There’s nothing more Italian than spending time with family – especially during the holidays! And while home cooking and baking play a critical part, bakery made sweets that you can find in your local grocery stores also add visual and culinary delight to the Italian holiday experience.
Mark Cirillo, writer and editor of CucinaTO, offers a quick guide to the authentic Italian cookies you’ll find in Canadian grocers this year.
Italy is blessed with an abundance of pasticcerie; traditional confectionaries with rich histories and treasured family recipes that date back centuries. Why not add a little Italian dolcezza to your own holiday meal this season? Here’s a quick guide to help you craft the perfect Italian cookie tray for the whole family to indulge.
Italian amaretti have a different taste than North American versions because they use a blend of sweet and bitter almonds (amaro means bitter, hence the name of the cookie). While North American versions are almost always made of sweet nuts exclusively, authentic Italian amaretti also use the best bitter almonds which grow in abundance in Southern Italy.
There are two classic types of amaretti: morbidi (soft) and croccanti (hard). Soft amaretti are white because they’re made of blanched almonds; they’re dense and slightly moist in texture. Crunchy amaretti are similar to macaroons – a bit sharper and sweeter in taste, lighter in weight, and darker in colour because the almonds aren’t blanched or peeled.
Biscotti literally means “cooked twice” and the most common double-baked Italian biscuits you’ll find here in Canada are cantuccini. Originating in Tuscany, quality cantuccini have an irresistibly crumbly texture flavoured with almond and a little orange or lemon zest (although today you’ll also find variations like pistachio and chocolate chip). Cantuccini are traditionally enjoyed with the Tuscan dessert wine Vin Santo — locals love to soften the biscuit by dipping it in the sweet, late-harvest drink.
Baci di dama
These fragrant little chocolate-hazelnut confections, similar to shortbread in texture, originate in Piedmont – not so surprising for a region that is world-renowned for DOP hazelnuts and chocolate-hazelnut spread, gianduia. Baci di dama means “lady’s kisses” because the two hazelnut biscuits, separated by a thin layer of dark chocolate, resemble a pair of lips waiting to be kissed.
These light, snow-flaked waffle cookies are extremely popular in south and central Italy and have become quite popular here in North America as well. There are soft and crisp varieties, and flavours like anise, lemon and chocolate, though the most common are the simple classic pizzelle made of flour, egg, sugar and a touch of vanilla. Pizzelle are a versatile holiday comfort food beloved to Italians of all ages – making these authentic imports a staple on the holiday dessert table.
Also known as mustazzoli (and other variations) in the local dialect of Salento in south Apulia, these small, dense, boldly flavoured biscuits are made of flour, almond, candied orange, cocoa, and cinnamon and are often glazed in cocoa icing. Less known than other confections on this list, Mostaccioli are deservedly famous in Italy and add spice, character and fragrance to your cookie tray. When you find the actual Italian treats at your local grocer you must snap them up!
This traditional nougat confection is popular throughout Italy. In fact, every region offers its own distinct take on this delicacy. It comes in soft and chewy (morbido) or brittle (duro) textures as well as a wide range of flavours such as almond, hazelnut, orange, lemon, chocolate.
Premium Italian torrone is extremely popular this time of year. You can buy it in the traditional elongated form (about 25 by 2.5 centimetres) or bite-sized torroncini.
Savoiardi (aka Ladyfingers) are a great example of the influence and innovation of Italian cuisine. These light and delicate confections have been used to enhance various desserts all around the world. But nothing matches the soft texture and sweet taste of Savoiardi. Not only do these delicious treats hold their own on a cookie tray, they are also great served with creamy Italian mascarpone cheese or as the base of the classic custard dessert Tiramisu.
Have you decided what’s on your cookie tray this holiday season? Any advice you’d like to share or questions you’d like to ask? Connect with us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and don’t forget to use #MadeInItaly to share thoughts and images about authentic Italian products.