Italian Cookies for the Holidays

Making these sweet treats extends the season and provides unique gifts.

As the holiday baking season approaches, I am most grateful for the dog-eared and faded, hand-written recipe notebooks that my mom passed onto me—along with her old, worn, wooden recipe box stuffed with splatter-stained index cards that tell the stories of her favorite baked goods. When I read or make the recipes, vivid memories surface of my mother mixing dough in her old mix master at her butcher block baking center in one corner of the kitchen; I want to rush into my kitchen and re-create that taste of home and a simpler time gone by.

Most of my holiday-cookie baking centers around classic Italian favorites, such as queen’s cookies from Sicily called biscotti Regina; totos, a dry sesame-encrusted cookie; chocolate and black pepper cookies from Naples; and cuccidatu—Sicily’s answer to the fig newton. But I have to admit that Mom’s sour-cream dried-cherry-filled cookie was the blue-ribbon winner of all her cookies. When I begin baking, that cookie is at the top of the list.

Each year, I try to vary the kinds that I make—but no matter how hard I try, I usually make well over twenty-five kinds. That is because cookies are my gift of choice for family and friends. October 12, Columbus Day, was the kickoff date for holiday-cookie baking to begin; the Italian women of my mother’s era, who lived in the neighborhood, took this seriously.

Months before baking began, Mom had large gleaming tins of dried cherries delivered from Michigan, sacks of flour were stored in the cold pantry, and loads of eggs and butter clogged up the refrigerator. Mom made hundreds of cookies to give away as gifts. They were wrapped tightly and stored in airtight containers in the large Ben Hur freezer. They kept well, and when it was time for giving, Mom arranged an assortment of her handiwork on pretty plates, encasing them in cellophane and adding colorful ribbon streamers.

I have kept true to the October start date, and the holiday smells that permeate my kitchen in early fall work like magic to extend the season, providing me with the yearly gift of an endearing connection to the past.

Italian Cookie Recipes

Mom's Dried Cherry Cookies

Sicilian Chocolate Spice Cookies

Mom's Date Bar Cookies

Sicilian Chocolate Cookies from Modica

Cuccidatu (Sicilian Fig Cookies)

Categories: Desserts, Food & Recipes