My grandmother, Nan, loved to receive shirt boxes at Christmas every year. Not shirts, just the boxes. After Christmas, my mom and I would bring them over her house, where she would stack them in a closet, then insist we sit down at the kitchen table and have something to eat.
Wondering what she did with all those boxes? She used them store her pizzelle cookies. She needed a lot of boxes because she made a lot of pizzelles – for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. It's not just my grandmother, all Italians enjoy them for celebrations.
Pizzelles are round Italian waffle-like cookies made from flour, sugar, eggs, and butter and are typically flavored with anise or vanilla. The name pizzelle comes from the Italian pizze, meaning "flat" or "round."
Believed to be the oldest cookie in Italy, pizzelle have an unusual past. According to legend, in 700 BCE, snakes had infested Abruzzo, in south central Italy, and after they were banished, the townspeople celebrated by eating pizzelle. To this day, they are eaten to celebrate the Festival of the Snakes, now known as the Feast Day of San Domenico.
Pizzelles were originally baked over open fire using irons that were embossed with a family or village crest. Today they are made using a pizzelle iron, which is similar to a waffle iron, but has an attractive floral pattern rather than a grid.
I can still picture my grandmother standing at her kitchen counter making pizzelle. She would pour the thick batter onto the iron, close the long-handled cover, and wait for the sizzling sound of the batter baking. When she lifted the cover, there would be two perfect flower-embossed pizzelle. It would takes hours to make them, and the aroma of anise would perfume her tiny apartment.
Nan is 99 years old and in a nursing home now. Thanks to her son-in-law, my dad, her tradition is alive and well. He recently made a batch and FedExed them to us. Just smelling the anise brought me right back to Nan's little kitchen. She would be thrilled to know that her pizzelle are on my blog for so many people to appreciate; they were her pride and glory.
Note: Most pizzelle recipes call for anise extract, but Dad uses actual anise seed, which is more flavorful. Remember, you need a Pizzelle Baker to make these cookies.
This recipe makes a thicker, firmer pizzelle--my family's favorite.
2 cups sugar
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon anise seeds
4 tablespoons baking powder
7 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat pizzelle iron. Coat with cooking spray and wipe off excess with a paper towel. You do not have to re-apply.
Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter, vanilla extract, and anise seeds. Sift flour and baking powder in a bowl and add to the egg mixture. Batter will have a dough-like consistency. With your hands, roll into one-inch round balls and place in the center of the pizzelle iron grids. Close the cover of the iron and bake for about 45 seconds, or until golden brown. Remove from iron and place on a cookie rack to cool.
Dust with confectioner's before serving, if desired.
Pizzelle will last for a couple of weeks if stored in an air-tight container and kept in a cool area.
If you prefer a thinner pizzelle, then follow these instructions:
1½ cups sugar
1/2 pound (1 cup) butter, melted
1 teaspoon anise seeds or extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
3½ cups all-purpose flour
Follow baking instructions from above.
Other flavor options include:
1. Omit vanilla and anise extract and add 2 tsp rum and 2 tsp grated orange peel.
2. Omit vanilla and anise extract and add 1 Tbsp almond extract and 1 cup finely chopped almonds.
Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of two upcoming books that will be published in the fall of 2010.