Like many families, the Iaciofanos have their own Christmas cookie traditions. We work with a general rotation of around 18 different species of cookie, depending on Marmo’s level of energy for baking (unbounded), our relative moods, and the amount of free space in the house for cookie hiding places.
Why make cookies and hide them, you may ask. Frankly, it is because The Box and John will eat them all before anyone else has a crumb.
The Box prefers 3am cookie feasts, delving into the overflowing tins when no one else is around. He thinks no one notices, and will even categorically deny eating any cookies at all. However, when you open a tin first thing in the morning (cookies are good for breakfast) and it looks like low tide at the bay, you know The Box has struck again.
In contrast, John will eat the cookies out in the open, but treats them much like popcorn, grabbing actual handfuls and walking away with them.
So we hide the cookies. Under side tables, up in high cabinets, inside dresser drawers, in the dryer. It only throws them off temporarily, but that’s usually all we need to make it to Christmas.
What follows are three Iaciofano cookie staples. Whichever other cookies we make, these are never out of rotation. They are:
The Pizzelle: a traditional Italian wafer cookie made with anise seeds.
Mexican Wedding Balls (aka Russian Tea Cakes): little snowballs of butter, sugar and pecans.
Butter Cookies: tree and wreath shaped cookies that are almost solidly butter.
My favorites are the Pizzelle. About 10 years ago, I rolled an uncooked ball of Pizzelle dough in a bowl of circular rainbow sprinkles before putting it in the special Pizzelle iron to cook. The result looked like a cross between a Fourth of July firework and a tie-died shirt. We’ve been doing this brand of abstract expressionist Pizzelle ever since. Here’s how it works:
What You Need:
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup melted butter
2 Tablespoons anise seeds (or to your preference)
Special Gear: pizzelle iron
What To Do:
Heat up your pizzelle iron.
Beat the eggs, adding sugar gradually. Beat the sugar and egg mixture until smooth. Add the COOLED melted butter (if you don’t cool the butter you will cook the eggs when you add it in).
Sift the flour and baking powder and add it to the egg mixture. Mix well, adding in the anise seeds as you go.
Roll the dough into small balls, then coat with sprinkles. Press them into the pizzelle iron and close the lid. Let bake a few minutes until very lightly golden. Lay flat to cool.
John loves the Russian Tea Cakes (an extremely close contender to the Pizzelle for me). Dusted with confectioners sugar, these buttery, pecan-y snowballs practically melt in your mouth. You can always tell when someone’s been at them, however, as the confectioners sugar tends to make a mess and you end up looking like the powdery version of a child with his first ice cream cone.
The following Russian Tea Cake recipe has been handed down from my grandmother (on The Box’s side) and is surprisingly easy.
What You Need:
1 cup of butter
1/2 cup confectioners sugar (plus more for dusting)
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
What To Do:
Mix together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add in the flour, nuts and vanilla to the butter and sugar mixture.
Roll the resulting dough into 1″ balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes (may need a few more minutes – the bottoms of the cookies will turn a light brown). Remove them from the oven and while the are still warm, roll them in confectioners sugar.
Note: I also like to dust them a bit with the sugar after I roll them around in it. Makes them look a little more even (if you like that kind of thing).
Unsurprisingly, The Box prefers the simplicity of the Butter Cookies. Consequently, these are usually the first to disappear. This year my mom and I juuuuuust managed to get them packaged up and put away in a top secret location before he arrived home.
What You Need:
1 cup butter
3 oz. of cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups flour
Special Gear: one of these cookie presses featured below:
What To Do:
Cream the butter and cream cheese, adding in the sugar while you mix. Then add in the vanilla. Slowly add the flour in increments, and mix well. Put the dough (not all of it at once, calm down!) in the cookie press and follow the directions on the box (this usually involves pressing the handle until the dough squeezes out through the stencil at the base of the cookie press).
Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
When you’re done, get a hold of some cookie tins in which to store all this buttery madness. The ones we have are horribly cheesy. Some of ’em are pretty darn old too. But they work. Then hide them around the house. If you’re lucky, you’ll forget where you put them and come across them accidentally in April while Spring cleaning your gutters.
Bonus points of you give me a good cookie hiding place!