Monday, December 22, 2014

Italian Gals Cookie Exchange

Over the years, I've whittled my Christmas cookie baking to two or three types. Fortunately, I know I can count on my father's wife to bring me a tin of pizzelle and my friend Lilli to bake me some of her almond paste cookies. But this year, I can add three more types of cookies to my cookie tray, thanks to a cookie exchange with three of my favorite Italian food bloggers, - Adri, Domenica and Marie
We started our first annual "Italian Gals Cookie Exchange," baking cookies and shipping them to each other at our homes across the United States - from  California and Illinois to Virginia and New Jersey.  Who says you have to live in the same town to have a cookie exchange?
The arrivals were greatly anticipated and felt like an early Christmas present.  The first two arrived on the same day, including Domenica's delicious cranberry hazelnut biscotti, one of the recipes that will be included in the newest cookbook she's written, about to be released in March, called "Ciao Biscotti."

 Adri's heavenly three-nut fingers came in a tin beautifully lined in striped tissue paper, with each pair of cookies individually delicately wrapped inside its own waxed paper envelope. The buttery cookies, with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, just melted in the mouth.
And the reputation for Marie's legendary cucidati preceded the actual cookies. I've been reading about them for years, since she makes hundreds of them each Christmas and I've been so anxious to try them. They were every bit as delicious as what I had expected and brought back memories of Christmases with my late husband's Aunt Jenny, who baked a similar version. 
 My contribution were these chocolate-y, spicy cookies that my mother made each Christmas when I was growing up. She called them "brownies" but they're nothing like American brownies, except for the chocolate. In addition to the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, there's another unexpected spice that gives them a zing. For me, they're a taste of my childhood and it wouldn't be Christmas without them. The recipe, adapted from Alfred Portale, is listed below, but you can see step by step photos of how to make them on a post I wrote here, shortly after I started the blog in 2008. They're actually based on a Sicilian cookie called either "tutu" or "toto," according to reports I received from readers. Sometimes they're even referred to as "Meatball cookies." I think you can see why.
 Also included on the plate below are a couple of "intorchiate," a cookie I wrote about in my last blog post.
I hope we four bloggers continue to maintain this tradition each year, and that we have inspired you to start your own cookie exchange, whether you live close to your friends, or far away. Just make sure to bake cookies that aren't too fragile so they won't break during shipment, and to keep it to a maximum of two dozen cookies and four people. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot on shipping and you'll be baking until la Befana comes home on January 6.
In the meantime, Buon Natale and best wishes for a wonderful 2015 to all my readers. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog through the year and for those of you who leave comments, an extra bacione.

Cocoa Christmas Cookies
or Italian "Brownies"

printable recipe here
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 1/2 tsps. baking powder
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup milk
2 cups chocolate chips

If using raisins and walnuts as Portale did, add 1 1/2 cups of each

glaze:
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, black pepper. Combine and set aside.
2. With a heavy duty mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla, jam, and milk. Set mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating only until it is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips. The batter will be extremely stiff.
3. Place a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on the counter and flour it generously. Take a large spoon and scoop out a couple of heaping cups of the stiff batter onto the floured surface. Use a spoon to release it if needed. Flour your hands well and begin to shape the batter into a log shape, about an inch in diameter, rolling it back and forth on the floured surface. Use the paper to help mold it. Place the "logs" into the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
4. Remove from refrigerator and cut into sections about 1 1/2 inches wide. You can leave it this shape, or roll it between the palms of your hand into a flattened ball, which is the traditional shape.
5. Place balls on a parchment-lined or greased and floured cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will crack - this is normal. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool. Cover with the glaze when completely cooled.
For the glaze:

Mix sifted confectioner's sugar and lemon juice with a spoon until the desired consistency. I make mine almost like a frosting rather than a glaze, which means you'll need to add more sugar. If you prefer yours to be more of a drizzle, adjust with more lemon juice.

This recipe makes about 6 to 7 dozen cookies and they freeze well. Just make sure the glaze is dry before putting them in the freezer. They will get hard if you leave them at for more than a week.

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13 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What a great selection! Those chocolaty-spicy cookies look very tempting.

Happy Holiday and best wishes for 2015!

Cheers,

Rosa

domenicacooks said...

Reading your post and thinking about our impromptu cookie exchange makes me smile all over again. I feel so fortunate to have found friends like you, Adri and Marie through the "miracle" of the Internet. Tantissimi auguri per un Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo! Spero di vederti presto. xo

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Your cocoa Christmas cookies sound delicious, Linda! How nice to share other food bloggers favorite cookies from your exchange. Merry Christmas and a happy healthy New Year!

Marisa Franca said...

I am getting such a big kick out of the four of you! It is wonderful that you've forged such a great relationship and the benefits are wonderful -- Biscotti! Buon Natale a tutti!

AdriBarr said...

This really was so much fun. I have to say that your quick organization and shipping info got this off the ground. Without your fast work I doubt we would have gotten our collective act together. It was such a treat to taste everyone's goodies. Your Italian brownies were delicious. Bart and I gobbled them right up. And by the way, you were right about freezing them and a quick 10 seconds in the microwave. Yummy! Buon Natale a te!

Proud Italian Cook said...

This was so much fun Linda, and I too feel fortunate to have found friendships like ours through cyber space, who knew that any of this would happen when we all started our blogs years ago. I feel blessed! Have a beautiful, wonderful Christmas with all your loved ones Linda.xox

Chiara Giglio said...

che bel post natalizio Linda ! Tantissimi auguri di un Felice Natale a te e ai tuoi cari, spero di rivedervi presto, un grande abbraccio !

italy vacation said...

Looks so tasty !!! Yamy gaining weight just watching at the pictures ... Thanks for sharing and Happy Holiday !!!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I absolutely love your Italian blogger cookie exchange! Your cookies are right up my alley with the chocolate! Merry Chrismtas to you and your family, Linda!

Janet M said...

Merry Christmas, I always enjoy reading your blog.

Claudia said...

What a lovely assortment and how fun! Those cocoa cookies will have to get into my line-up. Happily - one doesn't just make cookies for Christmas! Chocolate Day (errr .... Valentine's Day) is coming up!
Happy 2015! May it bring all good things!

Roz Corieri Paige said...

Somehow I missed this post of great cookies from some of my favorite Italian food bloggers! What an assortment and what a great idea for a virtual cookie exchange among friends!
Buon Anno!
Roz

Linda said...

I made Grandmom's "Aunt Jenny's" filled cookies last year...and I must say it brought back those wonderful memories of sitting around her table with fresh percolated coffee and so much love!