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This classic Italian cookie often makes an appearance in our family at Christmas time. Today, I’m sharing our family recipe with you!
My mom’s side of the family is from the Abruzzo region in central Italy (we actually have a funny story about my mom taking my grandmother back to Italy to meet our cousins who still live in the region with their giant rabbits, but I’ll skip that for now). Still, this recipe might be considered one of the oldest cookies in our family recipe book.
When Ellis was born, Mom took a little time before deciding that “Granny” just didn’t suit her; she wanted to be called Nonna as a nod to our Italian heritage. It worked well for me because in my mind, there’s only one Granny, and it felt positively weird to think of anyone else using that name. Mom comes over to the house every week to watch Ellis and she often puts recipe videos on in the background. Recently, she’s been talking about recording all of our family favorites on video so that my sister and I have them to reference whenever we need. Since I’ve been trying to add one or two of our family recipes every year on the blog and we made these the other weekend, I thought it would be perfect timing to create this post for you!
What Are Pizzelles?
Pizzelle (sometimes called pizzelles in the US, but the Italian pronunciation is already plural — singular is pizzella) are thin Italian cookies made in a decorative waffle iron that resembles a snowflake. They can be soft and chewy or crisp depending on how long they cook, and can be shaped into a variety of uses. Traditionally, they are made with anise, but I’ve listed a few other variations because that flavor is very polarizing!
Anise extract: to use or not to use? What is anise?
This recipe calls for anise extract, which is made from anise seeds and tastes like black licorice. Anise makes the occasional appearance in Italian cooking, so this is actually not the only cookie recipe I’ll share that includes it. I’ll go into more detail of the difference between anise seed, anisette, star anise, and more in that other cookie post once it’s live.
Most of the time, I eat them plain and leave out the anise extract. Sorry, but that licorice flavor just isn’t for me! My mom likes the taste of anise, however, so I’ve included instructions below on how to make anise pizzelle, walnut/pecan pizzelle, almond pizzelle, and chocolate pizzelle depending how you might like to tweak this basic recipe. Heck, I suppose you could add other extracts as well (peppermint pizzelle, anyone?) to change up the flavor considerably, but note that the amount of extract may differ; I would probably substitute teaspoons of other extracts instead of tablespoons and then taste test, then add more if I thought it was needed. If you’re going to make two separate flavor batches, divide the dough into a separate bowl (don’t forget to accommodate for proportions, so if you use half the dough, reduce the amount of extract).
Ways to Serve Pizzelle Cookies
- Plain (my personal favorite) or sprinkled with a little powdered sugar. They’re great with coffee!
- While still hot, wrap the cookie around a 1-inch wooden dowel or cannoli mold and leave to cool to room temperature. Voila — cannoli shells without the fuss of a fryer!
- While still hot, drape the cookie over the bottom of a muffin pan. Once cooled, you have a little edible bowls for ice cream!
- Wrap them (you guessed it, while hot) around a cone shape for another ice cream cone option.
- Stack them and wrap them in a bow and hand out as an edible holiday gift (they’re pretty enough to work well for this).
Occasionally, we use the same dough to make cannoli shells by wrapping them around a wooden dowel while still hot. Mom took time during our day of cooking making to create a few so that we could squeeze in an extra recipe while we were at it. I’ll share the recipe for our cannoli cream in another post soon!
Things You May Need
- large bowl
- wire rack
- pizzelle maker with non-stick surface
- cookie scoop
- cookie sheet
- hand mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment
TOOLS YOU MAY NEED
Note: For well mixed and soft cookie batter, always sift the dry ingredients. This will keep out lumps.
Authentic Italian Pizzelle Cookies (Family Recipe)
This traditional Italian cookie has a delicate lacy pattern and buttery flavor that tastes exactly how family recipes should! Eat them alone or with ice cream, or use them to create cannoli!
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter (let cool to room temperature)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- vegetable oil or canola oil cooking spray
- Optional: 2 tablespoons anise or 1/2 cup anisette (substitute 1 1/3 tablespoons almond extract to make almond pizzelles or leave out entirely if you want to skip the anise flavor)
- Optional: powdered sugar
- Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl.
- Gradually add sugar, mixing until smooth.
- Stir in melted butter, anise (optional), and vanilla extract.
- Sift flour and baking powder into another large bowl. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture, blending with a wooden spoon until smooth (dough will be sticky!)
- Heat pizzelle iron on medium heat (or if using an iron that lights, wait until light turns on). Open iron and scoop a tablespoon of batter into the center (or use a cookie scoop). Close iron, squeezing handles together.
- If iron is a flippable kind, wait until the batter sizzles and flip. If not, simply wait until cookie is golden brown, checking frequently (around 30 seconds). Turn frequently to ensure both sides are evenly cooked.
- Transfer cookie to wire cooling rack. Repeat for each cookie.
- Sprinkle powdered sugar on the cooled cookies using the sifter.
- Don’t get frustrated if you don’t make “perfect pizzelles” — we hardly ever do. It may take some practice using the pizzelle press to figure out the correct amount of batter to use depending on the size you have, but they’ll taste just as delicious (and eating the evidence of all of those practice cookies is just part of the family tradition; I don’t make the rules).
- Alternative shapes: wrap pizzelle around a cannoli form or wooden dowel to form cannoli shells. Or drape (again, while still hot) on the back of a muffin tin to form a small bowl.
- For nut variations, add 1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans to the batter before cooking.
- For chocolate pizzelle: sift 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 additional teaspoon of baking powder with the flour and baking powder mixture before adding to the egg mixture (step 4).
How to store
Between batches, cover the bowl of pizzelle dough in plastic wrap and you can store on the counter for a few hours. Cooked pizzelle can be stored up to 2 weeks in an airtight container (so that they don’t soften) or up to 3 months in the freezer. I recommend wrapping small batches of them (4-6) separately to make thawing easier. They may not be quite as crisp as fresh; you can try reheating them in the oven to help crisp them up again.