12 Italian Christmas Cookies That Are Simply Magnifico
It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that Italians are bound by tradition almost as much as they adore good food. And it's a good thing, too: At Christmas in Italy you can sure that there will be cookies and sweet, golden breads, just as there are piles of fried pastries many powdered with sugar, in the days leading up to mid-winter Carnevale, there is colomba, a dove-shaped cake, seen in every shop and bakery before Easter. At Christmastime, friends visiting one another always bring a cheerfully-wrapped panettone; and plates of cookies are on tables in most houses, for dipping into coffee or a glass of vin santo.
Throughout the country and (or maybe especially) on the island of Sicily, holidays have specific foods and rituals associated with them. These vary from region to region, naturally, but how comforting it is to have a sense of predictability when the holidays roll around each year, and there are the cookies of the season, like our fig buccellati and Anise Orange Cookies, to look forward to.
Many cookie and pastry recipes in what is now Italy can be traced back centuries to the early spice trading routes, when cinnamon, ginger and black pepper were introduced to the kitchens of Venice and spread gradually further into other regions. Italian bakers also rely on their wonderful almonds for cookies like the Amaretti Cookies shown here, and fruits, like figs which they add to holiday recipes to indicate prosperity, generosity, and luxury. These have become popular as part of a New Year's celebration—literally wishing guests a fruitful year ahead.
A cinnamon fig roll full of nuts, candied citrus, and even chocolate is a rich, dense Italian treat. It should be prepared a month in advance by storing in a dark, cool place so the flavors have time to develop.
Espresso and Lemon Biscotti
Pine Nut Cookies
These "pignoli"—meaning "pine nut"—cookies are so rich in flavor and texture, it's no wonder they're such a beloved classic.
The original cantucci, created in Florence, are simply filled with almonds. Our take on these elegant, thinly sliced cookies are made more festive by adding dried fruits and pistachios, too.
Make a big batch of these bite-size cookies to give to friends for Christmas. They go perfectly with an espresso.
These Christmas cookies are a favorite in Sicily, where they vary from place to place—and are sometimes known by other names! The dough, which is filled with sweet, dried figs and raisins, nuts, and sometimes chocolate and spice, is formed into a log which can be baked in a wreath shape, or cut into cookies before baking.
Polenta is an Italian staple, and not just for dinner it turns out. Here it's used to make a delicious S-shaped cookies, which are flavored with lemon zest and vanilla.
Consider this the funnel cake of Italy, except that the dough is mixed with orange-blossom water, fried in little balls, and dipped in honey and almonds. Hello, heavenly dessert!
Thes crispy anise wafers pair perfectly with ice cream. Mix the batter thoroughly and pipe onto a pizzelle iron; let cool until crispy, and serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Brutti ma Buoni
The name of these classic Italian cookies translates into English as ugly but good. We beg to differ: These crunchy-chewy cocoa-hazelnut mounds are absolutely gorgeous.
Genoese Nut Diamonds
These chewy almond treats hail from the northern city of Genoa. They could be considered more of a bar than a cookie as they are baked in a pan and then cut into their jaunty shapes. It helps to use a ruler to cut the perfect angles.