Christmas cookie recipes are shared by people of all generations as they come together to make cookies and share memories. Holidays are a time when all the special recipes are brought out for celebration. Ingredients, which we may not use the rest of the year, are used for these special recipes. These small pastries and the time spent making them symbolize the spirit of the holidays. Whether it is Italian Christmas cookie recipes or special recipes from other countries, their history can all be traced back to old Europe with ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, dried fruit and nuts. The art of making Italian Christmas cookie recipes is using fresh simple ingredients and turning them into wonderful tasting pastries. Cooks learned to lighten and enrich pastry mixtures with eggs, butter and cream; then they would sweeten them with fruit, honey and sugar. Early cooks learned to use spices like cinnamon, cardamom, anise, allspice and cloves in the right proportions to produce some very aromatic and flavorful products. Italian Christmas cookies with fillings, like the fig cookies; are very common in many of the European countries. The following are some of the most popular Italian cookies.
Types of Italian Cookies
Amaretti – dome-shaped macaroons are soft inside and crisp on the outside. They originated in Venice during the Renaissance and they are made with almond paste or ground almonds, along with egg whites and sugar.
Biscotti – These Italian cookies are long and curved. Traditional biscotti do not contain oil or butter. They have a crunchy, crisp texture and they come in different flavors, with almond, chocolate and vanilla biscotti being three examples.
Brutti ma Buoni – meringue cookies with nuts. The inside is soft and chewy and the outside is crispy. The name of these cookies translates to mean “ugly but good” which is a fair description.
Butter Nut – Italian butter nut cookies are sometimes known as Mexican wedding cakes (they are not Mexican food though), Swedish tea cakes, snowdrops, sand tarts, or butterballs. These little round treats are sweet, soft, and usually coated in powdered sugar.
Pignoli -This is a pine nut macaroon cookie. Pignoli recipes are especially popular in the south of Italy.
Pizzelle – These Italian wafer cookies are Italian through and through, although many cultures have adapted the traditional recipe and given the resulting cookies a different name.
Taralli -cookies that come in sweet or savory varieties and they are usually ring-shaped. Taralli are served as snacks and some feature fennel seeds, ground nuts, vanilla, anise, or other interesting flavors.
Whether you are using jams, dried fruit or cream recipes, here are some traditional recipes for cookies baked at Christmas time in Italian and Italian American homes. In tomorrow’s post I will share with you the cookies I bake for Christmas.
Brutti Ma Buoni
- Cooking spray for greasing the cookie sheet
- 6 egg whites
- 1 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, and extra for dusting
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray and dust it with flour.
In a bowl, beat the egg whites, until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the hazelnuts, almonds, sugar, cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of flour, vanilla, and amaretto until all the ingredients are evenly distributed (without deflating the egg whites too much).
Spoon heaping tablespoons of batter onto a cookie sheet, leaving approximately 1-inch between each cookie. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch. If you prefer chewier cookies, under bake them slightly. Remove the cookies from the oven, transfer them to a wire rack, and let rest for a 1/2 hour, or until cooled.
Italian Fig Cookies
A sweet dough is filled with fruits, nuts and jam, almost like a Fig Newton. Making them is time-consuming, but the dough and filling can be made in stages and refrigerated for several days before the cookies are assembled and baked. Using a stand mixer and food processor takes some of the effort out of the process.
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- Up to 1/2 cup milk
- 3 cups dried figs
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup orange marmalade
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Make the Dough
Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add the egg, salt and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth.
Sift the flour and baking powder together and then add them to the butter mixture. Mix well. Switch to the dough hook and knead at the low setting for 5 minutes, adding milk as needed to make a slightly sticky, soft textured dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Divide the dough into four pieces, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes.
Make the filling:
Put the figs in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Stir in the honey, cinnamon, marmalade and walnuts.
Form and Bake the Cookies
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch square on a floured surface. Cut the dough into 2- by 3-inch rectangles. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling into the center of the rectangle.
Fold both of the longer edges toward the center of the cookie and pinch the seam together. Put the cookie, seam side down, on an ungreased baking sheet leaving 1 1/2 inches between cookies.
Make two slits in the cookie with a sharp knife. Start at each open, unpinched side and cut toward the center the cookie, being careful not to cut the cookie in half in the process. The cookie will bake into the shape of an X. (See picture)
Work in batches, keeping dough refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or ice the cookies after they cool with 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar mixed with just enough milk to make a smooth consistency. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Italian Hazelnut Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies
- 2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (see Tip)
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Position 2 racks as close to the center of the oven as possible; preheat to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
2. Pulse nuts and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Scrape into a large bowl.
3. Beat egg whites and salt in another large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture. Add vanilla and gently but thoroughly mix until combined.
4. Drop the batter by the tablespoon, 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
5. Bake the cookies until golden brown, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. When the baking sheets are thoroughly cooled, repeat with the remaining batter.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Tip: Toast whole hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes. Let the nuts cool for a few minutes, then rub together in a clean kitchen towel to remove most of the papery skins.
Lightly coat your hands with flour to make rolling the dough into balls easier. The dough freezes well. Freeze the dough after step 1, thaw in the refrigerator, then proceed with step 2. The powdered sugar coating gives these cookies an appealing cracked finish. Serve with coffee to echo the espresso.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 5 1/4 teaspoons canola oil
- 1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso granules
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large egg whites
1. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine oil and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat; heat until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Add espresso granules to pan; stir until blended. Remove from heat. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl; cool 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla. Add egg whites, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring gently just until combined. Cover; chill at least 2 hours or overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350° F.
3. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Dredge balls in remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar; place balls 2 inches apart on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes or until tops are cracked and almost set. Cool cookies on pan 2 minutes; remove from pan. Cool cookies on a wire rack.
Yield: 2 dozen
Biscotti Farciti Alla Nutella
For the cookies:
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 3/4 cups Nutella, divided
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 cup Demerara sugar (see Note)
To toast the oats:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the oats on an ungreased baking sheet. Make a thin layer to ensure that they roast evenly.
Bake the oats for 10 minutes or until they turn tan and have a strong, nutty aroma. Use a spatula or spoon to stir the oats occasionally, to prevent scorching and ensure even toasting.
Transfer oats to a large metal bowl and set aside.
For the cookies:
Preheated oven set to 350º F.
Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine room temperature butter, 3/4 cups Nutella, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Beat on medium speed, frequently scraping down the sides of bowl, until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 4 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In two additions, add flour mixture to butter mixture, mixing on low speed until well incorporated, then add oats and mix until dough comes together and oats are incorporated.
Lightly flour the palms of your hands. Scoop 1 level tablespoon dough, roll into a ball, then flatten to about 1/8-inch-thick. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing cookies at least 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cookies are puffed and golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment paper to wire racks to cool completely. (Cookies can be stored, unfilled, in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)
To fill the cookies: Using an offset spatula or butter knife, spread about 1 tablespoon Nutella over the flat sides of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, flat sides together.
Once filled, cookies are best same day, but can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Note: Demerara is a natural brown sugar, an English version of turbinado sugar but with slightly larger crystals. When sprinkled on cookies and pie crusts, it adds sparkle and crunch. Turbinado is a good substitute while granulated sugar will work in a pinch.
Mascarpone Fig Jam Cookies
- 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup softened Mascarpone Cheese
- 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup Fig Jam or Jam of Choice
Beat together the butter and sugar until light.
Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until smooth.
Add the mascarpone cheese, and beat until smooth.
Sift together the dry ingredients, and fold them into the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Place sheets of parchment paper or silicone baking liners on two cookie pans.
On a lightly floured counter or board, roll the dough into 1/2 inch balls.
Using a blunt round object like the end of a wooden spoon, create an indentation in the center of each cookie.
Place the cookies 2 inches apart, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or just as the cookies begin to color.
While still warm, use the spoon to redefine the circle, and then carefully spoon a little jam into each cookie.
Let sit at room temperature until the jam is set.
Store in an airtight container.
- 3 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 to 3 tablespoons rum
1) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2) In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all ingredients and blend on medium speed until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 2 minutes.
3) Wrap and chill the dough for 1 hour. Towards the end of the chill time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
4) Drop tablespoon-sized dough balls onto the baking sheet. A teaspoon scoop makes this job easier. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. The edges will be slightly browned and the cookies will be round and domed.
5) Cool the cookies completely. Prepare the icing by blending the softened butter and confectioners’ sugar. Add rum one tablespoon at a time until you have a spreadable icing. Top each cookie with a dollop of icing and a dash of nutmeg.
Yield: Approximately 3 to 4 dozen cookies.
Hazelnut-Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches
4 dozen sandwich cookies
- 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
- Granulated sugar
- White Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling (see recipe below)
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can. Stir in any remaining flour mixture and the nuts by hand. Cover and chill dough about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.
Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. A level teaspoon cookie scoop works perfectly here. Roll balls in granulated sugar to coat. Place balls on ungreased cookie sheets. With the bottom of a glass, flatten balls to about 1-1/4-inch circles.
Bake in the preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until tops are just firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.
Spread bottoms of half of the cookies with a rounded 1/2 teaspoon White Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling. Top with remaining cookies, bottom sides down. Makes 48 cookie sandwiches.
White Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling:
In a small saucepan, heat and stir 6 ounces chopped white chocolate and 3 tablespoons whipping cream over low heat until just melted. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts.
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