Monday, December 10, 2007

Italian Pizzelle Cookies

My grandmother, Nan, loved to receive shirt boxes at Christmas every year. Not shirts, just the boxes. After Christmas, my mom and I would bring them over her house, where she would stack them in a closet, then insist we sit down at the kitchen table and have something to eat.


Wondering what she did with all those boxes? She used them store her pizzelle cookies. She needed a lot of boxes because she made a lot of pizzelles -- for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. It's not just my grandmother, all Italians enjoy them for celebrations.

Pizzelles are round Italian waffle-like cookies made from flour, sugar, eggs, and butter and are typically flavored with anise or vanilla. The name pizzelle comes from the Italian pizze, meaning "flat" or "round."

Believed to be the oldest cookie in Italy, pizzelle have an unusual past. According to legend, in 700 BCE, snakes had infested Abruzzo, in south central Italy, and after they were banished, the townspeople celebrated by eating pizzelle. To this day, they are eaten to celebrate the Festival of the Snakes, now known as the Feast Day of San Domenico.

Pizzelles were originally baked over open fire using irons that were embossed with a family or village crest. Today they are made using a pizzelle iron, which is similar to a waffle iron, but has an attractive floral pattern rather than a grid.

pizzelle stacks

I can still picture my grandmother standing at her kitchen counter making pizzelle. She would pour the thick batter onto the iron, close the long-handled cover, and wait for the sizzling sound of the batter baking. When she lifted the cover, there would be two perfect flower-embossed pizzelle. It would takes hours to make them, and the aroma of anise would perfume her tiny apartment.

Nan is 99 years old and in a nursing home now. Thanks to her son-in-law, my dad, her tradition is alive and well. He recently made a batch and FedExed them to us. Just smelling the anise brought me right back to Nan's little kitchen. She would be thrilled to know that her pizzelle are on my blog for so many people to appreciate; they were her pride and glory.

I'm submitting this, on my Dad's behalf, to Eat Christmas Cookies. Click here to see all of the festive entries, including my mom's Molasses Cookies (the second entry).

You have 14 more days to submit your cookies and become eligible to win Sherry Yard's delicious new cookbook. Click here for details.

Note: Most pizzelle recipes call for anise extract, but Dad uses actual anise seed, which is more flavorful. Remember, you need a pizzelle iron to make these cookies, so click here if you'd like to buy one.

Please see this post for a step-by-step visual guide on how to make pizzelle cookies.

This recipe makes a thicker, firmer pizzelle--my family's favorite.
Makes 60 pizzelles.
Print recipe only here.

6 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp anise seeds
4 Tbsp baking powder
7 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat pizzelle iron. Coat with cooking spray and wipe off excess with a paper towel. You do not have to re-apply.

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter, vanilla extract, and anise seeds. Sift flour and baking powder in a bowl and add to the egg mixture. Batter will have a dough-like consistency. With your hands, roll into one-inch round balls and place in the center of the pizzelle iron grids. Close the cover of the iron and bake for about 45 seconds, or until golden brown. Remove from iron and place on a cookie rack to cool.

Dust with confectioner's before serving, if desired.

Pizzelle will last for a couple of weeks if stored in an air-tight container and kept in a cool area.

If you prefer a thinner pizzelle, then follow these instructions:

6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 pound (1 cup) butter, melted
1 tsp anise seeds or extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Follow baking instructions from above.

Other flavor options include:

1. Omit vanilla and anise extract and add 2 tsp rum and 2 tsp grated orange peel.
2. Omit vanilla and anise extract and add 1 Tbsp almond extract and 1 cup finely chopped almonds.

If you like Italian pizzelle, then you'll love:

My mom's simple and scrumptious recipe for Italian Pignoli Cookies.

My mother-in-law's fabulous Italian Almond Biscotti dipped in chocolate.

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