Growing up in a largely Polish-American family, I was accustomed to having great amounts of Polish food at our Christmas and New Year’s gatherings. You could always find stuffed cabbage, Polish sausage, and wafer cookies that were dusted with powdered sugar. The stuffed cabbage was always made by my Aunt Flo, while the Polish sausage was brought by my father. And the cookies….well, I ate these cookies for many years, savoring their buttery, sugary taste, never knowing their true origin or what they were called.
POLISH OR ITALIAN?
But, one year, these special cookies just stopped appearing at our holiday gatherings and I had no idea why. Many years later, I began wondering what happened to those waffle-like, butter cookies with the powdered sugar. When describing the cookie to my father-in-law, he recognized the cookies as the world-renowned pizzelles, an Italian cookie. But how could this be? As a girl, I just assumed that these cookies were Polish, considering the background of my relatives. It turns out, that the cookies were actually made by my one Italian aunt – Aunt Florence – (married into the family) who has long since passed, along with her wonderful cookies.
The pizzelle, comes from the Italian word pizze, meaning round and flat. Pizzelles are believed to be the oldest cookie in history, first made in the 8th century in south-central Italy. The traditional pizzelle cookie is made from a sugar/butter-based batter that is pressed between two hot irons, usually sporting a design. Centuries ago, the families would have pizzelle irons specially made with family crests, special dates, or other celebratory designs. Although once enjoyed at annual festivals, these cookies can now be found at nearly every holiday celebration, in Italy and beyond.
A PIZZELLE IRON OF MY VERY OWN
Last year, I received a post-Christmas surprise gift from my Father-in-law – a pizzelle iron/maker. The iron has a simple, flower or snowflake-like design, perfect for any celebration. But the design really didn’t matter – I was simply excited to finally have the means to make these cookies in my own home.
I carefully followed the step-by-step basic pizzelle recipe that came with the iron – although I now realize that there are countless other quality pizzelle recipes available – even lemon and double chocolate!
It took me several tries to get the cookies just right – at first they were undercooked to the point of mush, then overcooked to the point where they crumbled. When I finally mastered the pizzelle iron’s temperature changes, I made my own light and airy cookie worthy of any Polish family function. The trick is to watch the time carefully and use quality flavoring, such as anise, almond, or vanilla.
This year, I once again made the pizzelle cookies using the basic vanilla recipe. And, once again, it took me several tries to get the cookies just right. But, I also opted to go a little fancier shaping the warmed wafers into flute-like rolls. They can also be made into cones for ice cream or little cups for specialty dessert holders. As you can see, the possibilities for this perfect little cookie are endless.
Whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla, rolled or flat, this centuries-old cookie will no doubt be made by many more generations to come. No Italian heritage necessary.