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Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Lights in Saint Mark’s Square

Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities last from December 24th. through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of the holiday. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and it is around the table or, a tavola, that Italian families come together. These holidays allow parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over splendid food and drink.

Italian children write letters to Santa Claus or Father Christmas asking for presents and in Italy the main day for gift giving is the Epiphany. These presents are brought by La Befana, a kindly old witch, who fill children’s stockings in the night with sweets, “i dolciumi” if they have been good or with coal, “il carbone” if they have been bad. Santa Lucia brings the gifts in Venice and Mantova, while in other regions, it is the Baby Jesus or Gesu’ Bambino who brings the presents. The children also write to their parents to let know how much they love them. This letter is placed under their father’s plate and he reads it at the end of dinner.

Christmas Time, Little Italy, New York City

Among the traditions, customs and other rituals typical of the Christmas season are:

  • The main focus of decorations is the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. The churches have a presepe outdoors and traditional bonfires are assembled in the main square of town.
  • Ceppo known, as The Tree of Light, is a wooden frame with a pyramid shape; it is several feet high and supports many shelves or tiers. The ceppo has on the bottom a manger scene and on the shelves above are placed small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. It is also decorated with gilt pine cones, colored paper, little candles and pennants. At the top is placed a star or a small doll.
  • Urn of Fate: they are wrapped presents for each family member. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you try again.
  • Zampognari and Pifferai: Bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes entertain the people at religious shrines.
  • In the Vatican City, the people go to the square at noon on Christmas day to receive the Pope’s blessing; he appears at his balcony.
  • Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay lit until New Year’s Day.
  • The cribs are usually handed down from generation to generation.

Christmas Dinner In Italy

Again it will almost certainly start with a selection of antipasti – perhaps including salami and Parma ham, and a glass or two of sparkling Prosecco. Then there will be a hearty filled pasta dish, such as agnolotti, ravioli or tortellini. Most families will follow this with a roast – often poultry, served with vegetables; others might have a local meaty speciality, such as a stuffed pig’s trotter. Although Italians don’t usually indulge much in desserts, at Christmas, most people will make an exception and follow the meat course with some panettone – a light but buttery sponge cake or other sweets. In some regions people might also have some pandolce, a heavy fruit cake with pine nuts.

The most significant meal of the Christmas Day is the lunch or il pranzo. In Italy the following  dishes are often served:

  • Lo zampone – the skin of the lower pig leg, including the toe little bones, filled with minced meat and sausages                                                                 
  • Il cotechino – pig’s foot stuffed with spiced minced meat 
  • Sausages
  • Turkey stuffed with chestnuts
  • Lamb is also enjoyed with mashed potatoes and lentils
  • Tortellini in chicken stock
  • Crostini with liver pâté

Desserts such as:

  • Torrone – Nougat
  • Il panettone – the Milanese fruit cake filled with candied fruit
  • Gold bread – the traditional cake
  • Il pandoro – similar to il panettone, only without fruits or raisins
  • Il panforte – Gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds

The traditional drinks are:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Vin brule – mulled wine
  • Bombardino – Italian version of eggnog
  • Punch of rum, mandarin and orange flavors

 Christmas Dinner Memories

When I was a child, Christmas was a very special time in our house. We all looked forward to this season: my parents, my grandparents, my maternal aunts and my siblings. It was a busy time shopping, wrapping presents, baking and decorating the house and the tree.

When Christmas arrived, we were up by 5 A.M. to open presents. After we had time with our new gifts, my father would take us to visit his relatives in Little Italy, while my mother started dinner preparations. My father had a large family so this took awhile. By the time we had wished my grandmother and all my father’s brothers and sisters, a Merry Christmas, it was time to head home. My mother never needed to make dessert for Christmas dinner, because after the rounds of visiting the relatives, we went home with a number of special homemade Christmas treats.

Struffoli

Zeppole

Anise Cookies

In fact, before the day was done we had more sweets than we could eat in a week. My mother’s father would come for dinner and he would always bring Italian pastries, ice cream and Hershey bars. What a day!

Dinner was held early in the afternoon and began with a typical antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables.

The next course was always Lasagna with little meatballs in the sauce. This was followed by a pork roast with roasted potatoes and a green salad. Lots to eat – and don’t forget those desserts!

Christmas Dinner At My House

Because several members of my family are vegetarians, I often serve vegetarian dishes alongside the non-vegetarian dishes.

Onion Soup

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1-26-ounce container Pomi tomatoes
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 slices of thick crusty bread
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and 4 cups of water. Stir in the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread

 

Beef Tenderloin

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine garlic, mustard and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in oil and process until the ingrdients are very finely chopped. Rub mixture over beef and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Transfer beef to baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake about 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135 F. for medium-rare. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

 

 

Gnocchi with Creamy Pesto

(dilute pesto sauce with a little half and half)

See recipe: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

 

 

Spinach Casserole

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 16 ounces organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups Sargento Italian six cheese blend

 Directions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 11-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (it may be necessary to do this in batches) and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach wilts. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, parsley, dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the spinach mixture and the Italian cheese, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and bake until the top has browned and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

Dessert

Italian Cookies see post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/14/my-childrens-favorite-christmas-cookies-part-2/


Another tradition I established for our family was baking a special coffeecake for Christmas morning breakfast. In the early years there were a few different cakes tried but the one that became the favorite was an almond cheese filled cake. For my children, their spouses and their children, Christmas morning is not the same without this cake. I share this recipe and how to make it with you here in this post.

This coffeecake dough can be shaped in the form of a wreath or a horseshoe or even a candy cane. I make it in the form of a log because it fits in the freezer better.

Since Christmas morning is busy enough, you do not want to be baking on Christmas morning or even the day before. This cake freezes well, so you can make it ahead of time, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and reheat the next morning in a 350 degree F. oven for 15 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes on a serving plate and then drizzle with frosting. You can also decorate the cake with glazed cherries or other festive trimmings.

Almond Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Dough

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each or 4 ½ teaspoons) instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 1/2 cups Eagle Brand Ultra Grain all-purpose flour (or 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup white whole wheat flour)

FILLING:

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces almond paste

GLAZE:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Dough: Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the electric mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add water and eggs and beat until well combined. Mix in the flour until the dough comes to a ball or comes away from the sides of the mixer bowl. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until you’ve made a soft, smooth dough.

Remove the dough to a floured surface. Grease the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s puffy (though not necessarily doubled in bulk).

Filling: While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by beating the cream cheese and the almond paste together until smooth. Chill until ready to use.

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Assembly:

Cover two baking pans with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and divide it in half. Roll each half into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle.

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Spread half of the filling on the dough, leaving a half inch border all around the dough.

003

Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the center and fold the other side on top of the folded side. See photo.

004

005

Place bread on prepared pan. Cut 1-inch-wide strips from each side of the filling out to the edges of the dough. Seal edges.

006

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Baking: Allow the braids to rise, covered with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.

007

Bake the braids for 22 minutes rotating pans halfway through the baking time.

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Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack. Yield: 2 braids.

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When braids are cool wrap in heavy duty foil and freeze. Braids should be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator and heated the next day in a 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove foil and place on a serving plate.

To make the glaze:  Combine the powdered sugar, almond extract and enough milk to make a frosting that can be poured over the braids. Allow glaze to set before cutting the braids.


When my children were very little, I began the cookie tradition for Christmas. It was simple then- just a few cookies: sugar cookies cut into snowmen, angels and bells, chocolate chips and peanut butter kisses. Each year, I added a few and at one point, I was making about twenty different types of cookies. The children loved to help decorate the cookies and, of course, eat them. They knew the tradition required that they had to wait until Christmas Eve to eat the cookies. During the years, it became a joke – no cookies until Christmas Eve. As grandchildren arrived, they too, looked forward to the Christmas cookie tradition. Often their parent would tell them not to eat a certain cookie because it was the parent’s favorite. The grandchildren caught on quickly and were not intimidated. My children still look forward to these cookies when we get together, even though, they are adults. They all live in different parts of the country, now, but I manage to see one or two of them during the holidays or send them a care package. However, these days I have reduced the number of cookies I make to the most popular seven, otherwise, we would have cookies around until the fourth of July!

Since these cookies are a once a year treat, I have not reduced the fat or used alternative ingredients in the recipes, because I want to preserve the tradition and memories I established with these cookies for my family.

I share the recipes with you here:

The number 1 favorite, without a doubt is:

Venetians                                                                                                   

Ingredients:

  • 1- 8 ounce can almond paste
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 drops green food coloring
  • 8 drops red food coloring
  • 1- 12 ounce jar apricot preserves
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dishes; line with waxed paper; grease paper.

2. Break up paste in large mixer bowl with fork. Add butter, sugar, egg yolks and extract and beat with the mixer until fluffy, 5 minutes. Beat in the flour and salt.

3. Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into almond mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.

4. Remove 1-1/2 cups batter; spread evenly into one of prepared pans. Remove another 1-1/2 cups batter to small bowl; tint green with coloring. Spread into second pan. Tint remaining 1-1/2 cups batter red. Spread in remaining pan.

5. Bake 15 minutes or until edges are lightly golden; cake layers will each be 1/4 inch thick. Immediately remove cakes from pans onto large wire racks. Carefully peel off waxed paper. Cool.

6. Place red layer on upturned jelly-roll pan. Heat preserves; strain; reserve chunks in strainer for other uses. Spread half of strained preserves over red layer. Top with white layer. Spread with remaining preserves. Cover with green layer, top side up.

7. Cover with plastic wrap. Weigh down with large wooden cutting board, heavy flat tray or large book. Refrigerate overnight.

8. Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over hot water. Trim cake edges even. Cut cake crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips. Frost layer of one strip with chocolate. Turn strip on side and frost the other side. Let chocolate dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Repeat with remaining strips. Makes 6 dozen. Cookies freeze well.

The number 2 favorite:

Marshmallow Fudge Squares                                                                                                                    

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon. salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 (6 oz) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate pieces (1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 30 large marshmallows

Directions:

In a 1 quart saucepan melt butter and chocolate squares. Remove from heat.

Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Into large mixer bowl, measure flour, sugar, salt, vanilla and eggs. Beat at low speed until blended, scraping bowl occasionally. With spoon, stir in chocolate mixture. Spread mixture in prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes

Remove baking pan from oven; arrange marshmallows in rows on top of baked layer. Bake 5 minutes longer or until marshmallows are soft and puffed. Remove to wire rack. With metal spatula flatten marshmallows and spread evenly.

Meanwhile, in small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate pieces and milk. Remove from heat.

Drizzle melted chocolate mixture over marshmallow layer. Cool on rack 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate, until cold and top is firm, about 2 hours. When cold, cut into small squares,

Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator to use up within 3 days.

Cookies may be frozen between layers of wax paper.

Butter Cookies                                                                                                                      

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

“This is an heirloom recipe, brought from Europe, and published by cookbook author John Hadamuscin. It is perfect for cutting with traditionally-shaped cookie cutters. The yield will depend on the size of your cookie cutters.”

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups butter ( 4 sticks)
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups flour
  • Powdered sugar icing (see below)
  • Red and green colored sprinkles, for decoration

Directions:

In a large electric mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and smooth.

Separate 3 of the eggs; Beat the 3 egg yolks and the remaining whole egg into the butter-sugar mixture. Set aside the eggs whites and use for another recipe.

Beat in vanilla. Gradually add the flour and mix well. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheets.

Divide the dough into four equal parts and keep dough covered with plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one fourth of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out shapes with floured cookie cutters. Transfer cookies to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough and re-roll scraps until all the dough is used.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Frost the cookies lightly with the icing and sprinkle with colored sprinkles.

Store in tightly covered containers for up to two months in a cool place, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk

Mix together to make a thin icing.

Italian Pecan Cookies                                                                                                                  

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pecans halves
  • Powdered sugar icing, see below
  • Multicolored sprinkles 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Beat butter, powdered sugar, water and vanilla until creamy in electric mixer. Add flour and salt. Mix well.

Completely cover a pecan half with 1 tablespoon of dough and place on cookie sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes until lightly brown. Cool cookies on a rack.

Frost with powdered sugar icing and sprinkle colored sprinkles on top.

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk

Mix together to make a thin icing.

Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies                                                                         

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups, softened (2 ½ sticks)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Red food coloring

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream together butter, egg, powdered sugar, peppermint extract, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add flour and salt. Divide mixture in half. Add 1 teaspoon red food coloring to ½ the dough. Chill both halves.

On lightly floured surface, roll 1 teaspoon of plain dough into a four inch rope. Repeat, using 1 teaspoon of red dough. Place ropes side by side and gently twist together. Pinch ends to seal. Curve one end of twisted ropes to form the handle of the candy cane. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough. Bake on  for 10 minutes.

These cookies also freeze well.

Pine-nut (Pignoli) Cookies                                                                                                

Use only almond paste, not marzipan or canned almond filling

Ingredients

  • 1 can (8-ounce) almond paste, cut in small pieces
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites, from 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
  • 1 cup pine nuts, pignoli

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In mixer bowl beat almond paste, sugar, egg whites, and lemon peel with an electric mixer until smooth. Drop by heaping teaspoons, 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Sprinkle with pine nuts to cover, then press them gently to adhere.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes until tops feel firm and dry when lightly pressed. Cool completely on cookie sheet on wire rack. Store airtight at room temperature. (Cookies are best eaten within 2 weeks, or they can be frozen.)

Italian Wedding Cookies                                                                                                            

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups sifted flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • powdered sugar ( for rolling baked cookies in)

Directions

Cream together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy; stir in vanilla.

Whisk together flour and salt; add gradually to butter mixture; stir in chopped nuts.

Chill dough if it seems too soft.

Form dough into 1 inch balls and place onto parchment-lined or ungreased baking sheets.

Bake at 400°F.  for 10 minutes or just until the cookies start to turn light golden-brown; remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  While cookies are still warm (but NOT hot) remove them from baking sheets and roll, a few at a time, in powdered sugar until evenly coated; cool cookies completely on wire racks.

Cookies may be rolled in powdered sugar a second time once cooled to room temperature. Cookies freeze well.

Yield: 48 cookies.


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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                                                                     

24 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions:

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.

Espresso Crinkles                                                                        

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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

christmas cookies nutella-8

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)

Directions:

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions:

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.

Nutmeg Bites                                                                                                   

Cookie Dough

  • 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

Rum Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons rum

Directions

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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Directions:

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.


12-Days

Homemade Christmas gifts are a great way to add a very personal touch to your gift giving during the holiday season. We have all heard this sentiment that “the best present is a homemade, personalized gift”. With homemade gifts, you don’t have to pay for the advertising, packaging and transportation costs of items you purchase from stores or online. Instead, you have better control of the gift budget, since you can readily choose materials or components for making gifts that are well within your budget.

Many of the mass-produced gift items are things that your gift recipients actually do not need. How many times have you received off-the-shelf Christmas gifts that you simply stash away in a corner of your closet after the festive season is over? With homemade Christmas gifts, you get to customize your gifts to what your gift recipients might like or use. Though it may sound troublesome, it is actually this preparation that makes the gift really special, and it helps build up the excitement to Christmas when the gift is ready.

Another great item you can find in your garden or at the farmer’s market for homemade Christmas gift ideas is dried herbs. Such herbs gifts are especially great for those who love to cook. You can reuse a small or medium fancy jar, or buy one anytime throughout the year when they are on sale, and prepare this unique gift for your loved ones as Christmas gifts. Include tags that suggest a recipe for each herb on the jar. You could even include personalized labels on the jars, such as a reminder to give thanks, smell the roses and smile. These personalized messages are bound to help bring smiles to your gift recipient as he or she cooks.

I really appreciate gift containers of pancake or cocoa mix on a busy morning, so I have put together some suggestions for gifts that you can make in your kitchen. I am sure you can think of many more.  Happy Gift Giving.

1. Marinated Olives With Rosemary And Orange Peel                                                                              

Makes 1 pint

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to fill as many pint jars as needed. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Package for gift giving.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (5.3 ounces) jars black or green olives, with pits (scant 2 cups)
  • 1 large sprig rosemary, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Zest of 1/2 orange, removed in thin strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together olives, rosemary, zest and pepper flakes, and then pack mixture into a 1-pint glass jar. Pour in enough oil to just cover the olives (about 1/2 cup), and then seal tightly and chill for 1 to 3 days.

2. Homemade Mustard Sauce                                                                            

Makes 2 cups

  • 2 ounces yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Chardonnay wine
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 2 the lemons, juice and zest of
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black peppercorns, to taste
  •  2 pint sized jars

Using a coffee grinder, grind the yellow mustard seeds until they are powdery and resemble coarse meal.

Place in a food processor and add the remaining ingredients.

Process until very smooth. Spoon into 2 pint sized, sterilized jars. Store in the refrigerator.

Note: This mustard improves dramatically over time. Its flavors will mellow, becoming milder and less sharp.

3. Pickled Peppers with Shallots and Thyme                                                                                           

These pickled peppers are great as a pizza topping or served with bread and cheese.

MAKES 1 QUART

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet or mild mini bell peppers, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, seeded
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced, separated into rings
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Pinch of coarse kosher salt

Directions:

Place peppers and shallots in medium bowl.

Mix vinegar and next 6 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove brine from heat; carefully pour over peppers and shallots. Cover bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Uncover; cool to room temperature. Transfer to pint-sized jars, pressing peppers into brine. Cover; chill at least 4 hours and up to 10 days.

4. Wild Mushroom, Bean and Barley Soup Mix                                                                                  

This mix makes 6 (1-pint) jars or 12 (1/2 pint-1-cup) jars.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
  • 6 whole bay leaves
  • 3 cups pearled barley
  • 1 1/2 cups dried porcini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups dried yellow split peas
  • 3/4 cup mixed dried vegetables for soup, such as Just Veggies
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill weed

Place ½ teaspoon black pepper in the bottom of 6 (1-pint) jars. (If making in 8-ounce jars, half all ingredients.) Pour ¼ cup red lentils into each jar.

Place one bay leaf in each jar, vertically against the inside of the glass, anchoring the tip in the lentils. Pour ½ cup barley into each jar, holding bay leaf against jar until the barley keeps it in place.

Place ¼ cup mushrooms in each jar. Press down to eliminate air pockets.

Pour ¼ cup split yellow peas in each jar, followed by a heaping 2 tablespoons of vegetables in each jar (see picture of dried vegetables).

Top each jar with 1 teaspoon dill weed, and place lids tightly on jars. Makes 6 (1-pint) jars, each jar serves 8.

Attach to jars: Directions for making the soup:

Combine 1 pint soup mix, 4 cups water and 2 cups vegetable broth in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Stir well, cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups vegetable broth and 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 40 to 50 minutes, until barley and peas are tender.

5. Holiday Trail Mix                                                        

Makes 8 cups, enough for about 16 servings

This healthful, colorful trail mix is ideal for gift giving. You can use raw green pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) or choose roasted salted nuts for a light salty note in your mix.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cup cinnamon cereal squares (such as Puffins) or other cereal
  • 1 1/4 cup green pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup date pieces
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss. Divide mixture between gift bags or jars and package for gift giving.

6. Cranberry and Orange Granola                                                                      

Makes 4 Cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon hazelnut or grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup candied orange peel, sliced into long, thin strips

Note: Candied orange peel can be found seasonally at most supermarkets and purchased year-round online.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F.  Spread oats on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl; add almonds and let cool slightly. Coat same baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk maple syrup, butter, and hazelnut oil in a small bowl to blend. Pour syrup mixture over oats; stir thoroughly to coat. Spread mixture on prepared sheet.

Bake granola, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cranberries and raisins; bake for 10 minutes longer. Remove granola from oven and let cool slightly. Stir in the orange peel. Let cool completely, then break into pieces.

DO AHEAD: Store airtight at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

7. Better Than Nutella (Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread)                                

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (heaping) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Four clean 8-ounce jars

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet or in an ovenproof skillet. Roast, shaking sheet once for even toasting, until deep brown, 13-15 minutes. Let cool completely. (If nuts have skins, rub them in a kitchen towel to remove.)

Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until a fairly smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1 minute.

Place chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water; stir often until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over saucepan; add butter and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste. You can also use a double boiler.

Pour sauce (called gianduja in Italian) into jars, dividing equally. Let cool. (Gianduja will thicken and become soft and peanut butter-like as it cools.) Screw on lids.

DO AHEAD Gianduja can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften. Can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.

8. Candied Espresso Walnuts                                                                                             

Serve dinner with coffee.

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely ground espresso coffee beans
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 large egg white
  • 4 cups walnut halves (about 12 ounces)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk sugar and next 4 ingredients in small bowl. Whisk egg white in a separate large bowl until frothy. Add walnuts; toss to coat. Sprinkle walnuts with espresso mixture and toss to coat. Spread coated walnuts on prepared sheet in single layer.

Bake 5 minutes. Slide spatula under walnuts to loosen from baking sheet and stir, rearranging in single layer. Bake until walnuts are dry to touch, about 5 minutes longer. Loosen walnuts from sheet again; cool on sheet.

DO AHEAD Candied walnuts can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

9. Chocolate Sauce                                                                           

About 2 cups 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 (15-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 2 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Whisk brown sugar and cocoa powder in a large heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk until a smooth paste forms. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking constantly, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate; stir until melted. Stir in vanilla. Pour into pint or half pint sterilized jars. Let cool. Store in the refrigerator. Should be heated before serving.

10. Chocolate-Walnut Cookie Mix                                                                 

Yield: 36 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 wide-mouth Mason jar (1 quart)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

Dry Mix:

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. Spoon flour mixture into bottom of the jar and press down hard to compact (a small spice jar works well for compacting). It needs to be at about the 1-1/4-cup mark on the jar to insure that there is enough room for all ingredients. Continue layering with cocoa powder and granulated sugar compacting each layer. Add chips and nuts. Close jar tightly. Store up to 2 weeks at room temperature.

3. Write the following recipe on a gift card and attach it to the jar with ribbon.

4. Decorate lid of jar with fabric and tie with ribbon and bows. Makes 36 cookies.

Chocolate-Walnut Cookies Directions

In a large bowl, combine 3/4 cup cooled, melted butter with 3 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir in contents of this jar until just mixed. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Drop by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes or until firm. Cool on baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

11. Cinnamon Pancake Mix In A Jar                                     

Makes enough for 2 or 3 gifts

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use a whisk to incorporate the ingredients evenly. Divide in half or thirds and package for gift giving.

Directions for Making Pancakes

  • 1 cup Cinnamon Pancake Mix above
  • 3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 large egg whites or egg substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

Whisk pancake mix with cottage cheese, milk, eggs, almond extract and butter. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with oil. Drop 1/4 cup batter onto skillet. Cook until pancakes until bubbles appear. Flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Repeat with remaining batter.

homemade-gifts-hot-chocolate

12. Hot-Chocolate Mix      

  • 3/4 cups Quality Unsweetened Cocoa, such as Valrhona
  • 6 ounces Quality Semisweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoons Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoons Ground Clove

Make the mix:

Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process just until mixture is powdery — about 30 seconds. Be careful not to over process. Store in an airtight container.

Directions for a gift: Fill jars with the mixture, cover the lids with a festive swath of fabric, and include peppermint “stirring” sticks for added flavor and color.

To make hot chocolate, combine 1 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons of this mix in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until chocolate is incorporated and mixture is warmed through. Serve immediately.


The Italian version of fruitcake is panettone, and although it does contain the candied fruits that can make fruitcake something to avoid, its airy texture and light sweet flavor make it more appealing than other fruitcakes. Traditional panettone, (yellow in color because it has butter and egg yolks in it) is studded with raisins and the candied peels of lemons and oranges. It’s cooked in a cylindrical paper and, when it rises, it puffs out of the top of the paper so that the end product looks like a muffin. While some fruitcake varieties incorporate alcohol into the recipe, panettone does not – but it goes quite well with a glass of sweet wine!

Panettone is more than just a Christmas bread. It is also a good story – or two – depending on whom you’re talking to. The legends behind the origin of this cake differ slightly, but all agree as to where it comes from – Milan. While the Ancient Romans were known to make sweetened bread, the origins of this particular recipe don’t go back quite that far.

The most commonly quoted legend behind panettone says that in the 15th. century, a man fell in love with the daughter of a baker called Toni. In order to win her heart and prove his love to her father, he came up with a bread recipe that included dried and candied fruits and called his creation “pane de Toni,” or Toni’s bread. Another story says the Christmas banquet given by the Sforza family had no dessert until a young kitchen hand baked up a sweet bread, thereby saving the meal – and yes, the kitchen hand’s name was Toni. Whether there is any truth to these legends is immaterial – the bread remains a part of the Christmas season in many Italian households.

Although panettone comes from Milan, it is now found throughout Italy. During the Christmas season look in any Italian bakery window and you’ll see brightly-colored packages ready for sale. You’ll even find mass-produced panettone in shops around the world, although the quality of these isn’t great. If you’re not in Italy and don’t have access to a good Italian bakery, you’re probably better off making your own panettone – especially since you can control exactly what goes into it.

Resource: Under the Tuscan Gun

In the weeks before Christmas, hundreds of millions of panettone are sold all over Italy, and throughout Europe, as well as in North America. That famous brightly colored box—oversized, festive and elegant—is an immediate cue that the holidays are here. Before industrialization, panettone (literally, “big bread”) was made in local bakeries or at home, and it was a laborious, time-consuming task. Traditionally, the father, or head of the household, would mark a cross at the top of the tall loaf of sweetened bread before it was placed in the oven, as a good omen for the coming year. And, still to this day, panettone retains a special aura, bringing a feeling of love, luck and joy whenever it is offered.

The special dough, similar to sourdough, slowly ferments and rises for at least 12 hours, but the leavening process can last much longer. Panettone ingredients are usually flour, eggs, butter, yeast, dried raisins, candied oranges, citron and lemon zest. Throughout Italy, bakeries still prepare it daily during the Christmas season for their customers. The quality of bakery-made panettone is usually excellent and is reflected in the price.

Panettone is eaten during the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—which last for 10 days or so in Italy. Like the Christmas fruitcake so commonly offered by relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors in the U.S., it is not uncommon for an Italian family to receive as many as ten or twenty loaves of panettone during the holidays. Many of these cakes are then passed on to other neighbors, or donated to less fortunate households or charities. Yet, like a favorite family relative who appears every Christmas, familiarity does not diminish the appreciation most people feel when panettone is offered—often brought along as a gift when invited for lunch or dinner during the holiday season, and presented with a good bottle of Spumante or Prosecco.

Traditionally, panettone is served after the enormous Christmas day feast or on Santo Stefano (that is, December 26th, a national holiday in Italy)—but also on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, very few have any room left for dessert after these feasts, so panettone is saved to be eaten in the morning with caffe latte or cappuccino, or as a snack with an afternoon espresso. In the U.S. French Toast panettone is a breakfast favorite during the Christmas season.

The traditional dough for panettone is quite rich and contains plenty of butter and eggs. The addition of all the fat to the dough gives it a very tender texture. It can also weigh the dough down, so the bread is given a very long rise to ensure that it is fluffy, not dense, and rises up very high. Traditionally, the bread is baked in octagonal or hexagonal pans, but just about any shape or size can be used, even a bundt pan. Aside from the butter and eggs, most of the flavor of the panettone comes from the add-ins. The most traditional recipes have dried fruits, candied citrus, lemon and/or orange zest. These days, there is more variety and you might see chocolate chip panettone, or panettone soaked in rum for something a little more grown-up.

Making your own panettone gives you the liberty to include whatever fruits and nuts you like – including candied fruits if that’s to your liking. You can find the traditional papers that are used to bake panettone in specialty kitchen shops like Sur la Table or online (there’s a variety of sizes on the Amazon and King Arthur sites). This Christmas enjoy fresh sliced panettone with a sweet wine after dinner and the next morning have it toasted with your coffee.

The Traditional Recipe for Panettone

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour, divided
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast, divided
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 12 tablespoons softened butter, divided
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla
  • 3/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped fine

Icing:

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

Make the sponge: Place 1 1/2 cups flour, 2/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons apricot jam, and 1 teaspoon yeast in a small bowl and whisk together. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rest for 3 hours.

Make the dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the sponge, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Use the hook attachment to knead the dough until the mixture is smooth and stretchy, about 3-5 minutes.

Add 3 egg yolks, one at a time, and knead until dough is smooth, shiny, and stretchy.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Return dough to the mixer, and add salt, vanilla, lemon and orange flavoring, honey, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Knead for 1 minute.

Add 3 egg yolks and knead until incorporated. Add the 12 tablespoons of softened butter, one tablespoon at a time. Knead until dough is soft, shiny and very stretchy, about 5 minutes. Dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Toss the chopped raisins, cherries and pecans with 2 tablespoons of flour. Add them to the dough and knead briefly, until just mixed in.

Place dough in a oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Place dough inside of a 6 inch diameter panettone mold, or use a clean, buttered coffee can lined with parchment paper. Make a small cross in the top of the dough with scissors.

Let dough rise in a warm place until triple in size, which may take several hours since the dough is cold from the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Place the panettone in the oven, and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Bake the panettone for about 1 hour, until it has risen high and springs back a little when pressed on top (like a muffin).

Let panettone cool in the pan on a rack.

Make icing (optional): Melt 2 tablespoons butter, and whisk into 1 cup powdered sugar. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, a pinch of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of milk until desired consistency is reached. Drizzle icing decoratively over top of panettone.

Store panettone wrapped in plastic for up to 1 week. 

Note: Traditional Italian panettones are made with a special flavoring called “fiori de sicila”, which you can purchase at gourmet stores and online. Use in place of the lemon and orange extract.

Here’s my healthy, quick and easy recipe for Panettone.

Panettone was not a popular sweet bread in my family. If someone gave my father a gift of this bread at Christmas, we would all groan. We didn’t even try to eat it and my mother would throw it out. Packaged panettone from Italy was the usual way this bread was given to us and it was not very good. Homemade can be a different story. I experimented on my children in the past and I changed many of the traditional ingredients to meet my children’s “sophisticated” tastes. The bread I developed probably shouldn’t be called panettone.

  • 3 packages active dry yeast or 2 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast (SAF-see photo)                                                                                                        

    SAF Instant Yeast

  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ cup blanched slivered almonds.

Directions

In a large bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast, warm water, sugar, eggs, vanilla, lemon, almonds, salt and butter; beat well. Gradually stir in the flour, adding just enough flour to make a soft dough. Transfer to the dough hook and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is smooth. Place dough in a well-greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Punch dough down, place on well-floured work surface and shape the dough into a ball.  Place in a well-buttered 2-quart casserole dish. Set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake panettone in a preheated 400°F oven (375°F oven if using a glass pan) for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F (325°F for a glass pan), and bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes. Cover panettone with aluminum foil if it begins to get too brown.

 



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