I have to admit that baking for the holidays was never my thing. When I was a kid, baking Christmas cookies was an all day (or two) affair. My mother was not only a fabulous cook, but she knocked it out of the park with her holiday treats. Her cookies were meticulous – every spritz was perfectly portioned, every fruit-filled cookie had the same amount of jelly, and every butterball was precisely the same size. And, if you’re Italian, you know cookies include pastries, and my mother’s entirely-made-from-scratch cannolis were legendary.
I, however, approached cookie baking with the same enthusiasm as the “time to make the donuts” guy from the Dunkin’Donuts commercial. Of course, I helped, although I spent most of the time thinking of a million other things I’d rather be doing. While I thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of my mother’s labor, (to this day I have yet to taste any cookie or Italian pastry that lives up to hers), and spending time with her, cookie baking seemed like way too much work.
My attitude toward baking didn’t change all that much with my own kids. It became apparent early on that my girls’ baking skills far exceeded mine. I quickly became accustomed to the fact that my role for our holiday baking day was to provide the supplies and keep an eye on the oven. I never worried too much about what we produced because I knew trays of my mother’s masterpieces (and cookies from two of my siblings who inherited the “baking gene”) would be waiting when we arrived on Christmas Eve.
Years later, my dear friend suggested a Cookie Bake as a fun holiday activity. She was a big fan of baking and thought it would be fun to do it as a group. Each of us would prepare two of our favorite cookie doughs; we’d bake away and, at the end of the day we’d share. Before too much panic set in, I did two things – volunteered to bring the cocktail (a much-needed item, in my opinion), and called my mother.
My Mom never pulled any punches and reminded me baking was not my thing, and that most likely I did not have any favorite recipes (clearly she observed my attitude years earlier). But she offered to send me a recipe for ricotta cookies from a cookbook put together by her women’s guild. In her exact words, “… it’s really easy; you should be able to do it.”
She, of course, was right. It was easy and painless. I proudly arrived at my first cookie bake with a carafe of mistletoe martinis, and enough ricotta cookie dough to feed an army. That was eight years ago and the Cookie Bake has become an annual holiday activity – and the ricotta cookies continue to be a big hit.
I’ll never love baking itself, but do love the people I bake with and have an even greater appreciation for the time my mother put into her Christmas cookies. She has since passed but every year I secretly dedicate the Cookie Bake to her and think about that she may or may not have enjoyed the time it took to make the treats, but I know she appreciated seeing how everyone loved what she made.
I’ll be cursed forever if I shared her cannoli recipe, but in the spirit of sharing – here’s the ricotta cookie one. Give it a whirl – and enjoy! Happy Holidays
Italian Ricotta Cookies
- ½ lb. butter (softened)
- 2 cups of sugar
- 3 eggs
- 4 cups of flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 tsp. lemon juice (or 1 tsp. of anisette)
- 2 cups of confectionary sugar
- 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or vanilla if you decide on using anisette in the dough
- Warm water
- Mix together until to a consistency that allows you to drizzle onto the cookie. Can add more warm water if needed.
- Set the oven to 350 degrees
- Cream together the butter and sugar; add one egg at a time and beat until thoroughly mixed.
- In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients with butter, sugar and egg mixture. Add the ricotta and lemon juice or anisette. Mix well.
- Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop by rounded teaspoon about an inch apart.
- Bake 12 to 15 minutes but watch closely as they should not brown.
- Cool slightly and drizzle with icing and sprinkles. Makes a ton ☺