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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!

Tutu Cookies

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.

62 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2011 8:02 pm

    Wonderful post, Linda! Great memories of helping your Mom bake but, what struck me, was your Mom & Aunts critiquing the other cookies. Mom & Zia would do the same and, if one of us kids entered the room, they’d immediately switch to speaking Italian so that we wouldn’t understand what was going on. We understood enough, though, to get the gist of what was being said. Your Mom — and Dad — would be proud to see you carry on the traditions, just as you will be when your daughters take over. Oh! I want some of these cookies!

    • December 12, 2011 8:16 am

      My parents too would speak in Italian when they didn’t want me to hear what they were saying! I wish now that they had taught me Italian tho…and not just the words I can’t repeat! Thanks for your kind comment; I hate to see these old traditions die off, they were very special times.

  2. December 11, 2011 8:38 pm

    These look wonderful – full of spice and warm family memories. I consider myself a cookie ‘snob’ and I can tell these are exceptional – I have your recipe bookmarked! :) Enjoy your week!

  3. December 11, 2011 8:48 pm

    I’ve never heard of tutu cookies before – they look just adorable! And I love the name. I know Miss A would too. I loved reading your memories Linda. I too have many similar memories of cookie baking with my mom. She was a machine when it came to cookies. Such wonderful memories. :)

    • December 12, 2011 8:17 am

      As a child too I always thought they were such a funny name! I’d get more excited over the name than the cookie!!

  4. December 11, 2011 8:50 pm

    Oh I can just picture you in the kitchen, barely able to see over the counter and longing to help. This is such a sweet post and is what Christmas and your blog are all about. I love the recipe too of course.

    • December 13, 2011 4:14 pm

      Katherine, you pictured that correctly!! I wanted so badly to get my hands in all those colored sprinkles!!

  5. December 11, 2011 10:25 pm

    It’ s very hard not to be nostalgic at this time of the year. I’ve left my home country so many years ago, that the concept of “home” slowly switched from Brazil to US. But, when Christmas time comes, my memories from home hit hard.

    wonderful post, loved it…

  6. December 11, 2011 10:26 pm

    What a great post Linda. I too have not heard of Italian tutu cookies? Hmmm, would this cookie come from Southern Italy? My mom was not much of a baker, but I would hear stories about my nonna in the kitchen baking all sorts of great Italian dishes and desserts. Unfortunately, my mom never was one to bake and she can’t find her mom’s hand written recipes. It’s funny because I’m the one that likes to be in the kitchen and cook but I’m the one that likes to change up the recipes. I can totally imagine your mom and aunts critiquing my cookies, saying they need more sugar or more butter…..that’s what my dad says to me. He’s like why do you have to change the recipe to make it healthier! lol

    • December 12, 2011 8:19 am

      I’m not sure where they cookie originated, I am assuming Sicily as that is where both of my parents are from. I do change other dessert recipes to healthy versions, but I don’t with my Italian Cookies. They just won’t be the same if made with whole wheat flour or applesauce instead of butter! I feel it’s that once a year treat and the memories are so special to me. But after that – it’s back to healthy cooking and baking!!!

  7. December 11, 2011 11:06 pm

    I love that about blogging.. all these recipes and in your precious words saved for always:) These cookies are so cute, I thought at first they were TimBits (Canadian center of a donut).. adorable!

    • December 12, 2011 7:31 am

      You guys do love your Timmy’s! :D

    • December 12, 2011 8:21 am

      Now that I look at the pic again, they do look like donut holes!! I agree that having these recipes and pics posted documents my families recipes in a very special way.

      • December 12, 2011 9:23 pm

        Much better for you that they are cookies.. no deep fat frying going on there! Just little bites of heaven:)

  8. December 11, 2011 11:30 pm

    What an interesting combination of flavors. Must try them at least once.

  9. December 11, 2011 11:51 pm

    Cinnamon, cocoa, and cloves……these sound and look wonderful! What a lovely post…great stories about the women bakers in your family! My aunts used to critique the cookies of others….only the others were their own sisters! I look forward to dunking these in my coffee soon! And I love the snow on your blog! : )

    • December 13, 2011 8:22 am

      Thanks Anne, baking these cookies brought back alot of very happy memories!!

  10. December 12, 2011 12:04 am

    The smell of Christmas in the kitchen is a favorite of mine as well. Love these Tutu Cookies… they just look amazing. Thanks for the recipe

  11. December 12, 2011 2:35 am

    What a beautiful memory Linda – so very special! This is an incredible recipe – short of the walnuts I have everything on hand to make these yummy treats.
    :-) Mandy

  12. December 12, 2011 2:53 am

    I am so inspired now to make cookies this December :)

  13. December 12, 2011 3:02 am

    That is a lovely post Linda, thank you for sharing your recipe with us
    these cookies are totally new to me but they sound really tempting

  14. December 12, 2011 4:29 am

    a wonderful post, a great story, a delicious recipe, fab phptos. Thnak you for sharing :)

  15. December 12, 2011 4:40 am

    Haha, critiquing the cookies. I’m such a snob, I can’t help but quietly judge other peoples’ cooking all the time! I should just be happy that someone was generous enough to give me something or cook for me, but instead of that I’m quietly berating them in my head for serving me meat which they made no effort to trim the fat from!

    Beautiful looking cookies – such a cute name too :D Do you take orders? ;)

    • December 12, 2011 8:24 am

      Oh, I know Charles, but I hate to think that we are all snobs!! I find myself critiquing food all the time, wondering just what’s in it!! And how I could do it differently!! I actually do bake for others, but it’s more of a love of giving that it’s hard for me to actually sell them!!

  16. December 12, 2011 7:36 am

    I was thinking they look like the Egg Biscuits my Italian BFF makes every year, but he doesn’t use any chocolate…I should make a batch and see what he – and his Mama – think!

    Love your story, too…Kinda’ does my heart good to know that (US) Southern women don’t have a monopoly on ‘cattiness’ (While telling us kids “Don’t be RUDE!”) ;)

    • December 12, 2011 8:25 am

      Italians are funny about their family recipes. Even the sauce differs from family to family and we all like our OWN recipe!!

  17. December 12, 2011 7:39 am

    what a wonderful post Linda. I love how you described the entire event from baking the cookies to delivering them and then the “critique”. We did the exact same thing and this post put a smile on my face. The cookies look to die for. I love the bready texture but still soft and chewy like a cookie should be. I would love to give these a try!

    • December 12, 2011 8:28 am

      Yes, they are soft cookie, not hard tho as I mentioned dipping them in espresso just to add another level of flavor.

  18. December 12, 2011 9:16 am

    I’d never heard of these Italian cookies. I’m excited to try them. They look really tasty!

  19. December 12, 2011 10:10 am

    Aha – glad our family wasn´t the only one doing the “critiquing” thing! Do you think the name for these gorgeous bscuits came from some old nonna shoving the plate under a relative´s nose saying “have another biscuit, you need fattening up” and the relative saying “no grazie, mangialo tu, tu!”?

    • December 13, 2011 4:15 pm

      Lol!! You may have something here…possibly it was just a saying from way back!! What does that mean tho??

      • December 14, 2011 12:46 pm

        “You eat it, you, you!” I asked my dad why he thought they might have this name and he came up with the same theory as me :)

  20. December 12, 2011 10:32 am

    I’ve never heard of these cookies, but certainly have heard many “critiques” of other’s baked goods growing up and it still happens. These Tutu cookies with the spices, nuts and cocoa really sound special and I love the story that goes along with them.

  21. December 12, 2011 1:34 pm

    What wonderful memories, Linda. I love that you have the hand-written recipes, that is too cool. Sadly, since today is so technologically driven, all of my mom’s and my recipes are typed out. At least they have our notes on the pages though. These cookies sound fantastic…I love Christmas baking! I’m sure your house smelled amazing. ;)

    • December 13, 2011 8:23 am

      Types or handwritten make sure you spend lots of quality time with your mom to gather all her kitchen knowledge!!

  22. December 12, 2011 2:16 pm

    Thanks for painting such a wonderful picture of the cookie exchange. It made me smile that everyone knew that no one would give out their true recipes and yet they would ask. What sweet memories those are. Your cookies sound and look beautiful and I’m sure your mother would be proud of your exquisite baking skills. You appear not to have fallen to far from the tree because your cookies are perfection.

  23. December 12, 2011 3:43 pm

    Such a nice post Linda, beautiful memories…and I love the name of these cookies “Tutu”, they sure sound delicious with all the spices and walnuts in it.
    Hope you have a wonderful week and thanks for sharing such precious memories of yours :-)

  24. December 12, 2011 3:54 pm

    Linda, these look so good – like little doughnut holes! Since I’ve never tried any cookies like these I definitely want to bake them! I so enjoy your memories that go along with your recipes! I can just see your mom rolling out her dough and making everything fit perfectly! And I love the image of your mother and aunts critiquing the cookies! It put a smile on my face!

  25. December 12, 2011 8:34 pm

    I made these tonight and they are wonderful! We both loved them! I have one question – do they freeze well? I know the kids would love them, too!

    • December 13, 2011 8:24 am

      I’m so glad you liked them!! They definitely freeze very well. I have mine in the freezer until it’s time to prepare all my cookie trays!

  26. December 12, 2011 8:49 pm

    What a lovely story and a long memory trip this cookies came from!:) I enjoyed reading the story immensely, and knowing their origins, it made them all the more special and festive and I am sure you will find it very delicious and bursting with goodness when you have all these memories in your mind :)

  27. December 13, 2011 6:53 am

    This is a great story and these cookies look very delicious. It’s so nice to have those traditional recipes and foods around this time of year.

  28. December 13, 2011 10:55 am

    I hope no one judges my cookies too harshly, haha. At least not in terms of me cutting them out…I go for drop cookie recipes for a reason.

    • December 15, 2011 2:26 pm

      lol!! love your honesty! I like those drop cookies too for that same reason!!

  29. December 13, 2011 11:07 am

    I love this post and the recipe is ….a gift! My friend is Italian and tells stories of his Mom and Nona in the kitchen and the holidays and the Food and the same type of thing with the critique and even tho it isn’t my childhood I have heard so much about his that I feel like this is familiar. As far as the cookies, He talks of these – I am sure, who could forget a silly little name like that. I can’t wait to try them and then let him try them. Thanks!
    Peace ;-)

    • December 15, 2011 2:28 pm

      Italians do certainly take their cookie baking seriously!! I hope your friend likes these!!

  30. December 13, 2011 12:00 pm

    these cookies look like mini donuts! YUM! awww i love the recipes that have a family touch to it. have a wonderful day linda!

  31. December 13, 2011 4:39 pm

    These look so yummy! I know what you mean about the old recipes that no one ever bothered to write down. My mom and I spent a lot of time trying to recreate some of my grandmothers recipes. Beautiful result…hope they were as you remembered them!

  32. December 13, 2011 7:03 pm

    What a nice post Linda with a beautiful sentiment. It sounds like you learnt from a real pro! The holidays can be tough when we no longer have our loved ones by our side. Good for you for recreating the magic at home and reliving those memories. I love the combination of cocoa and clove in these cookies and the idea of dipping them espresso! They look wonderful.

  33. December 14, 2011 9:56 am

    I have never heard of thesem will definitely give them a shot when I get a chance this weekend :)

  34. December 14, 2011 10:44 am

    Great post and delicious sounding cookies. I can just see your mother and her sisters critiquing everyone else’s cookies. My dearest friend passed away and one of the things I miss most is her beautiful tray of Christmas cookies that she would carry over each year. I wish I had her recipes. I still have each distinct tray that was part of her gift and smile every time I use one.

    • December 15, 2011 2:29 pm

      Those are the best memories. Another reason gifts do not have to cost a fortune, those from the heart mean the most.

  35. January 5, 2012 11:52 am

    In which part of Italy are your roots ? I’d be interested to know as I have never heard of such a delicious recipe (which will be my next attempt as soon as I recover from a bad gastroenteritis)

    • January 5, 2012 11:59 am

      Both of my parents were Sicilian. My mother was born here, my father came here at the age of 17. He was from a town called Terranova. I’ve never to Sicily or Italy, but it is definitely on my future plans! Hope you feel better soon!!

  36. December 19, 2013 7:06 am

    Definitely Sicilian. So good. I made these a couple years ago and then forgot about them. Just got a little pack of them from a cookie exchange. I am in love with them now.

  37. Carla permalink
    December 22, 2013 6:39 pm

    Thank you for the recipe. My Aunt Bena always made these and when I asked for the recipe she wrote it down for me in broken English. Just add spices she said. Ha.
    Thank you for the recipe, it is my childhood favorite. My mother Nona and her family were from Sicily as well.
    God bless,


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