I really needed to get this out well before Christmas, so that you could give these a try. I make them well ahead and shape and freeze the dough, then when I need a quick last minute hostess gift, I can pop some shaped cookie dough on my baking sheet and bake fresh. I love that! The three cookie variety's I've chosen are delicious and completely different in taste and texture. They range from extremely simple to make, to a little more involved, but don't let that scare you it just means there's a little chopping action required.
The first of these Italian cookies are "Crumiri" a delicate horseshoe shaped cookie that comes from the Piedmont area. They are a very tender cookie that get their taste from cornmeal.
Ingredients for Crumiri
200 g (2 1/2 sticks plus 2 Tbs.) unsalted butter at room temperature
150 g (3/4 cup) sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
240 g (1 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
pinch of salt
120 g (2/3 cup plus 1 Tbs.) fine yellow cornmeal
Preheat oven at 325° F. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl, until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the dry ingredients together twice then add to butter mixture. Mix together well until dough comes together and there are no longer any dry crumbs left in the bottom of the bowl.
2. Using a small scoop or a rounded tablespoon, scoop dough about the size of a walnut. Roll the dough into about a 4 inch log and bend into a horseshoe shape. (At this point, you can freeze your horseshoe shaped dough, well covered with plastic wrap in the freezer for up to a month if you like.) Place the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet, spaced 2 inches apart.
3. Bake in the oven about 12 minutes, or until light golden in color. Cool on wire racks.
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The next cookie is a butter cookie called "Baci di Dama" or Lady's kisses. They are two button shaped cookies fused together with semi-sweet chocolate from Tortona in Piedmont. The shape is reminiscent of lady's lips.
Ingredients for Baci di Dama
125 g (1 cup minus 2 Tbs.) almond meal
125 g (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs.) sugar
130 g (1 stick plus 1 Tbs.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
pinch of salt
125 g (scant cup) all purpose flour
115 g (4 oz.) semi sweet chocolate
Makes about 2 dozen cookies Preheat oven to 350°F.
1. Mix the almond meal, sugar, butter, vanilla and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and beat until very light and creamy, about 4-5 minutes, stopping to scrap down the bowl occasionally. Sift the flour and salt together then add to the butter mixture and fold in by hand until well combined.
2. Breaking off pieces of dough about the size of fat cherries, roll between you hands into nice round balls. (At this point, you may freeze the dough balls for future use.) Place the dough balls on a parchment lined baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten slightly to about 3/8 inch thick.
3. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on wire racks.
4. When cookies are cooled, melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Spread a bit of melted chocolate on the bottom side of a cookie and sandwich a second cookie over that.
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Last but certainly not least, are Buccellati, these are fig and nut filled cookies from Sicily. A sort of Fig Newton Sicilian style!
Ingredients for Buccellati
For the dough...
300 g (2 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
pinch of salt
200 g (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
For the filling...
50 g (1/3 cup) finely chopped dried figs
50 g ( scant 1/2 cup) finely chopped walnuts, toasted
50 g (scant 1/2 cup) finely chopped almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Grated zest of 1/2 an orange
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Makes about 16 cookies. Preheat oven to 350°F
1. To make the dough, combine the butter, granulated sugar and salt together in a mixing bowl and with a paddle attachment, cream together until pale and creamy. Add the egg, yolk, vanilla and lemon juice and mix together until combined, scraping down bowl once or twice. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a work table and gather together into a ball, then flatten into a disk and wrap in plactic wrap. Refrigerate until needed.
3. To make the filling, combine the walnuts, almonds, figs, orange zest, cocoa, wine, honey and sugar in a sauce pan, stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat to a dry paste. Remove from heat and let cool.
4. Pinch off a piece of dough, about the size of a walnut. Flatten with your fingers into a circle and place a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the circle. Bring the edges up over the filling, enclosing the filling completely. Roll dough ball between your hands to form a nice round ball.
5. Place fig and nut balls on a parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart and bake for about 25 minutes, turning pan half way through baking time. Bake until lightly browned. Remove from oven transfer to a plate and sprinkle with confectioners sugar, place on a wire rack to cool completely.