Fight it as I may, the holidays are again upon us. The two trees at Walmart have turned into 222 trees, and the three channels of music on TV have multiplied to 11 (at last count). That can only mean one thing: it’s time for me to surrender … to the festivities we call “The Holidays.”
I already have friends baking cookies and freezing them, to be taken out in a couple of weeks and enjoyed in the latter part of the month. Not me, though. I’m not that … organized? … adventurous?
Actually, as you may have heard, I can be a bit picky when it comes to the freshness of food. That’s why I wait until the week of Christmas to start my baking. Well, that and the fact that if I start now, the cookies wouldn’t even make it into the freezer. They’d be in my belly, and I’d be baking again in two weeks anyway.
For the sake of this blog, though, it is time to delve into my holiday baking. You’ve heard of Food Network’s “12 Days” of cookies? Well, I am happy to bring you my “3 Weeks” of cookies! Let’s begin … Cominciamo.
I bet I wouldn’t be very far off if I said, most of us have good memories of holiday cookie baking from our childhoods. Sand tarts, gingerbread men, peanut butter blossoms… In an Italian family, these are not holiday staples, however. We make pizzelle.
I know you’ve heard of them, but just in case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, I will defer to Wikipedia, which – though it isn’t the best source of anything on the Web – did offer a seemingly accurate and succinct explanation in this case:
Pizzelle (pronounced with ts sound, like “pizza”) (singular pizzella) are traditional Italian waffle cookies made from flour, eggs, sugar, butter or vegetable oil, and flavoring (often vanilla, anise, or lemon zest). Pizzelle can be hard and crisp or soft and chewy depending on the ingredients and method of preparation.
Pizzelle were originally made in the Abruzzo region of south-central Italy. The name comes from the Italian word for “round” and “flat” (pizze); this is also the meaning of the word pizza…
The cookie dough or batter is put into a pizzelle iron, which resembles a waffle iron. The pizzelle iron is held by hand over a hot burner on the stovetop, although some models are electric and require no stove. Typically, the iron stamps a snowflake pattern onto both sides of the thin golden-brown cookie, which has a crisp texture once it is cooled. There are also several brands of ready-made pizzelle available in stores.
Pizzelle are popular during Christmas and Easter, [and] they are often found at Italian weddings, alongside other traditional pastries [and] cookies.
You will need just two items-in-hand to make pizzelle:
- my mom’s recipe and baking notes (click here to view and print), and
- a pizzelle iron.
I don’t think Williams Sonoma will mind that I “borrowed” the photo below from their website, since you can simply click on it to order your own pizzelle iron directly from their online catalog.
What I like most about this iron, besides it being electric and non-stick, is the lock in the front. Using a pizzelle iron with a lock is not only easier on your arm (as you don’t have to hold the iron shut manually for an hour or two … or three), but it creates a thin and even cookie – and with the pizzelle, the thinner and crispier, the better.
When I was a young girl, I remember the making of the pizzelle as an all-day family affair. My mother would make the batter (a double batch), and my father would do the baking. He would scoop a nice teaspoonful of batter onto each pattern of the pizzelle iron, and then he would watch the second hand on his watch, meticulously timing each baking. Since one batch of batter makes about 60 cookies, and you can only make two cookies at a time taking 30-45 seconds to bake, it was a good two- or three-hour exercise in cookie making. As I got older, I was allowed to help time and then eventually bake the cookies myself.
Most years nowadays, Mom and I gather at her house for pizzelle making. In fact, we share a pizzelle iron, since it’s unusual for either of us to bake pizzelle without the other. Mom still makes the batter (we’re down to one batch a year), and I’ve come into my own as chief baker and timer.
As technology has changed, so has my method of timing. We went from the second hand on Dad’s watch, to the second hand on the wall clock, to the timer on the microwave, to most recently, the timer on my iPod. What hasn’t changed, though, is the smell that lingers in the house after a good afternoon of pizzelle baking, the crunch of a perfectly baked waffle cookie, and the satisfaction that comes from spending an afternoon in the kitchen with the people you love most in the world. That, MasterCard, is priceless.