Cookie Jar

Two Traditional Christmas Cookie Recipes

Grandma Maria’s Ceci Pillows

Flora Tersigni, CEO of Maggiore Group, has fond memories of baking Christmas cookies while growing up in Pacentro, Italy.

“The week before Christmas my grandmother, mom, sister, aunts and cousins would all get together to make batches of fritti di ceci,” she says. “Over the years, my mother has perfected the recipe, and now it’s even more flaky and scrumptious.”

Ingredients for the dough

4 eggs yolks (reserve whites)

1 tablespoon whiskey

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pastry cutter 

Instructions

  1. 1. Beat egg yolks and powdered sugar until light and creamy. Add vanilla, whiskey and cream.
  2. 2. Mix flour and salt and gradually add to egg mixture.
  3. 3. Once dough is fully mixed, place in a bowl and cover with cloth.

Ingredients for the filling

6 cans unsalted garbanzo beans (ceci) 

½ teaspoon cinnamon 

1 large milk chocolate Hersey bar

Zest of 1½ lemon

4 tablespoons honey

Instructions

  1. 1. Peel skin from beans and put in a food mill. Once all beans have been milled through food mill, add cinnamon and lemon zest. Put aside and prepare liquid mix. 
  2. 2. Place chocolate pieces in a small pan, add honey and melt at low temperature until chocolate and honey are mixed well and in a melted state.
  3. 3. Pour liquid mixture into the ground ceci mixture and mix thoroughly. Taste mixture to see if it needs more chocolate and honey and melt a small amount to add to mixture one tablespoon at a time. Don’t make the mixture too loose—it needs to be the consistency of peanut butter. A loose consistency will cause the pillows to burst during the frying process.

Making the pillows

  1. 1. Beat the reserved egg whites. Lightly wash the individual pillows before cutting.
  2. 2. Place a handful of dough on floured surface and roll out until it’s thin. Cut dough into 4½-inch wide and 14-inch long strips. Place a generous teaspoon of the ceci mixture onto the strip at 4-inch intervals and be sure to leave room to fold dough over, as though you are filling ravioli.
  3. 3. Once you have all the individual mounds on the strip, use a pastry brush to outline the edges that will be cut. Fold the dough over, press the form with your hands. Using the pastry cutter, cut each pillow into a half-moon shape. With a clean needle, prick each pillow six to seven times to ensure they won’t burst when frying. Place pillows on a parchment lined sheet pan and cover. Continue the process until all the dough is used.
  4. 4. Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees. Drop each pillow into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Remove each pillow and sprinkle it with baker’s sugar. Store in airtight container.

Cuccidati  – Italian Fig Cookie

Tomaso Maggiore, chef and owner of Tomaso’s restaurant, grew up in Sicily and recalls picking and drying figs with his family so they could be used in the traditional holiday cookie.

“I remember it was an exciting time and I’d chop the figs and prepare the other ingredients that were used by my mother and aunts to prepare this delicious cookie,” he says.

Ingredients for the dough

1 pound sugar 

1 pound Crisco

6 eggs

1 tablespoons vanilla

1 cup milk

1 ¼ pounds cake flour

1 ¼ pounds all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

Ingredients for the filling

2 pounds chopped dried figs

1 ½ pounds chopped dates

2 cups brown sugar

1 ½ pounds chopped unsalted pistachios

2  12-ounce jars pineapple preserves

2 12-ounce jars orange marmalade

Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 ½ cups of coarsely ground unsalted pistachios

Instructions

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. 2. With an electric mixer, beat together the Crisco and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time. Then add milk and vanilla; mix well.
  3. 3. In a separate bowl, prepare dry ingredients. Return to dough mixture adding flour and baking powder and mix thoroughly. Combine flour mixture and egg mixture one tablespoon at a time until the mixture is completely blended. Place mixture in refrigerator and prepare filling.
  4. 4. For filling, place chopped figs and dates in mixer. On low speed, add preserves and marmalade. Mix well. When fully incorporated, add brown sugar, spices and citrus zest and mix well. Then add nuts and mix well.
  5. 5. To form cookies, begin by spreading some dough on a floured board. Using your hands, flatten dough into a rectangular shape, about 5 inches by 12 inches. Add some filling and spread out evenly. Roll dough to create a 2 ½-inch-by-12-inch log. Cut into 2-inch bars and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle ground pistachios on each cookie. Repeat process with remaining dough.
  6. 6. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
  7. 7. When cooled, dust with powdered sugar and store in airtight container. Cookies can be frozen.