Growing up in an Italian-American family, there was never a shortage of food in our house. This was especially true around the holidays. And as Christmas crept closer, out came the cookie recipes. I have many fond memories of baking with my mother, grandmother and my Aunt Ginger when I was a child. And as adult, I’ve continued the tradition. As Johnny puts it, our kitchen starts to look like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory come mid-December.
When Johnny and I were first dating, I put together a tray of Christmas cookies I had baked and sent them to his parents. There were many varieties to sample, but the clear favorite were the anginettes, a recipe that’s been in my family for generations. Anginettes are lightly frosted, soft Italian cookies that pair especially well with a strong cup of coffee. My brother-in-law, Justin, is especially fond of my anginettes and looks forward to them each year, though he often asks me why I only make them at Christmastime. I don’t really know the answer to that one, since anginettes are relatively easy to make. Chalk it up to tradition I guess.
Justin and my sister-in-law, Lauren, are expecting their first child in January and when it was time for them to find out the sex of their baby, he and I made a friendly wager on whether it would be a boy or a girl. I bet on the baby being female and I agreed to bake Justin a batch of anginettes by Thanksgiving if I were wrong. Well, as you can tell by this post, I was indeed incorrect. Baby Calcaterra is a boy, and while I am thrilled at the impending arrival of my nephew, I do hate to lose. Luckily, I love to bake, so fulfilling my debt wasn’t nearly as painful as it could have been.
As I said before, this recipe has been in my family for more years than I’ve been alive, but everyone makes them in a slightly different way. Some of us moisten the dough with orange juice and orange extract. Others with ricotta. When my cousin, Patti, passed along the recipe to me a few years ago, she told me she uses juice, so I d0 the same. I love the hint of orange in every bite. When I went to bake Justin’s batch (which, in the interest of full disclosure, are not the ones in this photo. They had blue icing, but I couldn’t get a good shot of them, so I made another batch and took this photo with my brand new camera) I realized I didn’t have orange extract on hand. So I grated 2 teaspoons of orange zest into the batter, which worked just fine.
Anginettes are made in two steps. First, you make the dough, roll it into balls and bake it. Then, once the cookies have cooled, you frost them with a mixture of confectioners sugar and water. For a festive flair, add a drop or two of food coloring to your frosting or sprinkle crystals on your cookies.
Here is what the anginettes look like when they come out of the oven:
I frost mine by swirling them face down in the bowl of frosting then turning them right side up to dry:
I gave Justin his cookies last Saturday night (we didn’t see them for Thanksgiving this year, so I was still within my deadline) which he happily dug into. And Johnny has been noshing on the above batch since they came out of the oven. Christmas cookie baking is on!
Makes about 5 dozen cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 cups flour
1 cup sugar
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces orange juice or 1 pound ricotta
2 teaspoons orange extract (or freshly grated orange zest)
1 box confectioners sugar
Enough water to make a thick paste
1-2 drops food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. With a mixer beat in eggs, butter, orange juice and extract until dough just comes together. (If dough is crumbly, knead it a little with your hands.) Form the dough into small balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely.
In a medium bowl whisk confectioners sugar with a small amount of water, adding more of each until the mixture forms a thick paste. Swirl the cookies, top side down, into the frosting, then turn them right side up letting the excess frosting drain back into the bowl. Place the cookies on a piece of parchment or wax paper, garnish with sprinkles, and let dry thoroughly.