Italian Cookies: The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Over the past two weeks, food bloggers have shipped more than 22,000 cookies worldwide as part of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  I’m thrilled to say I contributed thirty-six of those cookies!  When I heard about the swap while reading over at Love and Olive Oil, I immediately knew I’d be making my family’s fabulous Italian Cookies.  My grandmother and great-aunts made these when I was growing up.  I can clearly remember traveling one December with my grandmother, accompanied by a tin of the brightly-colored beauties on which my grandfather snacked throughout the trip.

Last Christmas, I made these Italian Cookies for the first time, and I think I’ll continue my tradition of baking them for years to come.  I’ve seen a couple of similar recipes across the internet, but most contain fig or anisette.  My Italian cookies are simply flavored with vanilla and almond extract.  Of course, a variety of flavors could be substituted.  I love making different variations on the effortless glaze, swapping, for example, lemon extract for the almond extract.

A word of warning: this recipe is HUGE.  I don’t even own a bowl big enough to hold all of the ingredients, so, after creaming the butter and sugar, I had to mix the other ingredients by hand on my kitchen table.  My mixer was angry at me for making it cream over six sticks of butter!  I’ve never been quite certain what makes these cookies particularly Italian, but I will say one thing: this recipe is sure to feed a stereotypically enormous Italian family like mine!

Look at all of those ingredients! The shady-looking bottle in the back is my Mexican vanilla. The wine doesn't go into the cookies but is recommended to increase your baking enjoyment.

Don’t be scared off by the size of the recipe.  I often make all of the dough, then freeze whatever I don’t want to use at the time.  You can divide the dough into logs, then wrap them individually in foil, place them in freezer bags, and save them for months.  If you wanted to split the recipe (I never do this because I always freeze any leftover dough), try subbing orange juice and extra sugar for the container of frozen orange juice, so you don’t have to worry about dividing up the can.  The variations on this recipe are endless: you could use other festive hues for different seasons, add color to the dough instead of the glaze, place sliced almonds on the top, and substitute all sorts of extracts.

Cookie Glaze Art: Jackson Pollock only wishes his paintings were this tasty and festive.

Later this week, I’ll be sharing some tips for shipping cookies, as well as a round-up of the beautiful cookies I received from Catherine at The Cat Dish, Gabby at And I Have to Live With a Boy!, and Katherine at Red Rover.  Thank you for the gorgeous goodies, ladies!

If you are interested in hearing about next year’s swap, be sure to sign up here to get on the email list!

Italian Cookies
Makes about 10 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
6 1/4 sticks of unsalted butter
4 cups sugar
5 eggs
5 egg yolks
5 lbs flour (I used White Lily)
5 Tbsp baking powder
4 tsp salt
1 small can frozen orange juice, thawed (12 fl oz)
1/2 cup milk
5-6 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp almond extract
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 10-12 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolks, mixing to combine throughly.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. I mixed my ingredients together on a table.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add butter, sugar, and egg mixture and work everything together by hand to combine.

4. Gradually add frozen orange juice, milk, extracts, and lemon juice. Mix well by hand. Dough will be fairly sticky.

5. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours. You can also refrigerate dough overnight (it will stay fresh in the fridge if well covered for over a week), but be sure to let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking if you leave it in the fridge for more than an hour or two. Pre-heat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheets with Silpat or waxed paper.

6. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet. If you are a perfectionist like me, feel free to weigh each lump of dough before gently but quickly rolling it between your hands to form a flawless ball and placing it on the cookie sheet. Each of my cookies weighed approximately 1.25 oz or .078 lbs.

7. Bake for 12 minutes, or until bottoms of cookies just barely start to brown. I like baking my cookies for 6 minutes, then rotating the cookie sheet 180° to bake for the last 6 minutes to ensure that the batch bakes consistently.

8. Let cool completely on cooling rack before icing.

Glaze
frosts about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk, lemon juice, or water
1-2 tsp almond extract (try substituting lemon or other flavors!)
gel food coloring

1. Combine all ingredients except food coloring. Add more sugar if glaze is too runny and more liquid if too thick. Add food coloring, and keep adding until desired color is achieved.

2. Dip tops of cookies into glaze, shaking off extra glaze. Place cookies on cooling rack with waxed paper underneath.

3. Wait a minute or two for the glaze to start to set, but not so long that the sprinkles won’t stick, then add sprinkles if desired. I discovered that I like the effect of the large sparkling sugars I used last year much better than the tiny sprinkles I used this year.

4. Share with friends and family and enjoy!

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Chicken Cacciatore

For the past few days, Food Blog Land has been atwitter with recipes for juicy brined turkey, vibrant red cranberry sauces, and festive pumpkin pie.  (I don’t know about you, but is anyone else sick of all of the pumpkin around here?  Okay, please don’t tell anyone I said that.  I’m going to Food Blogger Hell.)

Today I present you with a recipe featuring a much-neglected fowl this time of year, the chicken.  You see, I’m unfortunately just not that excited about Thanksgiving this year.  Heresy, you say!  Where’s my patriotism?  Where are my zeal for food and reverence for a day of totally sanctioned gluttony?  You see, life’s a bit crazy these days.  I have this little thing called a dissertation to write, and my husband has a huge exam he’s studying for, which he’ll be taking on Saturday.  So, I think we are just going take advantage of these next couple of days off to write and study.  Then, Saturday evening, after my husband’s exam, we’ll celebrate.  We’ll have a little belated Thanksgiving bash.  I haven’t finalized our menu yet, but it definitely won’t be your traditional turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy ordeal.

Until our post-holiday party, I present you with this hearty chicken cacciatore (pronounced Catch-A-Tory in English, which brings an entirely new meaning to this dish, now that I think about it…), a simple but delicious dish you can throw together in your Crock-Pot.  “Cacciatore” means “hunter” in Italian and can be used to describe a dish of chicken (or sometimes rabbit) braised in tomato sauce along with a variety of vegetables.  Given that my version is made in a slow cooker, this dish makes no claim to authenticity (I’m sure Crock-Pots were a staple in the homes of all Italian hunters back in the day), but it was passed down from my Italian family.  Regardless, this dish is comforting, filling, and sure to please!

For those of you who are frantically planning your Thanksgiving menus and know you’ll be spending hours in the kitchen today and tomorrow, here are a few tips from David Lebovitz that will make your holiday less hectic and more pleasant.  He writes about to deal with piles of dirty dishes, limited counter space, and culinary catastrophes.  Hope you find these as useful as I did!

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 8-10

1 whole chicken
1 medium onion, chopped
4-5 stalks celery, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz. tomato sauce
10 oz. tomato paste
1 small can or 8 oz. fresh mushrooms, optional (I forgot to add them in this time but highly recommend them if you like mushrooms.)
fresh oregano and parsley, optional
salt and pepper to taste

1. Clean your chicken and place in slow cooker.

2. Add onion, celery, garlic, as well as mushrooms and herbs if using.

3. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste.

4. Stir to make sure vegetables and chicken are covered in sauce. Cook on high overnight, or approximately 6-8 hours, until chicken is cooked and starting to fall off bone.

5. Remove chicken and debone.  Return meat to sauce. Season to taste. Serve over pasta or rice with freshly grated parmesan.

Variations: Add chopped bell pepper, wine (red or white) when adding other ingredients.

Watch out for any tiny bones you may have missed!  Enjoy!

Adapted from my Mama with love