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Winning recipes: Try these classic Italian cookies for Easter

LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI | Special to the Times Easter Taralli Cookies will be your family’s favorite Italian-American cookie.
Published Apr. 12

This classic cookie is originally from the southern Puglia region of Italy, home to millions of olive trees, some thousands of years old. In this part of Italy, the traditional savory taralli (taralli Pugliese) are made with the best extra-virgin olive oil, lots of salt and coarsely ground black pepper. More like a cracker.

There are so many versions of Italy's taralli, varying between yeasted, boiled, baked and fried. The Italian sweet version (taralli doci) is often glazed, more tender and cookielike. These versions are nothing like our American taralli cookies sold in Italian bakeries across the country.

The first American taralli was a sweet cookie that was enjoyed by the Rosetans during their early years in America after immigrating from Roseto, Italy, as early as 1882. Sweets such as biscotti and taralli were traditionally reserved for Christmas and Easter celebrations. For some religious groups, certain foods, such as eggs, were restricted during Lent.

Eggs were used in baking to celebrate the end of Lent and to symbolize a "rebirth." Another one of my favorite Easter desserts with an abundance of eggs is the Columba di Pasqua, or dove-shaped panettone bread traditionally baked with a hard-cooked colored egg inserted in the top.

The classic taralli shape is a round, doughnutlike ring that is rather large. Usually the taralli cookie has a hard crust, like biscotti, with hardened icing. My version is much softer, sweeter and more buttery. I like much smaller cookies formed into crossed ribbons.

These are so pretty to serve with tea, a cappuccino or for the kids with a glass of cold milk. The icing is flavored with vanilla and topped with classic sprinkles. This cookie will be your family favorite Italian-American cookie. They are great to bake any time of year.

Let the dough rest in the refrigerator before forming the cookies. Many Italian-American tarralli recipes say to "add as much flour as necessary," so keep a little extra flour at your side while making this cookie dough. You will feel the right texture when the dough holds together when pinched. I use confectioners' sugar instead of flour to coat my working surface when forming the cookies, as too much flour will cause the dough to become dry and difficult to work with.

This is a good recipe for children to help with, during the forming, drizzling and sprinkling. These cookies store well at room temperature in a covered tin or container, and the recipe can be doubled. Buona Pasqua!

Contact Lorraine Fina Stevenski at lorrainestevenski@gmail.com.

Easter Taralli Cookies

Fiori di Sicilia is sold by King Arthur Flour. It's an extract with flavors of vanilla and citrus and it is a classic flavor in Italian baking. A few drops are all you need.

For the cookie dough:

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

3 large eggs

¾ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, optional

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

For the icing:

2 cups confectioner's sugar

3 tablespoons half-and-half, or heavy cream, plus more if needed

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Multicolored sprinkles, nonpareils

Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs vigorously by hand until frothy. Set the mixer bowl with the beaten eggs onto the stand. On medium speed, add the granulated sugar in a steady flow. Mix until slightly thickened, lightened in color and smooth, about 2 minutes. Continuing on medium speed, add the melted butter, vanilla extract and Fiori di Sicilia, if using.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in ¼-cup increments until a dough forms. The dough will be soft and sticky. Add more flour in tablespoon increments just until the dough holds together when pinched. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight.

Form the cookies and bake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange two racks in the middle of the oven. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Lightly dust a surface and your hands with confectioners' sugar so the dough does not stick. Use a large bench scraper to break off pieces of dough, working with a small piece of dough at a time. Roll each piece of dough into a 6-inch rope about ¾ inch thick. Form into a crossed ribbon and push the knot down even with the cookie with the ball of your thumb.

Arrange six cookies on each cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and just beginning to turn golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Cool the pans, wipe the parchment with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining dough. Cool completely before icing.

Make the icing and decorate the cookies: In a small saucepan on very low heat, whisk together the icing ingredients until just warmed and pourable. Immediately drizzle over the cookies using a whisk in a back and forth motion. Immediately sprinkle with nonpareils, as the icing hardens very quickly. Ask someone to help with this step. You may have to reheat the icing to keep the pourable consistency. Store the cookies in an even layer between sheets of wax paper in a tin or plastic container.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski

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