Editor’s note: This week, we at DeadSplinter will have three days of romantic Italian cookies courtesy of Hannibal. Maybe you can convince her to ship?
There is a tradition at Italian weddings in Pittsburgh, and nearby Youngstown, Ohio, known as the Cookie Table. Its origins are debatable, but one thing is for certain, the Cookie Table, and not the wedding cake, is the star of the reception. Sure, people will comment on the cake, but they will discuss your cookies for years. (One of my bougier cousins chose not to have a Cookie Table at her wedding, an act that scandalized the family. When she divorced none of my aunts was surprised. They noted every time the subject came up, “she didn’t have a cookie table.”) Variety and quantity being topics of gossip, homemade or bakery, and most importantly, did you provide boxes for leftovers to be taken home? Homemade is an opportunity for the bride’s family to show off their baking skills. For weeks before the wedding, the aunts and the indentured servants, their daughters, toil in their kitchens baking thousands of elaborate cookies. Yes, thousands. You must have at least a dozen to a dozen and a half cookies per guest or forever earn the scorn of your friends and neighbors. My family always offered a whopping three dozen. On the morning of the wedding, the cookies are delivered to the venue for the caterers to arrange.
You can expect to find a wide assortment of cookies, not just Italian specialties, including Vanilla Crescents, Florentines, and Kolaczkis. But there are certain Italian cookies that are must-haves – Biscotti, Rainbow Cookies, and mini Cream Horns, the cookie my mother was responsible for. I burned my little fingers so many times rolling the damn things up that I hate them to this day. Most Italian cookies aren’t as sugary as their American counterparts. But what they lack in sweetness they make up for in bright citrus and nutty flavors that go perfectly with coffee, tea, or a glass of wine.
Another Cookie Table essential is the appropriately named Love Knots or anginetti. It’s easy and adaptable. My family makes them with vanilla but you can substitute orange, lemon, anise, or almond extract if you prefer. This recipe makes around 7 dozen but is easily halved.
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tbsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- tsp vanilla
- flour as needed, 4 to 4 1/2 cups
- confectioners sugar
Cream sugar and shortening together until fluffy, add eggs one at a time beating well after each, add vanilla. Gradually add the flour beating well, the dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Chill dough for an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break off golf ball size pieces of dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface to the thickness of a pencil. Tie into pretzel-like knots. Bake on a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake, they should be light in color, not browned. Stir milk by tbsps into confectioners sugar to achieve the desired thickness, you want a smooth, thin icing. You can add a flavored extract but it may darken the color of the icing. Allow cookies to cool, ice, and then top with multi-colored nonpareils. I did not bake the ones pictured. My daughter has taken over making them for Christmas but bailed on me at the last minute this year. But they all look pretty much the same. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. They freeze very nicely.