HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Favorite Italian Christmas cookies or pastries

What are everyone's favorite Italian Christmas cookies or pastries?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I can only chime in with two Neapolitan holiday favorites because I'm still learning and exploring the Sicilian varieties. Neapolitans have struffoli and sfogliatelle. The sfogliatelle here that I'm mentioning are akin to Cretan diples. Both the diples and these Neapolitan sfogliatelle are made with deep fried sweetened dough smothered with honey and chopped walnuts. These treats are what remind me most of the upcoming holidays. Fortunately, my neighbor makes the best of both. I've had many many many to compare them to, and hers are second to none. I'm very lucky to have her close by and to be on the receiving end of her generosity.

    34 Replies
    1. re: Cheese Boy

      I have yet to try a stuffola that I liked, I guess I should keep trying.
      My favorite is neopolitan rainbow cookies, I make those myself every Christmas. Besides being so delicious, they have the Christmas colors that make the platter look so festive. Sometimes I make pignolia cookies too, but it seems only older people go crazy for them, for nostalgic reasons.

      1. re: coll

        Homemade sfogliatelle, Cheese Boy? Wow, I can't imagine how difficult it is to make them.

        Struffoli (honey balls we call them) and a variation on them, wine cookies, are easily made and a big favorite.

        coll, are the rainbow cookies the seven layer cookies seen at Italian weddings? I imagine they are difficult to make.

        Pignolia cookies and sesame cookies are wonderful too.

        1. re: dolores

          The cookies that are red, green and white with chocolate on top and raspberry between the layers, not much harder than making a three layer cake. It's just a pain to cut all the little pieces when it's done!

          1. re: coll

            i made these with a friend of mine once. they are actually not that difficult, but quite time-consuming, with many little steps. we also used some almond paste in the cake part.., and they require a lot of empty space in the fridge when you put the whole sheet in to harden the chocolate! (which we found out the hard way). very delicious, though.

            1. re: vvvindaloo

              I keep them in the garage! Been making them every year for at least 20 or 30 years, they are worth the little bit of trouble, from the feedback I get.

          2. re: dolores

            Dolores, the sfogliatelle I'm referring to are simple to make.
            You actually might know them as 'chiacchiere' or puff pastry bows. Many Neapolitans call them sfogliatelle because they are so light -- much like the pastry commonly seen in pastry shops. These homemade kinds are much simpler and all you really need is a good pastry wheel. My neighbor uses a pasta maker (that's her secret) to make sheets of the dough and then uses a pastry wheel to prepare bows ready for deep frying. We coil ours up rather than just leave them in the shape of bows. As bows, they can be very fragile -- especially when they're all stuck together thanks to all the honey drizzled over each of them. If you want people to crave these, it's important to make them thin, fresh, and plentiful.
            Don't skimp on the honey, or the chopped walnuts either.

            The image I included are Chiacchiere covered with confectioner's sugar. If you substitute honey and add some chopped nuts of your choice, you've basically got what I'm speaking of. Recipe: http://www.italianmade.com/recipes/re...

            Chiacchiere image with sugar:

            1. re: Cheese Boy

              Ah, yes, my grandmother called them something else, I'll have to try to recall.

              I thought you meant those crazy delicious multi-layered jobs that I've recently seen as ricotta-filling laden gems known as 'lobster tails'.

              Oh yes, crustali! Although.......I can't find them on Google.

              1. re: dolores

                crostacei :) it means "crustaceans". they are made with many many layers of pastry filled with a cream of the most dreamy consistency... in the shape of a lobster tail.

                1. re: vvvindaloo

                  So many names, so many fond memories of cookies too messy to make.



                  What I knew as 'crustali':


                  The new (to me) 'lobster tail':


                  A good description of the wine cookies, especially the part about rolling them over a gnocchi board:


                  and of course, the honey balls (strufoli):


                  I don't fry anymore, and it looks like it's time for me to start again.

                  1. re: dolores

                    the cookie represented in your "crustali" photo looks like what Cheese Boy is referring to as " sfogliatelle". as far as lobster tails, the ones I am used to seeing (mostly in Italy) are larger, with more pastry, and a lighter cream with less of a yellow "custard" look. my version of sfogliatelle is exactly the same as yours. i never was a big fan of struffoli.

                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                      Yes, interesting that the crustali I've known have another name.

                      So Italy has 'lobster tails'? Again, interesting.

                  2. re: vvvindaloo

                    My husband and family LOVE these. Anyone have a good recipe? I have also seen them in the shape of a clam shell for weddings.

                  3. re: dolores

                    In Rome and other parts of central Italy they are known as frappe, but you only find them during Carnevale.

                  4. re: Cheese Boy

                    I have a question..I've checked out the link for the pastry bows and its final ingredient is 4 tblspns of butter. Any idea what its for?

                    1. re: cruella1

                      HHmmm, no idea.

                      There's no mention of it anywhere other than in the ingredients list.

                  5. re: dolores

                    You're right, dolores, sfogliatelle is a long, and drawn out process to make at home. I haven't made them since disbanding my catering staff. You can order them overnight from modernpastry.com in Boston, which is where I learned how to make them. Theirs are the BEST!

                    I love Pignoli cookies, and cuccidatti, and those little white frosted balls (orange flavored) with jimmies on them.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      ChefJune, I asked in another thread what those little white frosted balls with sprinkles/jimmies on them are called? I know them by various people's names, i.e., Lucy's Cookies, and they all have butter in them.

                      I was at a party with someone who doesn't give out recipes and she mentioned a 'taralle' (not the name I know these by) that she made with Crisco and she said they were easy and delicious.

                      I've been trying to search with no luck.

                      1. re: dolores

                        I've got a good recipe for them somewhere... We call them "white caps" or "snow caps".

                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                          vvvindaloo, if you ever come across it, I'd really appreciate the recipe.

                        2. re: dolores

                          I found a very good recipe here on Chowhound quite a while ago for those cookies. I have no idea how to link, I'm afraid. So, I'll cut and paste.

                          It was posted by JellyBelly on May 06, 2005 09:52PM:

                          If it was me, however, I would bake these spectacular cookies that we call "Zizi's cookies" (pronounced "sit-zy" - means aunt). They're along the line of biscotti (or unscotti since it's only baked once) and they're dipped in a little glaze and topped with colored candies. They're just a nice change-up from the ol' standard biscotti. They go REALLY well with coffee and you can bake them early in the day.

                          Zizi’s Italian Cookies (Zizi is what we’ve always called our Italian aunts)
                          NB – this makes a LOT of cookies, so you may want to ½ it or be prepared to give some away!

                          2 sticks butter
                          1 c sugar
                          3 eggs
                          1 c orange juice – may want to avoid pulp, but whatever
                          1 tsp vanilla
                          about 5 c flour
                          1 tsp baking soda
                          3 tbsp baking powder

                          Confectioner’s sugar
                          A little orange juice – to taste
                          Multi-colored nonpareils

                          Preheat oven to 400 degrees

                          Cream butter and sugar until pasty. Once mixture is pasty, add eggs slowly. After eggs, add orange juice and vanilla (don’t be surprised when it looks like something has curdled and/or gone horribly wrong – it’s okay – you’re doing it right )

                          In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder)

                          Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients only until mixture is sticky – it will be really sticky.

                          Now for the messy part: using your hands, take small bits of the mixture and roll into balls (~1-1.5 inch diameter) – we’re talking like 50 cookies! Place balls onto un-greased cookie sheet.

                          Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

                          While the cookies are cooling, you can make the frosting – this is very un-scientific. Just take “some” water and add “some” confectioner’s sugar and a bit of o.j. to taste. The bottom line is that you want a thick but still liquid frosting that’s sweet and a little orange-y if you want. You want it to be a consistency such that you can dip the cookies into it.

                          Take the cool cookies, dip them into the frosting and leave them out to dry. While they’re drying, sprinkle the nonpareils. This just takes some artistry – if you wait for the frosting to dry a bit, then the color won’t run as much. Here’s where you just need to experiment. Hooray! You have some great cookies! Enjoy!

                          Store the extras in an air-tight container (they WILL go stale if you just leave them around)


                          1. re: mirage

                            Thanks, mirage. Yes, those are the ones. My mother said to coat the hands with oil when making them into balls.

                            Isn't it funny, though, that they don't have a readily identifiable name attached to them??

                            Like the Melting Moments cookies -- thanks to whomever, I forget who! -- I can never, ever eat just one of these cookies.

                            1. re: dolores

                              Dolores and all:

                              I'm quite sure [98 percent ;-)] that the mystery cookies you all have been discussing are "officially" called Anginetti. They are as much a cookie staple to Italians from some of the Southern provinces (maybe other parts of Italy, too, but I don't know about that) as chocolate chip cookies are in the U.S.

                              The cookie has variations in terms of flavoring--e.g., orange, lemon, almond--but the iconic cookie that I've seen Southern Italian homecooks and bakeries make around here are anisette with white icing and jimmies or the little tiny colored nonpareils.

                              As a matter of fact, hubby just asked me this a.m. if I would make him some. :-( I'm frowning because, for some reason, they were one of the most difficult things for me to learn how to do when I married my Italian husband. I have a major inferiority complex about them; mine always are so pitiful, compared to those of every other woman throughout his extended family who I think learned how to bake Anginetti before they learned how to walk. ;-) My always turn out looking like Snickerdoodles.

                              1. re: MaggieRSN

                                Thanks, Maggie. I believe you are correct, though, knowing Italians, there are probably several "official" names for this cookie, depending upon the Italian region you are from. I, too, have a recipe for this cookie that lends itself to either orange juice or anisette flavoring. But whatever flavor, and whatever name you call it, remember, at Christmas, it's the thought that counts! If your husband asked you to make them, it means he likes the way you do it!

                                1. re: MaggieRSN

                                  That's it, MaggieRSN!! Anginetti.......exactly as described when searching on them. Not so named on any of my or my mother's recipes, though.

                                  Thanks SO much!

                                  1. re: dolores

                                    I just came to the realization that you're talking about cookies I dislike a lot. I call these ---> Italian Rock cookies. I've *never* had one that I liked or that wasn't as hard as a rock. Click on images below.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        Ha! We called them 'turd' cookies. ;-) It was not disparaging. We loved eating them.

                      2. re: coll

                        Can you post the recipe for the rainbow cookies? They are my favorite Italian cookie!

                        1. re: Riatta

                          I'm going to link you to this because it's very close to mine, and the pictures should help.


                          The only thing is, I've been noticing lately that the chocolate topping doesn't cut well anymore, it just cracks into pieces, which is really annoying. This definitely didn't used to be such a problem. I'm trying another chocolate than Nestles this year for starters, and am tempted to cut the pieces before it hardens completely. Don't know how messy that will be. Stay tuned!

                          Oh also, I use seedless raspberry jam on top of the white layer, and apricot preserves between the red and green layers.

                          Another thought, I only do chocolate on top, although I've been fascinated with having it on top and bottom. But until I solve the cracking problem, don't think I'll be going there. I've also seen these cookies at a bakery on Arthur Ave where they have an additional chocolate cake layer....if this was the only cookie I was making, I might try that too.

                      3. re: Cheese Boy

                        dear Cheese Boy I am very excited right now! I totally forgot that the recipe for the diples had garbonzo beans ( chick peas) in it along with the choc., hazelnuts, chestnuts, orange zest or water and other things. Think you could get me the rest of the recipe for the fried ravioli? Thank you, elvira carpino

                        1. re: elvira carpino

                          Here's a few recipes that may help you. Borrow any item you want from the various ingredients lists and make up a great recipe or two of your own.

                          Chickpea Turnovers #1 --> http://translate.google.com/translate...

                          Chickpea Turnovers #2 --> http://translate.google.com/translate...

                          Chickpea turnovers #3 --> http://translate.google.com/translate...

                        2. re: Cheese Boy

                          The mention of honey,chick peas or garbonzo beans reminded me of ingredients I left out when I described the fried ravioli filled with chocolate. These "diples" sounded familiar. Is there any way I can see the recipe. please? Thank you, elvira carpino You gave me a site www.icsanmauroforte.it/carneva but It would not come up on my computer. Did I miss something? Help. elvira carpino

                          1. re: elvira carpino

                            Cheese Boy can you give me the site:www.icsanmauroforte.it/carneva one more time? This site said"could not be found." What did I miss. One of the references you gave me above is close. thank you, Elvira

                          2. re: Cheese Boy

                            Cheese Boy, I would love to have the recipe for fried ravioli. It is a recipe I have been searching for along time.. I remember they were filled with bitter and bitter sweet chocolate, garbonzo beans (chick peas), hazelnuts, honey, orange zest or flavoring , a liqour I cannot remember for the like of me and perhaps some spices. They were left out, did not have to be put into the fridg. to keep. I would appreciate any help. Thank you, Elvira

                          3. We've always made pizzelle, so those are my favourites. I also like cenci/frappe and pignolata, that pyramid of tiny donuts held together with syrup.

                            Those are the ones we make in my family, but I do like some "outsider" desserts, like a good crostata.

                            1. I'll usually make torrone, paneforte and amaretti.

                              1. I just got a Villaware pizzelle maker, which makes 4-3 inch pizzelles at a time. So far, I've made chocolate-walnut and orange-rum. I plan on making traditional too.
                                I'll also be making a few varieties of biscotti.


                                1. The fig-filled ones with the ghastly multi-colored sprinkles
                                  Sesame Regina cookies. Oh Boy.

                                  1. Since my grandmother passed away last year, I am going to try to carry on her Sicilian traditions.

                                    I'll be making the honey balls and the bow ties (my family actually uses the same dough recipe for both), as well as orange juice cookies (which my grandmother always shaped into an "s," thus earning them the name S cookies).

                                    Was actually poking around online to see how our recipes compared with others, and it is so amazing to see how these Italian pastries vary from region to region, and family to family!

                                    For example, in my family 'chiacchiere' does not refer to the bow ties but to the honey balls (ie, struffoli or pignolata). I was told that we call them chiacchiere because they're like big cici beans (garbanzos/chick peas).

                                    The bow ties we call wanda, which becomes "ee-wanda" in our terrible American broken Sicilianese.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: brian874

                                      Brian, you just reminded me of another pastry I completely forgot about. They're Panzarotti -- except they use the sweet struffoli dough and fill them with mashed sweetened chickpeas. What resulted was akin to square deep fried ravioli covered with honey. Not a fave of mine, but still a Christmas tradition for some.

                                      Btw, ' wanda ' sounds like the dialect for "gloves" in Italian. And, 'ee-wanda' sounds like Neapolitan dialect for "the gloves".

                                      1. re: Cheese Boy

                                        Hiya Cheeseboy,
                                        Since my mother died ten years ago we have searched high and low for her recipe for the panzarotti you describe. For some reason, my family called them pastidels (no idea of the spelling). From our combined recall they were ravioli-like sweet pastry filled with mashed chick peas, roasted hazelnuts, chocolate, ground up, tinned pears and some glace fruit. Not sure what else they may have contained. Then they were deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. There were lots of spices in the sweet dough like nutmeg and cinnamon perhaps. You would make my entire family deliriously happy if you could pass on any recipe for 'panzarotti' that you may have.

                                        Many thanks,

                                        Juliette Palazzo

                                        1. re: juliette Palazzo

                                          Juliette, as I mentioned in my earlier post, these were not a favorite of mine. I don't have a recipe for them, but there are recipes to be had online. I've found that they are most commonly known as Panzarotti but can also be referenced as Panzerotti and Panzaruttielli.
                                          You just so happen to be interested in the sweet version - those made with chickpeas (con ceci). There are savory versions as well (made with ricotta filling, eggplant filling, etc). Furthermore, some are baked and some are fried. Many recipes vary greatly as to the ingredients incorporated into the fillings. I was very surprised to see the various liquors used. Some use vermouth while others use liquore Strega. Many people opt for none at all. I've also seen white wine added into the dough mixture (no mention of nutmeg ever or cinnamon here). In all the recipes cinnamon (cannella) was never omitted in the filling. Powdered bitter chocolate (cacao) was never omitted either. These are two key ingredients for sure. The Neapolitan version of panzarotti might be the version best suited for you.

                                          I'm including a link I found that shows some women busy at their craft making
                                          "i panzarotti con i ceci". Look at the recipe included there.

                                          Link (scroll once in) : http://www.icsanmauroforte.it/carneva...

                                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                                            So cool! I feel like making these now, and I've never even tasted them!

                                    2. Sesemilli - Like biscotti, except chewy and darker; lots of heny.
                                      Crustolle - The bow ties (except we make knots, or at Christmas, small wreaths)
                                      Although I am not Sicilian, cannoli with ricotta filling and puff cannoli with Italian custard
                                      My mom makes killer wine cookies ; great for dipping in wine and eating
                                      My MIL makes taralli, pizze, turdilli (Calabrese)
                                      Grandma used to make - pesche (look like peaches, custard filled)
                                      Liquor cake - AKA pane di spagna filled with custard and drizzled with rum and Archemes
                                      Homemade savoiardi cookies
                                      Pane di spagna - a denser vanilla cake with chocolate marble swirling
                                      Croccante - peanut/almond brittle made with honey
                                      Abbruzzese almonds - sugared almonds

                                      3 Replies
                                        1. re: MagnumWino

                                          Cannoli, pignoli cookies, strufoli...oh my!!! Yummm!!! My aunt makes the worlds greatest cannoli. I hope she makes them this year. Her pignoli cookies are hit or miss though. Even though I like it, my family was never big into the strufoli.

                                          I'm really surprised though that lobster tails are "new" to some people. I always thought they were an Italian bakery standard My mom always buys them for big events (my mom hasn't baked since I was 9 or 10). They're so huge that two people always shared one.

                                        2. re: itryalot

                                          I am familiar with, and genuinely enjoy, all of the cookies listed so far- but the ones I look forward to the most (and associate the most with the holidays) are the red wine cookies. One of my great-aunts is the keeper of the family secret on that particular item and they're just perfect- not too heavy, not too sweet, etc- my eyes light up every year whenever I see them. For whatever reason, you never see them from a bakery, but I just don't think it's Christmas without them.

                                        3. My mother-in-law made crescent shaped swedish cookies every Christmas. Trying to find the recipe later, knowing only that one ingredient was ammonium carbonate, I eventually found that they are known as "Dream Cookies" or Drommar. Their distinctive aroma and yummy taste evokes the holiday season for me. I know they're not Italian but I couldn't resist mentioning them.

                                          1. My post copied from the "What Christmas cookies are you baking this year?" thread.

                                            Pizzelle - as cookies and cannoli shells
                                            Orange and almond biscotti
                                            Anisette toast
                                            Biscotti Regina
                                            Lemon top cookies

                                            1. My Grandmother used to fry little pin wheel "cookies" made with red wine. Then they would be dipped in real thick (like paste) white honey and covered with nuts. They were kind of hard but delicious. They used to call them "crustos" or something like that. She was from the region of Apuglia. Does anyone have any idea what the real name of these are? They were tedious to make!

                                              1. I cannot get into the site :www.icsanmauroforte.it.carneva…
                                                to compare recipes for a long looked for Italian cookie like a fried ravioli filled with garbonzo beans, chestnuts etc.

                                                Thank you Chowhound for remembering me and my search for these cookies. E Carpino

                                                1. This is the 2nd time Cheese Boy gave the site: http://www.icsanmauroforte.it/carnevali. It says " server not found. Any help out there so I can find my fried ravioli, chestnut, garbonzo bean cookies? E Carpino Thank you so much

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: elvira carpino

                                                    Here's a forum with a recipe I think you want ... scroll down for pics and text. (You can bake OR fry these I guess?).

                                                    Ravioli dolci con ripieno di ceci e cioccolato
                                                    --> http://www.gennarino.org/forum/viewto...

                                                  2. My Italian friend makes these delicious "S cookies" yum!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: molomo

                                                      The ones with ground almond in it? We call them Aunt Sophie cookies!