With a month-long Christmas celebration, one thing Italians don’t skimp on is their Christmas cookies! Christmas cookie traditions are prevalent across Italy, and many of these delicacies are handmade by families in their kitchens during the holiday season.
If you dream of bringing a little la dolce vita to your home this Christmas, we recommend baking and sharing these delicious cookies and desserts with family and friends!
Canestrelli, or Italian egg yolk cookies, are delicious and crumbly biscuits dusted with powdered sugar. Traditionally made in the Northern regions of Liguria or Piedmont, there are several different ways to make this Italian delicacy.
The Ligurian version of canestrelli is much lighter-tasting than the Piedmontese version, made with hazelnut flour.
The most popular version, the Ligurian version, is characterized by its flower shape with a hole in the center of the cookie. Made with otherwise simple ingredients, canestrelli are created using a hard-boiled egg yolk in the dough, giving the cookies a crumbly, tender texture. With the added aromatic flavors of vanilla and lemon, this classic Italian pastry is irresistible when paired with steaming espresso or a glass of sweet dessert wine.
Want to read more about Italian Christmas? Read the Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to Christmas!
Fellow gluten-free foodies, rejoice! Amaretti cookies are a delicious, chewy almond cookie that is naturally gluten-free using almond flour, a common ingredient in many Italian desserts. Amaretti is a popular cookie in many Italian regions, with variations from North to South. They can be made soft and sprinkled with sugar or crunchy and crispy with longer bake times.
The combination of sweet peeled almonds and kernel almonds in the almond extract marks the intense flavor of the amaretti cookie. Amaretti is a classic Italian delicacy and will quickly become a staple in your Christmas cookie tins!
But all good things take time: Amaretti cookies must chill in the fridge overnight to get the proper consistency.
Pro-Tip: You can make your own almond flour by sifting finely ground, blanched, and dried almonds to a fine flour texture. This is a necessary ingredient in many Italian pastries. If purchasing almond flour, ensure it’s flour and not almond meal. Almond meal may look like almond flour but it is not fine enough and will not give you the right texture needed for an amaretti cookie.
If you’ve ever visited Naples at Christmas, you’ve probably experienced the smell of fragrant rococo, the zeppole rolling in honey, and the Neapolitan mostaccioli in the air. Mostaccioli napoletani are diamond-shaped cookies with a delectable dark chocolate covering, but that’s not what marks these old-fashioned Italian cookies. What really sets these cookies apart is the presence of pisto, a mix of highly fragrant spices like black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander.
Mostaccioli napoletani are often purchased from trusted local Italian bakeries and prepared as early as December 8th, a large part of the memory of Christmas in many Italians.
Although the presence of such intense spices may turn some people off, the recipe is quite simple to make and can be an excellent complement to lighter Italian pastries, and will definitely bring a piece of the Campania tradition into your home this holiday season.
Susumelle, or pitte di San Martino, is a staple of the holiday season in the Southern region of Calabria. Characterized by their dry cinnamon and honey flavor and coat of chocolate, these are the perfect cookies to dip in coffee, tea, or sweet wine to soften before crunching into these cookies!
These delicious spiced biscuits can be found in bakeries around Calabria during the holidays and year-round. The dryness of the cookie also gives them an exceptionally long shelf-life, making them the perfect cookie to bake ahead of the holidays.
When you type in “Italian Christmas Cookies” on Pinterest, these will pop up as the most common cookies among American bakers. This classic cookie is topped with colored sprinkles and molded into the shape of Christmas trees or snowmen, making them the most Instagrammable cookie on the list!
Befanini are traditionally made in Tuscany. The name comes from the Italian Christmas witch, “La Befana, who, according to the legend, flies the sky on a broomstick on the night of Epifania, bringing good children stockings full of oranges and naughty children stockings filled with coal. Many Italians have sweet childhood Christmas memories associated with these cookies, as they are often made together amongst families in preparation for her arrival – along with setting out a glass of wine for the Italian Christmas witch!
The simple recipe includes basic ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, eggs, and a pinch of salt at the base. Some recipes may also include rum or the rind of an orange to enhance the flavor. These cookies are the perfect Tuscan tradition to exchange as gifts to friends and family.
Speaking of the perfect Christmas gift, if you have someone in your life planning an Italian vacation, consider booking them the trip of a lifetime to Italy, where they can experience la dolce vita like a local on a small group tour!
More Italian Christmas Desserts
While everyone loves Christmas cookies, Italian Christmas cakes take center stage during the holiday season in Italy, with most biscotti being available year-round in bakeries.
Paneforte is a Christmas fruitcake native to Siena, topped with hazelnuts, candied dried fruit peels, and almonds and glazed with a sweet confectioner’s sugar.
Panettone and pandoro are two popular Christmas cakes that often become a debated topic around the Christmas table as to which cake is superior. Panettone is an ancient dessert that originated in Milan as early as 1400. It is a sweet bread enriched with raisins and dried fruit. On the other hand, Pandoro originates from Verona and is made in a star-cone shape wrapped in powdered sugar. The difference between the two is in the candied and dried fruits, which many children do not like!
For Nutella lovers, gianduiotti is a hazelnut chocolate paste individually wrapped into a decadent, nugget-sized candy. This hazelnut spread is also used to make cremini which are layered hazelnut paste and chocolate morsels that you’ll find in a multitude of flavors these days including coffee and pistachio.
Another classic Christmas dessert common in our region of Abruzzo is pizza dolce, a show-stopping layer cake with three layers of sponge moistened by coffee and liqueur, then spread with a chocolate-almond custard.
But this Abruzzo delicacy isn’t something you have to wait for Christmas to try, as it’s available year-round as it is also served as a celebratory cake! Guests with The Italian On Tour® will have the opportunity to enjoy this delicious Italian delicacy on select tours when you’re an honorary guest for lunch with a local Italian family.
The experience of a lifetime, that is the perfect Christmas gift to surprise a loved one this holiday season. Click here to gift a backstage pass to Italy to your favorite Italian lover (and yes you can gift yourself one too!) and get ready to explore the undiscovered regions of Italy like a local.
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