'd pair well with wine and also reduced the flour for a more moist cookie. The result is a slightly sweet cookie that can be served alongside appetizers, breads, cheeses or on an Italian cookie Christmas tray.

Marsala Cookie Ingredients - 20-24 cookies
2-1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sweet marsala wine
*Optional: Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl or mixer combine your flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.
  3. Add egg and combine. Slowly beat in your butter, extract and wine. Mix well.
  4. When dough is mixed, form into a ball.
  5. Break off a chunk of dough to form a one-inch ball. Roll ball between your palms to create a 4-6 inch rope. Bring ends of rope together into a circle.
  6. Repeat till all the dough is used.
  7. Bake 22 minutes.
  8. Cool on racks and then store in an airtight container. Will keep well for about two weeks. Before serving, bring to room temperature and if you wish to sweeten the cookie, dust with powdered sugar.
I won't lie. I miss the pine smell. And inexplicably, Paul keeps looking for something to water, so I shall bring home something ... that needs spraying. A pine bouquet? Do they exist?
And the last of tree-decorating-trio. You don't taste the whiskey. This is from my friend Leigh. She's an Italianophile - with an Italian heritage and originally from the east coast as I am. We discovered this during a ten-minute play rehearsal and squealed together like middle school hyenas bringing the rehearsal to a halt. And I have never been prone to squealing. But everyone needs a friend that brings an instant bond - a person that encourages you to learn Italian when the memory bank is not what it was at 20. And someone who shares family recipes from the old country.

Orange-Whiskey Cookies - makes about 30 cookies

These not-sweet but creamy whiskey cookies pair well with a cocktail or a glass of dry white wine. The original orange-whiskey cookie recipe seemed to feed Naples. So I played with amounts. I love discovering new recipes and this one is a keeper.

Orange-Whiskey Cookie Ingredients
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter - softened
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (if you like a sweet cookie you could add another 1/4 cup)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 eggs - divided
  • 1 jigger whiskey
  • zest from 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups flour
  • non-pareils or sesame seeds for decorating

  1. In a large bowl or a mixer, cream butter, shortening, sugar, egg yolk and 1 egg.
  2. In a separate medium bowl combine orange juice, whiskey, zest, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. Add orange juice mix to the creamed butter mixture and beat till all is incorporated.
  4. Slowly (in 1/4 cups) add flour (with mixer on low) mixing well after each addition.
  5. Dough will be soft. Put in fridge for 1-2 hours for easier handling.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Grease two large baking pans.
  8. Pinch off about an inch of dough.
  9. Roll into a ball and then form a 4-6 inch rope. Bring the ends of the rope together and twist.
  10. Space the cookies about 1-1/2 inches away from each other.
  11. Whisk 1 egg and 1-2 T of water. Brush over cookies. Decorate with non-pareils or sesame seeds.
  12. Bake 12-15 minutes till bottoms brown a bit. Cool on wire rack.
What is about the tree that evokes trees of the past. In my childhood, my father and I and later with my "baby" sister went out every Christmas Eve to buy a tree. I wondered why they always waited. But of course, my father was in graduate school and money was tight. Trees were 50% off on Christmas Eve! My mother had a "Christmas Club" account. She put a few dollars in every week to ensure that my sister and I were spoiled silly on Christmas Day. Those were the days when presents only appeared on your birthday and on Christmas. All these memories rolling towards me through the simple act of decorating a tree.
We haven't named the new tree yet. Someday I shall tell you about "Harold" - our pathetic but well-loved tree - who fell off a car roof and into a ditch, was almost kidnapped and found his way back to us - a sadsack of a tree but we kept Harold's needles in the freezer for years. He was "the little tree who could."
In the end, you ooh and ahh over every ornament. There's the one from Taos and the ones I brought back from London so many years ago. The Peter Rabbit ones for Kirsten and the trains for Matthew. Each ornament telling of a family story. A time machine - simultaneously standing still and being swept through the years. In a sense, the tree is our family history. And it sill needs its red bows.


3 hungry tummies said...

Oh you have your tree up already :) I love these Italian cookies, I must try making some for X'mas :)

chow and chatter said...

wow great cookies and lovely tree Merry Christmas he he will say it a few more times yet but its fun to say Rebecca

kitchenarian said...

I want to make all of these cookies!

Anonymous said...

These are three scrumptious kinds of cookies here! I would love to try one of each :)

Juliana said...

Claudia, the cookies look them all and wish could have them all. The Christmas tree is just adorable :-)

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

What a great trip down memory lane with the tree, havent had a real one in at least 30 years and it always died early we forget to water it lol and these are all lovely cookies, I would eat a whole plate of those wine cookies, have made them but from Muscatel wine which I cant find anymore, so I havent done them in along time, this was a great trio. Its so hard this time of the year being Italian there are more cookie recipes than food to make and love them all, its like your preparing for a wedding huh? Amazing plate full of goodness them!

FOODESSA said...

Just about over six years ago...we had to let go of that Pine aroma too. Our puppy was just now very friendly with the a tough decision we had to make.

Your cookies made me think back to the marsala ones I had made many years ago. My recollection is that they didn't sound nearly as great as yours are. I'm bookmarking this one so that it could possibly give me a better memory ahead. The Marsala bottle is full too. LOL

Orange and these really got my attention!

Continue with your great spirit Claudia.
I wish you and Paul beautiful tree lighting romantic evenings ;o)

Ciao for now,

Sinful Southern Sweets said...

Great recipe! I'm going to try the Ricotta cookies today.
Glad you weren't too bitter about the plastic tree....I mean artificial:)LOL!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your tree is beautiful. I love that your ornaments bring back such wonderful memories.

I would gladly help you decorate for a taste of those cookies and a glass of wine. Please pass the Marsala ones. No, no, I mean the orange and whiskey ones.... Oh well, I'll just have one of each if you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love your is the only time that I can say I love then I probably make up for the whole rest of the year in eating! and I would love to hear the story of Harold...I suppose it isn't him priding in thecorner her? But still beautiful with all the rmembering is what christmas is all about me in any case...all those stories!

Anne said...

The cookies look yummy. I wanted to sample them all! Oops! It is only a picture! Thank you so much for sharing.
Happy Holidays!

Mary Bergfeld said...

Your tree is lovely, as are your cookie recipes. I love to try recipes that are new to me. I'll be making one of the three cookies for the weekend. I'll let you know how they turned out. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

Heather S-G said...

And THIS is what Christmas is really all about. The memories...not the boozey cookies---although I suppose those go hand in hand ;) Of course I want to make all three varieties...and squeal with delight! Your tree looks beautiful...and as real as can be :)

Mister Meatball said...

Orange-whiskey cookies cry out to me!

And I ain't thought of Christmas Clubs in like a hundred years!

Have a wonderful Season,

Anna's Table said...

Claudia, don't feel so bad, I jokingly say to everyone that we went to the "dark side" last year,referring to our artificial tree purchase. At least we have a few chuckles over it. Actually you can't really tell the difference, other than missing the beautiful smell of pine in the air.
Love your variety of traditional Italian cookies. I must try some of the less known with my mom.

UrMomCooks said...

Oh thank you so much for these marvelous cookie recipes...I was just searching for a few more new cookies to add and these are just what I was looking for!!! And your tree looks beautiful!

Trish said...

Wow, look at at these amazing Italian cookie recipes! I am particularly intrigued by the Orange Whiskey ones because I love orange and have never baked with whiskey before. I bet they're all delicious.

Otehlia said...

Love all the cookies! What a beautiful way to celebrate the holidays. I need to get started!

La Bella Cooks said...

You are so good about getting started on holiday baking! I am inspired. I would love to try your marsala cookies. How divine.

Unknown said...

Beautiful Christmas tree! I can't wait for Christmas cookies and looking at your photos makes me even more anxious! They all sounds great but those marsala ones are the most interesting to me.

Chef Dennis Littley said...

I just can't give up the real tree....who knows maybe down the road we will but for now, the smell of pine lingers in our home during the holiday season. Luckily our Berners don't think much of having a tree in the house.
Your cookies look amazing! I love those ricotta cookies, I do have to make them, I can just imagine those lovely marsala and whiskey cookies..perfect for dunking!
Thanks for sharing these great recipes with us, I'm sure they have served you well over the years
Have a happy holidays!

Nancy said...

Your tree real or not is beautiful. All of our ornaments have a story like yours. So the way I look at it is whether the tree is real or artificial, what matters is the history and stories that each ornament have and add each year. All of the cookies sound and look delicious. You can never go grown with a little kick in your cookies :) I hope you have a beautiful holiday.

Reeni said...

Love how you described the tree as a time machine! Perfect. And seeing all of your scrumptious cookies just made me excited to begin my holiday baking! I think your ricotta cookies will be on the menu this year.

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...

All three of theses cookies sound wonderful, I will have to try the ricotta ones, I love soft cookies instead of crunchy. Your tree is so pretty, just looking at everyones decorations is putting me in the mood.

Green Girl @ A little bit of everything said...

i wish i could try at least one of each sort of cookies. they look so delicious. thanks for sharing.
hope you're having a wonderful week


Girl, I don't have to be decorating a tree to NEED cookies! These look incredible!

We have a plastic tree this year--I'm a little sad about it. Oh well!

Diana's Cocina said...

What a lovely tree, as are the cookie recipes. Wish I had a tray of thee awesome cookies!

Dimah said...

These really look and sound fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

Monet said...

All of the cookies look great...but especially those ricotta ones! I imagine they taste so rich and lovely! Thank you for sharing. I hope you have a lovely afternoon, my friend!

Valerie said...

Of course I'm going to try each of these recipes for the church cookie sale. A little ethnicity might stir things up a bit. As far as trees go, I've always had artificial due to allergies. And there is that one Christmas where my brother-in-law attacked the tree while sleepwalking...

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

Incredible cookie-menu! I don’t know which of them I want more Marsala cookies, ricotta ones, really are tempting to try - all!!



Kim said...

Claudia- Your family's tree is beautiful. I love getting out those old keepsake ornaments from way back. Such powerful memories, some of them bittersweet.
Loved every single cookie you made and I'm sure I could gorge myself on all of them. (I have the gene for excess too). I have been looking for a softer cookie recipe though and will have to try the ricotta cookies.

Enjoy the season!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Ok, I'm making those ricotta cookies tomarrow! I've been on a biscotti baking binge the past 2 days, and I have 2 lbs of ricotta that needs to be used up,I love that they're round little balls instead of flat. Love all your stories and memories Claudia!

Quay Po Cooks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quay Po Cooks said...

Claudia, your Christmas tree is lovely and old keepsake ornaments are priceless. Love everything you made and they all look fantastic. There is a Stylish Blogger Award to be claimed by you at my blog. It was given to me by Elisabeth and one of the rules is to pass on to other bloggers whom I think are fantastic and you are one of them in my list. Thanks again for sharing with us all the wonderful stories and recipes. HUGS!

Beth said...

I love ornaments with stories, too. It makes decorating the tree special every year.
Those ricotta cookies are calling my name!

Vittle me this... said...

love your spiked cookies!

Velva said...

You absolutely need cookies when putting up the tree! No matter if the tree has been cut down or purchased in a box. And with those cookies, should be liquor too. I totally agree with you.

Beautiful cookies you prepared.

byw, It is difficult to define Florida cold when you are comparing it to a Minnesota cold :-) What people don't realize is that I live in the northern part of Florida, that has a change of seasons. This week temps have been as low as 23 degrees-its cold for us :-) We get cold temps w/o any pleasures of snow (sigh).

Angie's Recipes said...

I wish my tiny little X'mas tree (on the table, (as all my 3 cats are crazy for all the ornaments)could have looked so festive! Love the Italian cookies! And you are so right about decorating an artificial tree with cookies...I even hang a few of cinnamon know for the X'mas aroma!

theUngourmet said...

Oh, I just love the ricotta cookies! I have part skim ricotta right now, do you think it would work?

tuscanycious said...

I just posted this on the tuscanycious fan page asking people if they'd rather eat or hand the biscuits on the tree... let's see..
Besides this I love your post!

Claudia said...

I would try the part-skim. They should still puff up with the baking soda. I just usually make sure the ricotta is dry.

Island Vittles said...

Tree time was always donut time in our house -- my mom made these little Danish donuts instead of cookies at Christmas. I love the look of your ricotta cookies though, maybe I'll make those instead!

Biz said...

Thanks for all the cookie recipes - they look just like the cookies my MIL sends us every year.

I love having all the ornaments through the years on our tree too - I still have some that I made in kindergarten that go up every year - and I am 42 years old!

Hope you have a wonderful weekend Claudia!

Megan @ Foodalution said...

Hi Claudia....Did you survive the snow storm?! Wow.... lots of snow up your way. I agree with you that tree decorating = cookie making. Basically the entire month of December = cookie baking, candy making and sweets.

Ahem.... shhh - We have a "plastic" tree from my mother in-law. We have been using it for the past 2 years. It is tiny and sweet and can still scratch you like a real tree, but the smell is missing.

Cookies look delicious. And your tree is beautiful! -

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Claudia, just dropping by to say hi and that's I'm thinking of you. I hope you are staying warm. The weather outside is frightful.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I love the sound of ricotta cookies as I know they must be light, soft and creamy in taste. I don't know if I'll ever catch up in time to bake this year...we are buying our tree tomorrow and I'l just begin to decorate....lots to do!

Heather said...

Orange-Whiskey cookies?! That sounds so fantastic! I will definitely have to try that out sometime. :)

Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina said...

Those cookies look wonderfully good! I've never made them, so I'm printing out these recipes. The only 'cookies' that we grew up with from Italy is the family's almond contucci ( biscotti) that when we made them, no one had ever heard of them! Buon Natale, Claudia! PS: We haven't had a live tree for over 25 years. Your tree looks beautiful!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Well hi there. I linked over from the Proud Italian Cook blog. Mmmmmm... the thought of the ricotta cookies is making my Italian blood race through my veins. YUMMO!

I'm off to check out your wonderful blog!

PS - I used to live in MN. Great place!!

Hutchinsons said...

Just finished the ricotta cookies, and my husband (who is not a cookie fan) loved them. Not too sweet, but so soft and yummy in your mouth. I am taking most of them to a cookie exchange, but am sure to be making these again!
Thank you!!

My Little Space said...

Claudia, using artificial X'mas tree is good. You can use it over & over again. Saving you lots of money every year. Plus, we shouldn't cutting down trees. It takes years for them to grow. Really not easy!

Fresh Local and Best said...

Oh boy, is your family going to be sugared up this holiday! These are wonderful Christmas cookies, I especially like ricotta cookies! Quei biscotti sembrano molto buone!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

If I hadn't already made six kinds of cookies, those orange-whiskey cookies would be next on the list. Oh shoot - I think we need seven kinds on the tray. Re:tree - I have threatened each year to buy a fake one, but the kids would mutiny. i suppose you could buy a pine-smelling candle though right.

nycstylelittlecannoli said...

the orange whiskey sound wonderful ...we make the ricotta and they are always soo good!! great post and blog. Have a wonderful Christmas!!