Different types of Italian cookie recipes have been passed down through the centuries as part of the country’s culinary tradition.
Called the “crown jewels of Italian confections,” cookies are an important part of Italian celebrations. Italian weddings often feature a dessert table with large trays of assorted cookies, sometimes specially arranged as a wedding “cake.” The bride and groom lead their guests around the reception area to the cookie table in a “cookie dance,” similar to a line dance. Guests eat cookies and even take them home as favors or gifts for those who could not attend the wedding.
Special types of Italian cookie recipes are prepared for traditional Italian Christmas and Easter gatherings, as well as on feast days like Carnevale, the feast of San Giovanni, and the feast of San Guiseppe.
Italian cookie recipes originate from different parts of Italy. While many Italian cookies are almond-flavored (almonds are a significant crop in Italy), local cookie recipes are often flavored with the fruits and nuts indigenous to their area.
Of the dozens of types of Italian cookies that are regionally popular, the following are among the most well-known across the world.
Amaretti (am-ah-REHT-tee) cookies are almond-flavored macaroons – small, dome-shaped cookies which are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Francesco Moriondo, seventeenth-century Court of Savoy pastry chef, is credited with first making the cookies. Amaretti are most often eaten three ways: on their own, sandwiched together with butter-cream, ganache or fruit jam, or crushed and added to other dessert recipes like trifle, crust, pie fillings, cream fillings, or sprinkled on ice cream to add flavor and texture.
The classic anginetti (ahn-jih-NAY-tee) recipe is from southern Italy. Anginetti are small cakes, often lemon- or orange-flavored, why is why they are also called “Italian Lemon Drop Cookies.” They are frosted with butter cream and topped with colorful decorations making them a favorite at Easter, in the spring, and at wedding.
Biscotti (bih-SKAWT-tee), meaning “twiced-baked” in Italian (“bis” meaning “twice” and “cotto” derived from “cooked”), have become the most popularized Italian cookie recipe beyond the country’s borders. Dough is formed into loaves, baked until golden brown, sliced, and then baked again. Traditionally made with almonds so are readily available in Italy, biscotti are also flavored with chocolate, hazelnuts, spices, and dried fruits. Their dry texture makes them a favorite for dipping in coffee, espresso, tea, milk, or wine.
These rustic biscuits are a traditional Christmas pastry, flavored with anise, honey, walnuts, and candied fruit. Cavallucci (kah-vah-LOO-chee) were originally imprinted with the image of a horse, thus identified with the Italian term cavalli meaning “little horses.”
Pignoli (pronounced peen-OH-lee), a type of macaroon, is an almond-flavored cookie often classified as a type of amaretti. Moist and rich, pignoli typically contain no flour, but rather almond paste and egg whites topped with pine nuts (pignoli in Italian) – hence their name. The cookies are sometimes shaped in crescents or rounds. Pignoli hail from Sicily. They are popular throughout southern Italy, Catalonia (Spain), and even Sicilian communities in the United States. Because pignoli are made with almond paste and pine nuts – expensive ingredients – the cookies are considered to be a special luxury. Traditionally they are served at Christmas and at All Saints Day.
Pizzelle (prounced pit-SELL) are traditional Italian waffle cookies. The dough, more like a batter, is poured or pressed into a pizzelle iron, which is similar to a waffle iron. When golden brown, the cookies are removed from the iron and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Traditional pizzelle are flavored with anise, although some variations replace the flavoring with vanilla or lemon zest. Pizzelle originated in the south-central Abruzzo region. The name comes from the Italian word for "round" and "flat" (pizze), also the root word for pizza.
Said to have been created by Italians living overseas to celebrate their heritage, Rainbow Cookies are made in three colored layers (red, green, and white) representing the tri-colored Italian flag), then sliced and baked.
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