Probably the oldest cookie in the world is a pizzella (singular). The literal translation means “round, small and flat” as in “pizze” (which is also the origin of “pizza”). These flat waffle-type cookies are made from a batter, similar in consistency to cake batter, using eggs, butter, sugar, flour and flavoring, usually anise or vanilla. The batter is poured in small amounts and pressed between two hot iron plates and then removed to cool to a crisp flat cookie.
The beauty of pizzelle is in the design of the iron plates. My research tells me that pizzelle were first made in the Italian region of Abruzzo as early as the 8th Century. Families would have pizzelle irons specially made with family crests, special dates, or other celebratory designs. Modern pizzelle irons usually show a floral or snowflake design on one side and a basket-weave design on the other.
The delicious taste comes from the flavoring added to the batter, which can be varied to anyone’s taste, including anise (the most common flavor), vanilla, chocolate, lemon, pumpkin and butter pecan. I have seen pizzelle with sprinkles and/or nuts.
The most traditional shape, of course, is the flat round cookie. The pizzelle can also be molded into various shapes, such as a cone, cup or cannoli form, and stuffed with your favorite crème filling or ice cream. Another way to enjoy pizzelle is by spreading Nutella or ice cream between two pizzelle. For pizzelle lovers like myself, the options are endless. Try taking a pizzella and dipping it ever so lightly in a glass of red wine, absolutely delicious after a wonderful Italian meal.
Pizzelle are found at almost all Italian celebrations, baptisms and weddings to Christmas and Easter. You can find several brands of ready-made pizzelle at Italian specialty stores and local super markets. Here is a basic recipe for you to try.
1 ½ cups sugar
3 ½ cups flour
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 teaspoon anise extract (or extract of your choice)
Beat eggs, adding sugar gradually.
Beat until smooth. Add cooled butter,
vanilla and anise extract. Sift flour and baking
powder and add to egg mixture. Dough will be
sticky enough to be dropped by spoon (a little bit thicker than cake batter).
The amount of time it takes to cook one cookie varies from one maker to the other. Usually 30-45 seconds is sufficient. Test your batter and pizzelle maker to see what is best. The finished product should be a light golden color. If you are going to mold the dough once it is cooked, this has to be done immediately upon removing the cookie from the iron. These cookies will cool quite quickly.