Christmas,  Cookies,  Dessert

Traditions of Christmas Pasts, Italian Tutu Cookies

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.

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.


  • ChgoJohn

    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!

    • spicegirlfla

      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.

  • Tracy Wood

    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!

  • Kristy

    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. 🙂

  • Katherine

    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.

  • sallybr

    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…

  • Lisa @smartfoodandfit

    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

    • spicegirlfla

      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!!!

      • Jennifer

        I am so glad I came across this! I have trying to reproduce my great gram’s Italian spice cookies for years with only some scribbled notes to go by. Her family was from Sicily and these cookies were always in abundance at Christmas time. I never knew what they were called before! Merry Christmas!

  • Just A Smidgen

    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!

  • Anne@frommysweetheart

    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! : )

  • Charles

    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 😀 Do you take orders? 😉

    • spicegirlfla

      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!!

  • gardenfreshtomatoes

    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!”) 😉

  • kitchenbelleicious

    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!

  • Chica Andaluza

    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!”?

  • bitsandbreadcrumbs

    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.

  • Caroline

    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. 😉

  • Geni - Sweet and Crumby

    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.

  • Juliana

    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 🙂

  • Food, Flowers, Herbs and Life!

    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!

  • Christy

    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 🙂

  • lizziecracked

    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 😉

  • Kathy

    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!

  • Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

    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.

  • Karen

    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.

  • InCucinaDaME

    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)

    • spicegirlfla

      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!!

  • Lori

    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.

  • Carla

    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,

  • Dianne Duprez

    I was so glad to see this photo and recognize a cookie my mom made for many many Christmases . My mom is Sicilian and these cookies were called tortoni I love the subtle combination of flavors and the interesting texture. Thank you so much for publishing this recipe I didn’t have a copy of my mother’s recipe. When I was little I thought they look like meatballs, but very yummy ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *