It’s difficult to pinpoint one particular aspect of the Christmas season as my absolute favorite, but holiday baking (and eating) has got to be right up there on the list.
My mom and grandmother always went a tad bit crazy at Christmas with cookies, so I have excellent role models as I begin to create sweet traditions with my own daughter.
Yes, Virginia, I believe this is the year when we give holiday baking a go with a toddler in tow.
Can I get a “Ho ho ho?!”
Two years ago, I had a nearly two-month-old baby strapped to my body at nearly all times and was not about to tackle holiday baking while trying to adjust to new mommyhood. Last year I had a nearly 14-month-old who had discovered the wonder of walking a couple months prior, so yeah, no cookies last year either.
This year, however, I have a newly-turned-two-year-old who not only amuses herself for short spurts of time (occasionally) but also even helps me in the kitchen (“helps” is a matter of interpretation), so I hereby declare it’s time for our Calabr-American Christmas baking traditions to begin!
And what better way to start than with two Calabrian Christmas classics (i dolci tipici natalizi della Calabria) like pignolata and cumpettu?
Pignolata calabrese is similar to the struffoli of Naples: small, fried dough balls coated in honey and then covered with colored sprinkles. It is not to be confused with the also delicious pignolata cookies. Not surprisingly, these sweet treats tend to be a big hit with kids.
And with big kids with an insatiable sweet tooth like myself.
As with all of these types of regional recipes, you’ll find small variations from town to town, so if you’re making this, you may want to poke around the Google a bit (ouch!) and fiddle with the recipe you use. This one doesn’t use yeast or liqueur, but many others do–and I’m thinking it would be lovely with limoncello.
- 3 cups flour
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp orange/lemon zest
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- vegetable oil for frying
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup sugar
- colored sprinkles
- In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, and zest. Add eggs one at a time and mix until it forms a dough.
- Place dough on well-floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for one hour.
- Break off pieces of dough and roll into long strips, about 1/4-inch thick. With a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and put aside on a floured surface. Make sure they don’t stick together.
- In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Fry the dough balls for a couple minutes until they are lightly golden, careful not to crowd. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
- In a separate pan that will be large/deep enough to add the dough balls, combine honey and sugar and cook over medium heat. Simmer just until sugar is melted.
- Remove from heat and gently add the dough balls, stirring to coat. Remove with a slotted spoon and arrange them in your desired form. Piled high like a Christmas tree makes for a nice presentation as do individual servings in small paper cups. Add the sprinkles.
- Let cool before digging in.
Cumpettu (also called cupeta, copata, or cubbiata) is translated as sesame-seed torrone, which I guess they are but they are truly so much more. U cumpettu are bars of sesame seeds and sliced almonds held together with cooked wine must and sugar (and in some recipes, honey). I think of this as a grown-up treat as it is rather bittersweet–and supremely addictive. Kids seem to love it here, though, as well.
Sesame seeds in local dialect are called giuggiulena, (jewj-jew-LAY-nah) which is my favorite word in dialect evah. It is also what these treats are called in some other parts of the south. Some recipes also call for the zest of a lemon or orange, but Zia doesn’t add that so I don’t either. If you do, it should be in the step with the almonds.
- About 9 oz sesame seeds
- 1/4 liter cooked wine must
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Almonds to taste (optional)
- Wash the sesame seeds and spread out on a baking sheet to dry in a warm oven until they are lightly toasted.
- In a pot, heat must over medium heat and then add sugar, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar is melted.
- Add the sesame seeds, still stirring.
- After about fifteen minutes, add almonds.
- The mixture is ready when it’s rather thick and sticking to the spoon.
- Using a spatula, spread the mixture onto an oiled marble (or other nonstick surface, many use wax or parchment paper). The layer should be about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick.
- Let it cool and set and then cut in the desired shape, which around here is invariably rhomboid (as you can see in the photo).
For those curious about the American cookies I make, I have written about some of them in the following posts:
- Christmas Cookie Recipe: Peanut Butter Cookies
- La Buona Cucina Americana: Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Weekend O’ Cookies: Ricotta and Chocolate Chip
- Weekend O’ Cookies II: Butter Cookies and Michigan Rocks
- What’s Cooking Wednesday: Chewy Coconut Macaroons
- What’s Cooking Wednesday: Thumbprint Cookies
What are your holiday baking traditions?
This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable topic was SWEET. And how sweet it is . . . check out the other posts:
- Jessica (ItalyExplained): Two Sweet Italian Stories
- Rebecca (Brigolante: Holiday Munchies: Addormentasuocere
- Alexandra (Arttrav): Hot Chocolate in Florence
- Kate (Driving Like a Maniac) The Sweet, the Savoury, and the Sneaky Hidden Trifle
AUGURI A TUTTI!