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Cape Flavors

Celebrate holidays with cookie recipes

By Denise Clemons | Dec 19, 2011
Photo by: Jack Clemons Pizzelle can be dusted with powdered sugar.

'Tis the season to celebrate with family and friends at holiday parties. From your neighborhood open house to the annual office get-together to extended family visits, the calendar is crowded this time of year. And, no matter the venue or guest list, you can be sure the menu will include holiday cookies. We don’t expect to see any ordinary chocolate chips at these events; instead, we’ll find special treats like anise-scented pizzelle and sugar-dusted snowballs.

Pizzelle have been a part of Italian celebrations since they originated during the eighth century in Abruzzi. Pizzelle translates to “round and flat,” which describes the cookies’ appearance. While two different towns each claim they were the first to make the treats to honor a special saint, the process is the same. Spoonfuls of thick, eggy dough are flattened between a set of hot irons to create a thin, crisp wafer.

At first, the irons were embossed with family crests or local symbols and held over an open flame to bake the batter. Today, the traditional design is a flower on one side and basket weave on the reverse. Another major change is the cooking method: a modern electric pizzelle maker works like a waffle iron, eliminating the need for a fire in the hearth.

The pizzelle in the photo were made with the traditional flavoring - a pinch of ground anise seed. Since some people aren’t fond of the slight licorice taste, I’ve also included a recipe that features citrus notes of lemon or orange. If you eliminate all the flavors except vanilla, you can transform your pizzelle into an ice cream holder by wrapping the just-baked cookie into the shape of a cone.

One of my favorite holiday memories is the scent of fragile, buttery spritz cookies my Aunt Gertrude baked every year. A traditional Scandinavian treat, their name comes from the German spritzen, meaning to spray or squirt, a description of how they’re made. Dough is packed into a cookie press, a tube-shaped device fitted with a disc on one end. A standard cookie press usually comes with a variety of discs to create different shapes, such as wreaths, stars, trees and crescents.

Depending upon how the press operates, you’ll crank or twist or push the dough through the disc, dropping it onto the cookie sheet. There’s a bit of a trick getting just the right amount of dough for each cookie; I always expect the first few will look misshapen until the correct twist and press technique eases out the perfect spritz cookie. You may be surprised there’s no leavening in the recipe, but it creates a thick dough, sturdy enough to bake quickly.

Another traditional holiday favorite is the snowball: a nutty, ball-shaped cookie covered with powdered sugar. It’s impossible to eat one of these without leaving a dusting of sugar on your fingers and chin (and sometimes your shirt). The recipe is easy to make and fun for children to help assemble; they seem to enjoy mixing the dough with their hands and rolling the cookies in powdered sugar. For a similar cookie with almonds instead of walnuts, try the crescent recipe.

Hope your holiday gatherings are filled with your favorite flavors!

Traditional Pizzelle
1/4 t ground anise seed
1 3/4 C flour
2 t baking powder
3 large eggs
1/2 C sugar
2 t vanilla
1/2 C melted butter
confectioners sugar (optional)

Preheat the pizzelle iron. Sift together the dry ingredients into a bowl; set aside. Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and yellow, about 3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and butter. Fold in the dry ingredients just until combined. Place 1 T of batter on the pizzelle iron, slightly behind the center of the pattern. Close the iron and bake for one minute. Remove with a spatula and cool on a rack. Dust with confectioners sugar, if desired. Yield: 2 dozen.

Citrus Pizelle
1 3/4 C flour
2 t baking powder
3 large eggs
1/2 C sugar
2 t vanilla
1/2 C melted butter
1 t lemon or orange zest
confectioners sugar (optional)

Preheat the pizzelle iron. Sift together the dry ingredients into a bowl; set aside. Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and yellow, about 3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, butter and zest. Fold in the dry ingredients just until combined. Place 1 T of batter on the pizzelle iron, slightly behind the center of the pattern. Close the iron and bake for one minute. Remove with a spatula and cool on a rack. Dust with confectioners sugar, if desired. Yield: 2 dozen.

Spritz Butter Cookies
1 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
2 C flour

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add the flour gradually, beating continuously. If the dough is too soft, refrigerate for 5 minutes until firm. Pack dough into the cookie press and ease dough through the disc to form desired shapes. Bake until edges are barely brown, about 8 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 3 dozen cookies.

Snowballs
1 C flour
1 1/2 C finely chopped walnuts
3 T sugar
1 C softened butter
1 t vanilla
1 C confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Chop the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl along with the vanilla. Using your hands, combine the ingredients until the dough resembles corn meal. Form the dough into balls the size of a walnut and place on the cookie sheet an inch apart. Bake for 30 minutes. Roll the warm cookies in confectioners sugar and set on a rack to cool. When cookies reach room temperature, roll again in confectioners sugar to coat completely.

Almond Crescents
1 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1 T almond extract
2 C flour
1/2 t salt
3/4 C finely chopped almonds
1 C confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in remaining ingredients, mixing until combined. Scoop out rounded tablespoons and form into crescent shapes; place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake just until starting to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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