On Your Table: Christmas time means cookies

Holiday recipes are a big part of most family celebrations

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

These traditional ricotta cheese cookies are the star of a selection of Italian and sugary treats. Photo courtesy of Jim and Betty Bonavita

At this time of year, friends share holiday treats and stories of their family food traditions.  Their recipes hold long-treasured memories kept alive by us for the next generation.  While we come from different places — Hungary, Italy, the Ukraine, Poland, or Puerto Rico — the stories are similar.  Some of them are about great cooks, some about those who could not cook at all.   Some of the stories are wistful, like longing for the crusciki recipe that died with a friend’s mom.  Some are joyful, like enjoying rice pudding with coconut and cinnamon.

It’s the rare family that doesn’t have some tradition to share, from sitting around the table all day making pierogies, to sharing twelve dishes for the twelve Apostles on Christmas Eve, to enjoying a whole roasted pig wrapped in green banana leaves.  My family’s holiday baking tradition is making Hungarian nutrolls, a recipe passed down from my mother’s mother, whose family hailed from that country. It’s an all day process, from preparing the yeast dough, to rolling the pinwheels, then stuffing them with chopped sugared nuts.

One of my friends makes huge batches of an Italian holiday ricotta-based cookie treat based on his family’s heritage in Abruzzo, Italy. While this is a widely made traditional Italian cookie, he said that this recipe is one he personally developed. It’s a result of years of trying many others, combining the best of them and discussing with other home cooks. His original recipe makes a quantity of 120 cookies, but he also provided an ingredient list for 60, which might be more doable for most of us

Ricotta is one of those ingredients that’s impressively versatile. From appetizer to pasta to dessert, this creamy cheese is as adaptable as it delicious. In this case it makes for mouthwatering, softly baked cookies. The glaze makes these cookies. Their soft cake-like texture is another selling point as they literally melt in your mouth. And you can’t stop at just one.

Try these this holiday season. They can be dressed up any number of ways, from adding a little lemon juice to the glaze, to adding decorative Christmas colored sprinkles on top. If your holiday shopping takes you to Delaware, try to find the ricotta made at the Fierro Brothers creamery in Wilmington’s Little Italy. My friend and I agree that it’s the best as it’s made locally, totally creamy and gloriously good. Sometimes I just eat it with a spoon right from the container.

Ricotta Cheese Cookies

Recipe courtesy of Jim Bonavita

(Makes 60 cookies)

Ingredients For the Cookies

2 sticks of butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 extra large eggs

1 pound ricotta whole milk cheese, from Fierro Bros in Wilmington if you can get it

2 tsp vanilla

2 ¼ cup flour (sift first then measure)

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp baking soda


Ingredients for the Icing

3.5 tbs melted butter

5 tsp whole milk

2 tbs vanilla

2.5 cup powdered sugar

Preparation for the Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter till fluffy. Add sugar gradually making sure all is mixed in. In a separate bowl, whip the eggs to a froth and add slowly to the butter/sugar mixture.   Then add the ricotta and vanilla. Mix well. Mix in the baking powder and soda to the flour mixture. Slowly add. When there is a consistent mixture. Scoop out small balls (smaller than a golf ball). Using a melon baller helps with this. Place on a non-stick baking tray. Bake for ~10 minutes depending on your oven. The cookies should not get too brown, but should look “done”. Remove from oven and cool

Preparation for the Icing

Mix ingredients together with a wooden spoon until blended. Brush on tops of the cookies. To make this icing smoother it can help to microwave it for a few seconds so that it will spread easier.

Cathy Branciaroli writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats


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