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It’s holiday season again! It’s also my sons’ first Easter. It would be slightly more exciting if he were crawling or walking and hunting for eggs but I’ll still take the opportunity to get some classic sweets on the table to celebrate. And boy, am I going classic!

Lemon twist cookies. If you know an Italian, you probably know these cookies. Tangy, dense and not-too-sweet but still a treat. Every Nonna has a recipe like this one and, in fact, this was my Nonnas’. One way to tell this for sure: it is made with oil, not butter. Also, the ingredients include lemon zest and juice. Many modern recipes ask for lemon extract, but I’m betting they didn’t have any of that in her mountain town in Italy. Dipped in a lemony glaze and decorated (usually with sprinkles – but more about that later), you can find these on many cookie tables at special events.

Since it’s Easter, you’ll find them next to Easter Ciambelle and Easter Bread and one of those large Italian chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in brightly-coloured foil. All this probably following a meal of lamb and spinach and ricotta pie. It’s a big celebration with all the family, and all the food you would expect. To tell the truth, the kids might bring Easter baskets to fill up on chocolate eggs, but these days my basket just gets filled up with Easter leftovers and I don’t mind a bit. Double up this recipe and you’ll have plenty to share too. Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

Italian Lemon Twist Cookies
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of one lemon + 1/3 cup lemon juice for glaze
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups icing sugar

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

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In a mixer, cream together eggs and granulated sugar. Add in oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla and combine. Add in flour mixture and mix together until smooth.

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Remove the dough from your bowl and using a cookie (ice cream) scoop or tablespoon, scoop out your cookies. You can roll them into classic ball shapes or into twists.

For the balls: scoop them out and roll them in your palms quickly to make them smooth. You don’t want a rough or cracked top – a smooth cookie means a smooth, perfect glaze coating later.

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For the twists: scoop out the same amount as you would have for the balls. Roll out a rope of dough and form a “U” shape. Holding the loop end in one hand and the loose ends in the other, twist the cookie rope together twice. If you turn from the top loop, you’ll find the twist comes out better. Press the loose ends together to make sure the twist holds during baking. This twisted shape is common, particularly at Easter for the same reason we have braided Easter bread loaves. This shape  was said to be made to look like the baby Jesus – the loop part being his head, then his body swaddled in cloth and his two feet emerging at the bottom.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, turning the cookie sheet half way through. This recipe makes approximately four dozen.

Now it’s time for the festive decorations. All these cookies get iced with a simple glaze. Mix together 2 cups of icing sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice. You can make it thicker or thinner as you like by adjusting the amount of liquid. The twists get a quick dip or drizzle along their tops.

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For the balls, dip the tops in the glaze and adorn as you see fit. On the left side of the photo are the two classic ways Nonna will decorate: with multicoloured sprinkles or with one silver ball sprinkle right on the top (usually done for this cookie when made with anise flavouring).  A word about multicoloured sprinkles: they are Nonna’s favourite. I’ve seen them sprinkled on just about every dessert and even baked bread. I’m not sure what the allure is but all I know is when you are at an event and you see a cookie (or otherwise) with this tiny rainbow of colours, rest assured, Nonna made it. So take one of those cookies!! For this Easter I set about finding some Easter colours and used “flake” sprinkles and coloured the icing to keep with the pastel themes for Easter.

Happy Egg Hunting everyone!

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