This will not be the first (or last) time I mention my obsession with Italian cookies. These have been one of my favourites at Italian Showers, and is also a fav of Mr. KB - though, oddly, I make them only once a year - at Christmas. They are the first off the assembly line in December since they freeze well - and it takes a lot of self control to make sure they all (most) make it to the freezer.

I have two recipes from bona fide Italians, and have made each. I now have my own version that combines techniques. Both recipes, in their original form, used 6 cups of flour(!!) and once without thinking I just made the full recipe. It took me four hours to bake off the cookies and due to exhaustion, I iced them the next day. Even half the recipe makes 5 dozen cookies - how many do I need/want?! I often get the feeling Italians make things with an army of family in the kitchen - all helping - and then the reward is everyone walks away with a share of the goods. 

I'm not going to share each recipe in full. Some of the differences: eggs (8 vs. 2 eggs + 2 yolks); milk (8 oz. vs. 12 oz); one used 10.5 tsp baking powder and the other used only 6, but then added ammonium bicarbonate. One used only Crisco - the other Crisco and butter (see Notes). The method also differed: one creamed the fats and sugar, and then added the eggs and flour; the other used a sort of "pie crust" method - which I adapted to a food processor method. So.... here's how I made this in 2016. [If you do not have a large 12 cup food processor - see Notes below. 2017 UPDATE - see important glaze warning in Notes.]

Getting ready:

  • bring eggs and milk to room temperature
  • butter and Crisco should be cold
  • preheat oven to 350 F
  • line cookie sheets with parchment (ideal to have at last two - if not more - to keep this assembly line moving)

3 cups (15 oz) all purpose flour
3/4 cup (5.25 oz) sugar
4 tsp baking powder
zest from one lemon

1/4 lb (8 TB) butter
1/4 lb (8 TB) Crisco

Place dry (four) ingredients into bowl of food processor. Pulse a few times to mix.

Cut the cold butter and Crisco into 1/2" chunks. Distribute over flour mixture and pulse 10-12 times until the mixture is slightly granular.

4 eggs slightly beaten (with fork)
4 ounces milk

(and maybe more flour)

Combine the eggs and milk and add to the food processor bowl. Process until a dough forms - this may take only 20-30 seconds. The dough will be very soft, but if the mixture is too wet and sticky and not like dough, you may need to add more flour - a bit at a time and a few seconds of processing. Sometimes I have had to add up to an additional 1/2 cup of flour.

Shaping Cookies

  • the goal is to get a "rope" about 7-8" long and 1/3 - 1/2" thick; you will get the knack of this quickly
  • use about 1 TB of dough (I use a 20 ml cookie scoop to grab about that amount of the soft dough)
  • in the palms of your hands roll it into a ball
  • then, still in your palms, begin to roll it into a rope; as soon as that's about 2-3" long transfer the rope onto a very lightly floured board
  • continue rolling, now using more your fingers than your palm - first with one hand and then with two (side by side) until the length about measures two "lady hands" side by side - that will likely be 7-8"
  • then fold the rope in half
  • twist it about 3 times and place on the prepared bake sheet

Bake for 16 minutes at 350 F until a light golden colour. (Depending on your oven, you may want to check them at 14 minutes.) Cool cookies before icing. 

3 cups icing sugar
4 T fresh lemon juice
2-4 tsp lemon extract

Icing. Stir sugar, lemon juice and lemon extract together in bowl until smooth. If it's not at the consistency you want - keep adding little dribbles of lemon juice and/or extract until it's just right. My preference for icing the cookies is to dip the tops into the glaze. Let the glaze dry for at least 30 minutes before serving or storing. Icing sugar glazes are sometimes a bit finicky and you may need to add tiny bits more lemon juice / extract, or more icing sugar to get the desired consistency. In this case, you want the icing a bit thick to avoid too much of it from dripping off. 

Notes and Tips...

  • Food Processor - If you only have a small food processor, cut the butter and Crisco into the flour mixture using your preferred method (e.g using a pastry blender). Then using a stand mixer, add the liquids.
  • Butter - for baking I often aim to use butter that is 84% fat. These cookies work fine with regular unsalted butter.
  • Butter and Crisco - why did I opt for the combo when one recipe calls for all Crisco? My experience confirmed what experts say - shortening can make baked goods lighter textured, but has no flavour. Half butter solves that problem. BTW Crisco is no longer made of trans fats.
  • "The Case of the Melting Glaze in 2017" - I've lost count of how many times I have made these with no issues, but in 2017, here's what happened. I did not put any of the glazed cookies into the freezer and instead stored them all in a winter cold garage. They were fine for a bit, but then I began to notice that the glaze had sort of melted; the cookies were sticky and "wet". I consulted several of my Italian blogging friends. No one is sure, but the reigning theory is that there must have been at least one day of high humidity that wrecked the glaze. Though the winter temperature did fluctuate a bit, "warmth" could not account for this "melting" - cookies with a set glaze survived at room temperature for long periods without becoming wet and runny. If you have a theory, drop me a note in Comments. Anyhow, what to do? I though I might re-do the glaze, but upon further inspection it was clear that the cookies had absorbed some of the wetness and had become somewhat soft and gummy - not a pleasant eating experience. Thus, good-bye cookies for 2017. Tips: Several of my Italian blogging friends had experienced this at least once and they adopted the practice of freezing the cookies before glazing, thawing cookies as needed, and glazing on the day of their use. I may do that next year - at least with half - but the other half will go into the freezer in the hope that, as in previous years - all will be well. PS - I came across this idea for keeping cookies in a tin, crisp - some baking soda in a coffee filter - now that may be worth a try!
  • Interested in my other Italian Cookies? Check out Mostaccioli, Anise Cookies, and Tarrone. More to come soon!
  • For KB Recipe Attribution Practices please click here.

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