Traditions of Christmas Pasts, Italian Tutu Cookies
December 11, 2011
My earliest memories of Christmas were watching my mother bake cookies. The kitchen was filled with the most wonderful aromas as tray after tray of cookies emerged out of the oven. My mother worked diligently and calmly; I often wonder how she effortlessly produced so many cookies. She was also a perfectionist. I had to learn how to apply the sprinkles on cookies just so by demonstrating that I would not overload them with sugar. She had rolling and cutting out cookies to an art. She cut the shapes precisely and close to each other not to waste dough as she said rerolling the dough caused the cookie to be tough. Again, until I mastered that skill, I was not cutting out the cookies!
After all, Christmas cookie baking was serious business. Once all the cookies were baked, they were boxed, wrapped (with a bow!) and given proudly to friends and family as much anticipated gifts. We in turn would receive a box or plate of their homemade cookies. Back home, in the privacy of their kitchens, my mother and her sisters would sit at the table, coffee cup and cookies in hand, critiquing, sometimes not so nicely, the cookies. I soon learned who made the best cookie, who didn’t use enough sugar and who should simply give up baking altogether. Each cookie baker did have certain cookies that they only made and did not share the recipe. It was way too hush-hush to give away their secret recipes. White lies were told if someone was directly asked for the recipe. And the one asking knew it too as she was just as guilty!
Sadly though, my mother, father, aunts and uncles are not with us anymore and I can only go on my memories and hand written recipe notes. I’ve baked my heart out to recreate her recipes to come out as I remember. I hope someday my daughter (hint, hint) will be interested in carrying on the tradition.
These little cookies with the funny name were my brother’s favorite. They have a distinct taste from the mix of chocolate, cloves and walnuts. As most Italian cookies, they are not too sweet and always extra yummy dipped in espresso!
For the cookies:
1 1/4 lbs unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
For the glaze:
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Combine all the dry ingredients, except the walnuts, in a large bowl. Beat together the eggs, milk, sugar and butter until combined well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Use a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients, add in the walnuts. The dough will be very thick; knead the dough with your hands to combine, adding additional flour if too sticky.
Break off pieces of the dough and roll into small balls, the size of a walnut. Place on the parchment lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool on rack, then glaze.
For the glaze:
Combine all ingredients and mix well until smooth and thin. Add more milk to reach the desired consistency. Brush glaze over each cookie and return to rack to dry. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
I love being in the kitchen. Early mornings, soft music, a hot espresso. Easing into the preparation of delicious meals. Glancing through cookbooks, gathering inspiration and planning my day. I look forward to the cycles of the seasons, the pleasures of tasting and savoring and sharing this with those dear to me. Weekends are special to me as my week days are often rushed, but still I create the ambiance, light the candles, set the table and uncork the wine.