Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Italian Christmases are Filled with Cookies!

Well, even though the suggested deadline for Foodblogga's Eat Christmas Cookies event has passed and the gorgeous round-up is posted, I'm still in cookie mode!! I swear our house has never smelled better or more vibrant, with everything from breads to cake to cookies popping out of my oven, and a gorgeous cranberry sauce that simmered on the stove!

So, as most of you know my sister and I wound up as by-products in an Italian marriage this year, which means that a bunch of traditions that entered from the other side of the family are foreign to us. I figured I would at least embrace the culinary side of the new stepfamily, and pass the goodies onto you!

The name of these first cookies (well really, filled pastries) is Sicilian for Buccellati, or "little bracelets". With a lot of work and a very unique blend of ingredients (figs, raisins, orange zest, walnuts, honey, cinnamon and chocolate), you can have a treat that has something everyone likes on your holiday dessert tray. Ingredient substitutions work really well here too: don't like figs, try dates or even dried apricots for something totally different! Like me and hate walnuts? Pecans or even almonds are good too. Play with different marmalades and jams, too. Think of it as a science lab in your own house!

Cucidati
Makes 60
1 lb dried figs
1 cup raisins
1 tbsp orange zest
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup orange marmalade
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup skim milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease two baking sheets.
  2. Grind the figs, raisins, orange zest and walnuts in a food processor.
  3. Gradually blend in the honey, cinnamon, chocolate chips and orange marmalade. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder.
  5. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  6. Stir in the eggs, milk and vanilla until the mixture can be gathered into a ball.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll out.
  8. Cut the dough into strips that are 4 inches wide.
  9. Spread filling onto one lengthwise half of each strip.
  10. Fold the dough over to cover and seal the edges by pressing on them with the tines of a fork. Slice into diamond shapes about 1” wide.
  11. Place the cookies onto the prepared cookie sheet.
  12. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.
  13. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on wire racks.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 116.4
Total Fat: 3.2 g
Cholesterol: 8.1 mg
Sodium: 7.3 mg
Total Carbs: 22.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.2 g
Protein: 1.4 g

These second cookies are another traditional Christmas cookie in Sicilian Italy. They're round, chocolate, sweet and spicy, and the name translates literally to “Meatball Cookies”! A nice change from some of the sweeter treats out there, but still decadently rich, they are a great little nutty, toothsome whole-grain snack that travels well to parties, swaps and school (when you or your kids drag themselves back after the holidays!)

Biscotti di Polpetta
Makes 50
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
melted semisweet chocolate (for dipping)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets.
  2. Cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir the flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
  4. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and blend.
  5. Add nuts and mix with hands.
  6. Roll into little 1 inch balls. (Wetting your hands makes this so much easier!!)
  7. Place on the cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Do not overcook.
  8. Remove from oven, let rest on the sheet for a few moments and remove to wire rack to cool completely.
  9. When cool, dip the tops of each cookie into melted semi-sweet chocolate and let set.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 76.5
Total Fat: 3.6 g
Cholesterol: 17.7 mg
Sodium: 4.5 mg
Total Carbs: 10.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.9 g
Protein: 1.7 g