Christmas in Italy is always overflowing with hearty meals, rich Italian traditions and rituals. Family and friends gather in this joyous season to savor age old traditions and most importantly eat together. An Italian Christmas feast is always completed by sweet treats of bread and cookies.
Breads and Cookies are part of Italian cuisine. Bread plays a significant part in Italian cooking and the Italian society as whole. It is the heart of the Italian’s family, social and religious life. Cookies on the other hand, are present during breakfast, mid-morning and afternoon breaks, because they go well with cappuccino or espresso. Like any other culture worldwide, Italian families prepare their own traditional bread and cookies during Christmas and many of the families passes their delicious recipes from one generation to the other, making it even more special.
Among the mainstay of the Italians’ Christmas table is the Italian Christmas Bread or the Panettone. This scrumptious bread is made from yeast with milk, sifted flour, raisins, chopped almonds, candied lemon peel and vanilla essence. It is baked in uniquely shaped pans, which are usually cylindrical and tall shaped. Another variation of this Christmas bread is glazed with eggnog with hazelnuts, anise seed and ground cinnamon which is makes it aromatic. Panettone is usually served during Christmas breakfast or later in the day with tea and other breads and cookies like Lebkuchen and Stained glass fruit cake among others.
Another traditional and favorite Italian Christmas bread is the Lebkuchen which bear a resemblance to a soft gingerbread. This cookie dates back in medieval times and the town of Nuremberg made it famous worldwide. Lebkuchen is otherwise known as honey cake or pepper cake. The cookie is usually 4 ½” in diameter and can be larger if it is rectangular in shape and are typically packaged in decorated tin cans or boxes. Lebkuchen is made of honey and spices like anise, cloves, ginger, and cardamom with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or candied fruits. Correspondingly, this cookie has a sweet to spicy flavor and they can come in either dark chocolate coat or uncoated.
The Italian Christmas treat also includes the amaretti which means little bitter things. These chewy almond cookies are comparable to macaroons and are made from almonds, sugar, eggs and apricot kernels. It can be served after dinner with wine or liqueurs. It also doubled up as deserts by having it sandwiched with butter cream or by dipping it to an ice cream. The Tuscan version of this cookie is known as ricciarelli. The cookie is practically a paste cookie with almond flavor. It is said that these yummy cookies were introduced by the returning crusaders from the Middle East to the townsfolk of Siena.
Another featured cookie is the golden brown pignoli cookies. This traditional cookie is made from almond flavored bread and rolled in pine nuts. Another staple in the tray are the Bianco e Nero cookies which are brownie like and coated with sugar, making it a flavorsome black and white cookies.
With all these flavorful and sweet treats, your Italian Christmas truly embodies what the Italians called earth’s treasure and the sweetness of life.