Growing up, Christmas time in our family was a time of celebrating and embracing our family, friends and food, and being thankful for what we had. Christmas was more about the comradery of sharing the feast table with special foods that were only prepared for the occasion. We didn’t have much, but I remember them being the best times I ever had. There seemed to be a constant parade of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends popping by for coffee, and that meant having plenty of cookies on hand.
When most people are out shopping the Black Friday specials, I home gearing up for coming holidays by baking cookies and freezing them. Taralli are one of my favorite cookies to make. Everyone seems to love these soft, frosted, lemony cookies. They go perfectly with a cup of espresso, or you can serve them for dessert with either a Passito di Pantelleria or a Zibibbo moscato wine. The original recipe, which was anise flavored, was from my great uncle Pietro’s pasticceria (pastry shop) in Palermo and was handed down to us from his cousin Pina (short for Giuseppina). You can also make these orange flavored by substituting orange zest for the lemon zest, orange extract for the lemon extract, and orange juice for the lemon juice.
COUSIN PINA’S TARALLI COOKIES
Makes 2 dozen cookies.
FOR THE COOKIES: .
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut in ½-inch cubes and slightly softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons milk
FOR THE GLAZE:
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
4-5 Tablespoons milk or water
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1. MAKE THE COOKIES: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Add butter and shortening. Mix together thoroughly by rubbing between your hands until thoroughly incorporated.
In a bowl, using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat sugar and eggs on medium speed until thick and sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add lemon extract; beat 1 additional minute. Switch to the paddle attachment, add flour mixture, milk, and lemon juice; mix at low-speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces.
On a lightly floured board, shape a ball of dough into a rope 1/2-inch thick and 7-inches long. Hold one end of the rope in one hand, and with your other hand bring the other end over and back through the back-end of the loop, forming a knot. Repeat this step with the remaining dough balls.
Place 1 1/2-inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake 1 cookie sheet at a time for approximately 15 minutes, until lightly golden on top. Bake the remaining cookies. Let cool completely.
2. MAKE THE GLAZE: Combine the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, lemon extract, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Glaze should have the consistency of thick frosting. Using a butter knife, spread the glaze on the top and sides of each cookie. Place on a rack until the glaze hardens. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
TECHNIQUE: Place a cooling rack or oven rack over aluminum foil on the countertop to allow excess glaze to drip and air to circulate around the cookies to facilitate drying. It also makes for easier clean-up.
MAKE AHEAD: The Taralli can be frozen up to 6 weeks. Thaw at room temperature several hours before serving.