Christmas is just around the corner, and tasty goodies have suddenly sprung up everywhere around here! First I baked up these pizzelle, then a shipment of Stollen and Lebkuchen arrived from Germany, and now my mom has been baking batches of biscotti. Good thing we have family coming into town to help us eat our way through it all!
It’s this time of year that really gets me digging back into my heritage—thinking back on who I am and where I’ve come from and celebrating German family traditions that have taken on an Italian American twist. And it’s amazing how something as simple as cookies can so powerfully evoke memories and reinforce tradition.
It was over 20 years ago that I first had pizzelle, a Christmas gift from a dear family friend (and fellow German expat!) who used to live here in Santa Barbara near us. As little girls, my sister and I loved going over to spend a day with Dorle, or “Chickadee,” as we called her, getting to go through her boxes of dress-up clothes, playing in her garden, having tea parties in her RV, and spending hours looking through her books, records, and curios. It wasn’t just that we could do so many fun and interesting things at her house that was the attraction; it was that we knew there we could also share in our common German heritage together. It was comforting and restful to be with her. With time, she became our surrogate German grandmother in California. Happy memories hang thickly when I think back on our times with her.
I know we owned a pizzelle maker even before moving to Santa Barbara, but we never actually made our own until we tasted Dorle’s cookies and inherited a recipe from her. Knowing that Germans have long had huge enthusiasm for Italy—well, the food, wine, and vacation homes there, to be exact—I suppose it was not such a huge surprise that a German woman would be making these traditionally Italian Christmas cookies. And for my German-Italian home, pizzelle fit right in.
Made on an iron as waffles are made, pizzelle turn out thin, crisp, and buttery. If you catch them while they’re still soft, you can roll them into tubes and fill them like cannoli, or shape them into cups, as I did here. The pizzelle cups are fantastic for a nice scoop of ice cream, like butter pecan or vanilla.
This year I was excited to have some five-spice powder on hand, and so I added a little to my pizzelle batter for a more nuanced aroma. Traditionally used in Chinese cooking, five-spice powder is a lovely blend of fennel, anise, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves—perfect for Christmas baking and these pizzelle!
Whether you choose to roll and fill with cream, fold and top with ice cream, or simply nibble on one while savoring a cup of hot coffee or tea, pizzelle make for a delicious treat. I hope you have a chance to make some for yourself this Christmas. Buon natale!
Five-Spice Scented Pizelle
Makes about 4 ½ dozen cookies
1½ cups sugar
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 Tbs. vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. five-spice powder
Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat eggs until well mixed. Add the sugar, and then beat on high speed until foamy. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract and whisk to incorporate. In a separate bowl stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and five-spice powder until well-mixed. Add flour mixture to eggs and mix together.
Turn on the pizelle iron and lightly brush with oil. When iron is hot, put 1 Tbs. batter on each circle and bake according to manufacturer’s directions. When done, turn out and cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an air-tight container.
Note: To shape ice cream cups, tuck pizelle into small ramekins immediately upon removal from iron. The pizelle harden extremely quickly.