Category Archives: Italy

Italian Christmas Cookies: Buon Natale!

December 13, 2014 | 2 Comments

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Christmas in Italy

In Italy, the focus of Christmas is on family and feasting. The recipes are traditional—everyone looks forward to enjoying the dishes that their families have made for generations. The real magic happens in the way everyone—Mama, Papa, aunts, children, siblings, cousins, etc.—joins together to share in the traditions.

Perhaps we’re biased, but we’ve always felt the most special part of Christmas dinner is when the cookies, Vin Santo and coffee come out. The work is all done, everyone is warm and full. What’s left but to do, but sit back, enjoy the sweetness and share stories?

Virtually every Italian town has its own traditional Christmas cookie. Many of the Cookies con Amore are actually Christmas cookies that can be enjoyed year round. Here are some of our favorite holiday classics and the stories behind them.

Traditional Italian Christmas Cookies

Cuccidati

cuccidati italian cookies

The Cuccidati is a fig-filled cookie that hails from Sicily. The star of this butter cookie is the filling: figs, dates, raisins and orange peel. It’s a traditional Christmas cookie.

Each Sicilian town has its own take on this delicious cookie. It is known by different a variety of names: cucciddatu, vurciddatu, purciddatu or’ucciddatu and buccellati. It also comes in a variety of shapes: wreaths, logs and even animal shapes.

The ingredients change slightly from town to town. Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda adds sweet Marsala wine to her filling, making for a classically Sicilian cookie. We bake both gluten-free and classico versions of the Cuccidati.

Order a box of Cuccidati (regular or gluten-free). They are also included in our Gluten-free Christmas Cookie assortment and the Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Ricciarelli

ricciarelli

The Ricciarelli is a traditional Tuscan cookie that is naturally gluten-free and combines orange with almond flavors. At Christmastime, you will find Ricciarelli in every bakery in Siena.

This cookie has an Arabic influence and dates back to the Crusades, when almonds were introduced to Italy by soldiers returning home. In the spirit of adaptation to local taste and flavors, Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda has also created a chocolate version of the Ricciarelli made with cocoa powder, “because who doesn’t love chocolate?”

Order a box of Ricciarelli cookies. They are also included in our Gluten-free Christmas Cookie assortment.

Raspberry Linzer

cookies con amore raspberry linzer

One of our best loved gluten-free cookies is the Raspberry Linzer. It’s made with almond flour giving it a rich, nutty taste. We sandwich two cookies together with a tangy berry jam that complements the sweetness of the dough.

The Linzer is also known as the Occhi di Bue (eye of the bull) because the top cookie in the sandwich is traditionally made with a cutout circle in the center. The jelly that is revealed looks like a large eye. For the holiday assortments, we cut the Linzer in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Order a box of our naturally gluten-free Raspberry Linzer cookies. They are also included in our Gluten-free Christmas Cookie assortment and the Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Checkerboard

checkerboard

This delicate and crunchy shortbread cookie combines chocolate with orange flavors in a festive checkerboard design. No eggs are used in this buttery, rich batter. Because this cookie is labor-intensive, traditionally it is made only for special occasions such as Christmas.

Order a box of Checkerboard cookies. They are also included in our Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Ginger

ginger

Ginger is not a traditionally Italian flavor, but over our many years in the U.S., we developed a fondness for this traditional American Christmas cookie. When you bite into one of our Ginger Cookies you will find a soft, chewy texture. We combine molasses with ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and cloves to give these cookies a spicy flavor that will bring you back to Christmas morning. It’s included in our classico Christmas cookie assortment.

Order a box of Ginger cookies. They are also included in our Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Pizzelle

pizzelle

Pizzelle are very traditional thin, crisp waffle cookies that can be enjoyed on their own or sandwiched together with cannoli cream, hazelnut-chocolate spread or other decadent fillings. The name for these cookies comes from the Italian word “pizze” for round and flat.

In the old days every wealthy family in Italy had its own Pizzelle iron which would press a waffle-like design featuring their family crest onto the cookies. We make our Pizzelle cookies the old fashioned way, entirely by hand with traditional irons.

Order a box of Pizzelle cookies for Christmas.

Crostoli

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Crostoli, or little crusts, are rectangular paper-thin pastries fried in palm oil then dusted with confectioner’s sugar to form light, delicately crisp treats that are not overly sweet. In Italy, every town has its own special name for them: Crostoli (little crusts), Cenci (rags), Nastri (ribbons), Bugie (lies), and Chiacchere (the sounds of patter or gossip) to name a few.

This is one of our family’s trademark Christmas cookies. Long before we started Cookies con Amore, we would spend the entire holiday season baking batch after batch of crostoli for our friends and family. In some ways it’s what inspired us to start the company.

You can serve Crostoli with ice cream (hazelnut is particularly good), but our family tradition is to serve crostoli alongside a generous bowl of ricotta spread. This Italian take on chips and dip gives you bites of cannoli without the mess. Because the recipe is not too sweet, it can be served as either an appetizer or dessert. It’s easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time. Don’t expect to have any leftovers. Mangia!

Order a box of Crostoli.

Recipe: Crostoli con Ricotta

Ingredients

  • 2 packages of crostoli
  • 2 lbs. whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • mini chocolate chips (as much as desired)
  • zest of one whole orange
  • zest of one whole lemon

Whip ricotta, powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extract with an electric mixer until smooth and light. Fold in chocolate chips and the lemon and orange zest.

Refrigerate. Remove when ready to be served.

The Cuccidati and Sicily

November 5, 2014 | 2 Comments

figs for cuccidati cookies

Each month here on the Cookies con Amore blog we dedicate one of our cookies to a region of Italy. It’s an opportunity for you to learn a bit about the Italian culture that is baked into each of our cookies—whether they are gluten-free, sugar-free or classico.

Cuccidati and Sicily

The Cuccidati is a fig-filled cookie that hails from Sicily. The star of this butter cookie is the filling: figs, dates, raisins, orange peel and a bit of marsala wine. It’s a traditional Christmas cookie and as we enter the holiday season November is the perfect month to showcase this cookie that’s one of our favorites.

Each Sicilian town has its own take on this delicious cookie. It is known by different a variety of names: cucciddatu, vurciddatu, purciddatu or’ucciddatu and buccellati. It also comes in a variety of shapes: wreaths, logs and even animal shapes.

The ingredients change slightly from town to town. Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda adds chocolate chips to our filling and tops the cookies with a dash of powdered sugar and sliced almonds. We bake both gluten-free and classico versions of the cuccidati.

cuccidati italian cookies

Sicily: garden of culinary delights

Virtually every Sicilian family has a fig tree in the backyard and winter evenings are spent by the fire enjoying seasonal dried fruits and nuts. This island off the southwest coast of Italy is the largest in the Mediterrenean and lies at the crossroads of Africa and Europe. Its temperate climate and fertile soil yield a cornucopia of culinary delights. Along the coast, you’ll find vineyards and groves of citrus and olive trees. Almond grow in the the south. Wheat grows in the interior.

Sicily has long attracted foreigners to its ports. At various times, it was governed by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, French and Spanish—each adding their own influence to the local cuisine, which today is among the most diverse in all of Italy.

palermo

Palermo Cooking Class

Palermo is fascinating city with many interesting palaces, museums and churches as well as excellent restaurants. The sommelier at our local wine bar recently returned from a sojourn in Palermo and gushed to us about a one day cooking class she took with The Duchess of Palma. The lesson begins with a visit to the market for ingredients for an entirely Sicilian menu to be enjoyed in the dining room of an 18th century palazzo which was the last home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the world-famous novel The Leopard.

What to Eat in Sicily

Arance (Oranges): Oranges are everywhere in Sicily. Whether candied or squeezed into fresh juice or incorporated into savory dishes, you can’t miss them. Look for insalata di arance, a simple orange salad served with shaved fennel, marinated tuna and a fresh sardine.

Arancini (Fried Rice Balls): Savory fried rice balls that are typically filled with meat sauce, green peas and sometimes cheese. Other fillings include spinach, mushrooms, eggplant or pistachios. They resemble small oranges, hence the name “arancini” and make a delightful snack.

Cannoli: We have Sicilians to thank for the invention of cannoli: tubes of crunchy, fried dough that filled with ricotta cheese.

Caponata: This very typical Sicilian ratatouille is a tangy, sweet and sour salad based on eggplant. It is seasoned with sweet balsamic vinegar, capers, tomatoes and sometimes pine nuts and raisins and served at room temperature.

Pasta alla Norma: This Eastern Sicilian comfort food is made with fried eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and ricotta salata. Best enjoyed in the summer when eggplant is in season.

Polpo bollito: Fish in Sicily is so fresh, it’s rarely served with sauces or even much seasoning. This is a classic example: It’s simply boiled octopus.

Marzipan: In Sicily, almond paste is molded into little fruits. They are both delicious and works of art.

Granita: This simple summer refreshment pairs ground ice with sugar and fresh fruit.

Cassata siciliana: A sponge cake is soaked in liqueur, its slices layered with sweetened ricotta, and the whole thing covered in almond paste, then icing. Oh, and studded with candied fruits and other goodies. This one’s for serious sweet tooths only!

sicily

Of course, you needn’t book a ticket to Italy to enjoy a taste of Sicily. Simply order a box of our Cuccidati (classico or gluten-free) and we’ll deliver some Sicilian dolce to your door.

If you have things you’d like to share about your visits and experiences in Sicily, please add them to the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

The Ricciarelli and Siena

September 16, 2014 | Leave a comment

almonds ricciarelli

Each month here on the Cookies con Amore blog we dedicate one of our cookies to a region of Italy. It’s an opportunity for you to learn a bit about the Italian culture that is baked into each of our cookies—whether they are gluten-free, sugar-free or classico.

Ricciarelli and Siena

The Ricciarelli is a traditional Tuscan cookie that is naturally gluten-free and combines orange with almond flavors. This cookie has an Arabic influence and dates back to the Crusades, when almonds were introduced to Italy by soldiers returning home. In the spirit of adaptation to local taste and flavors, Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda has also created a chocolate version of the Ricciarelli made with cocoa powder, “because who doesn’t love chocolate?”

You will find Ricciarelli in every bakery in Siena, a purely preserved Medieval walled city in Tuscany. We love Siena! It’s walkable (in fact automobile access is limited within the city walls), charming and the cuisine is both hearty and delicious. It boasts a beautiful duomo that dates to the 11th century and is home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe.

Siena at night

Palio: An Intoxicating Race

Siena is best known for its magnificent Palio horse races that take place on July 2 and August 16 in the Piazza del Campo (city square). It’s a grand spectacle complete with medieval costumes and pageantry. A thick layer of dirt is laid down on the square to create the track and more than 28,000 spectators pack the Piazza for the race that is televised throughout Italy.

Today there are 17 contrade (neighborhoods) in Siena represented by a mascot or animal such as the panther, owl or wolf, and each enters a horse in the race. The jockeys are outfitted in the traditional colors of the contrada and race three times around the Piazza. The winner earns a prized silk banner and—more importantly—honor for the contrada. Competition is so fierce that even today marrying someone from a rival contrada can conjure up as much drama as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette.

If you visit Siena during one of the Palios you are sure to be swept up in the froth and revelry that continues for four days.

Christmas: Festive in Siena

Ricciarelli are Seina’s traditional Christmas cookies. Visit during the holidays to find an elegant and festive atmosphere with many free concerts in the churches. Over the month of December, Siena holds several Christmas markets in the Piazza which is decked out with lights and musicians.

Siena piazza

Piazza del Campo: Eat Here!

Palios aside, the center of life in Siena is found in the Piazza. Locals gather and catch up with each other here. Take a dinner or apertivo at one of the restaurants or cafes for a great vantage of the goings on.

One of our dear customers who recently moved from Siena to Fort Worth, Texas told us about the things she most misses and offered some recommendations for visitors who want a quintessentially local culinary experience:

Pane Toscano: bread baked without salt

The cafes in the Piazza will serve it with a garlic-infused olive oil which is pressed in the autumn after the harvest, a real treat if you are visiting at that time.

Funghi Porcini: wild mushrooms

In autumn, you will also find wild mushrooms on every menu: fried, on bruschetta, served with pasta etc.

Antipasto di Cinta Senese: plate of local cured meats

The Cinta Senese is a breed of pigs native to Siena that is bred in the wild hills and pastures outside the city. Cinta Senese salami is dry, with very little fat, and is quite flavorful.

Pici: thick, hand rolled spaghetti

The dough is typically made with flour and water only. Cacio e pepe is a basic cheese and pepper sauce. For more adventurous diners, order the cinghiale (wild boar) ragu. You won’t find that in Fort Worth!

Wine

You can’t make a mistake with wine in Tuscany. Chianti and Vin Santo are both locally produced.

Cookies: Ricciarelli

Each baker’s recipe is a closely guarded secret. Be sure to sample from a variety of bakers. Run your own Palio of cookies!

ricciarelli

Of course, you needn’t book a ticket to Italy to enjoy a taste of Siena. Simply order a box of our gluten-free Ricciarelli and we’ll deliver some Tuscan dolce to your door.

If you have things you’d like to share about your visits and experiences in Siena, please add them to the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

The Polentine Cookie and Tuscany

August 11, 2014 | 1 Comment

polenta gluten-free

Each month here on the Cookies con Amore blog we dedicate one of our cookies to a region of Italy. It’s an opportunity for you to learn a bit about the Italian culture that is baked into each of our cookies—whether they are gluten-free, sugar-free or classico.

The Polentine Cookie: Gluten-Free Cornmeal and Jam

The Polentine is a naturally gluten-free cookie that our head chef Fernanda invented. It’s based on a gluten-free cornmeal (a.k.a. polenta) batter to give a jaunty crunch. A thin layer of raspberry jam gives the cookie a hint of tart sweetness.

You can eat the Polentine as is, but we like to spread bit of goat cheese on this cookie and top it with a dollop of spicy jam to create a sweet, salty and creamy appetizer. It’s a subtle and sophisticated cookie. It says, “Be present and look closely. You will find the thread of sweet love.”

Polentine Gluten Free Cookies

Tuscany: Food and Culture

Polenta comes from the north of Italy and is a specialty of Tuscany. One of the great foodie destinations, Tuscany has a simple cuisine that favors legumes, fresh vegetables and fruit. Olive oil, wine and pork are produced here. White truffles are harvested in October, which makes it a great time to visit.

Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, Tuscany is also replete with cultural touchstones. Dante wrote his Divine Comedy here. You’ll find Pisa and its famous leaning tower in Tuscany. Art lovers must visit the Tuscan city of Florence to view works by Donatello, Michelangelo and Botticelli. The beautiful hill towns of Siena and San Gimignano are other Tuscan tourist favorites.

Tuscany

Timing your visit with a local festival, will give you a flavor of the local character and cuisine. Take your pick among these two Tuscan Polenta feasts that will take you off the beaten tourist track.

La Maremma: October

Head to La Maremma in October for their polenta festival: Sagra della Polenta. This “wild region” in the Southern part of Tuscany is a popular weekend and holiday getaway on the sea for Italians from Florence, Siena and Rome. It boasts secluded beaches, small port towns, medieval castles and hiking. Read more about visiting La Maremma.

Vernio: First Sunday of Lent

On the first Sunday of Lent, the small town of Vernio near Florence hosts the Festa della Polenta (Festival of Polenta) or “Pulendina.” This popular festival began in 1512 when the town suffered a famine while under Spanish rule. Members of a local noble family stepped in to feed hungry residents polenta. The Festa della Polenta celebrates this magnanimous deed that saved many from starvation. The event features a medieval pageant as well as a chance to sample many different types of polenta. Read more about the Festa della Polenta in Vernio.

Of course, you needn’t book a ticket to Italy to enjoy a taste of Tuscany. Simply order a box of our gluten-free Polentine cookies and we’ll deliver some Tuscan dolce to your door.

The Linzer and the Piedmont

July 14, 2014 | Leave a comment

raspberries

Each month here on the Cookies con Amore blog we will be dedicating one of our cookies to a region of Italy. It’s an opportunity for you to learn a bit about the Italian culture that is baked into each of our cookies—whether they are gluten-free, sugar-free or classico.

The Linzer

One of our best loved gluten-free cookies is the Raspberry Linzer. It’s made with almond flour giving it a rich, nutty taste. We sandwich two cookies together with a tangy berry jam that complements the sweetness of the dough.

The Linzer is also known as the Occhi di Bue (eye of the bull) because the top cookie in the sandwich is traditionally made with a cutout circle in the center. The jelly that is revealed looks rather like a big eye. In our version, we put a cutout of a heart at the center. We love to start our day with the Linzer and a cappuccino because this cookie says, “I love you! Take heart!” It reminds us that no matter what comes our way, love is always there, too.

cookies con amore raspberry linzer

The Piedmont

Most of the berries in Italy come from the Piedmont region, at the foot of the Alps. It’s home to FIAT motorworks and is one of the great winegrowing regions of Italy. The Piedmont is ruggedly beautiful and a major tourist destination with an array of charming towns, medieval castles and beautiful lakes.

Turin is its capital and a hotbed for the Slow Food movement. The Terra Madre network of small-scale food producers committed to producing quality food in a responsible, sustainable way holds a biennial conference in Turin.

Photo credit: Megan Mallen

Photo credit: Megan Mallen

Slow Food

We are big fans of the Slow Food movement, which began in Italy in 1986. Americans are increasingly familiar with Slow Food thanks to Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Eric Schlosser’s writing and the grand dame of California cuisine, Alice Waters.

Promoted as an alternative to fast food and strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine, Slow Food is about small-scale production, celebration of local cuisine and promotion of traditional food products. It is also about loving your food and expressing love through food. And that’s baked into everything we make.

Our cookies are handmade in small batches and shipped the same day so that when the box arrives at your door, they will taste as fresh as if your Italian grandmother made them just for you.

We source the highest quality, all natural ingredients include organic butter, free range eggs and premium grade extracts because we won’t want anyone we love to have anything but the best. Our traditionally Italian palate favors subtlety and focuses on an essential flavor. We believe that when you bite into one of our Linzers, you should be able to taste almonds, a tang of raspberry and nothing inessential.

But most importantly, we make our Linzers with the same measure of love that our grandmothers baked into their cookies. And that makes them excellent gifts. Order a box of our Raspberry Linzer gluten-free cookies for someone you love and show them your heart.