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~ Mrs. Prizzi's Cookies (Italian Celebration Cookies) ~

6a0120a8551282970b0147e0738485970bIt was the Christmas of 1981.  Joe and I were newlyweds and this was my first holiday with Joe's family.   Joe's mother and her brother Stan, lived in Jessup, PA (very close to Scranton).  "Aunt" Theresa (Uncle Stan's fiancee of 25+ years) served her mother's cookies for dessert.  I can only describe these sublime 3"-round confections as:  subtly vanilla-flavored, puffy, soft-centered "cookie-cakes", drizzled with a silky-smooth pink-colored vanilla-flavored sugar glaze and topped with a sprinkling of crunchy sugar crystals.  I had never tasted anything like them, and after eating at least six, I was disappointed to learn that no formal recipe for them existed.

Theresa explained she watched her mother make them many times each year as everytime there was a family holiday or neighborhood celebration of any sort (weddings, christenings, funerals) her mom was always specifically asked to make her "celebration" cookies.  Theresa went on to tell me her mother (Mrs. Prizzi) would simply:  "Trow (the Scrantonian word for throw) a pound of flour on the kitchen table, add about half as much sugar, some baking powder, a touch of vanilla extract and then "cut in" a pound of Spry (a brand of solid shortening similar to Crisco).  Then, Theresa added, "she trows in some eggs, the biggest ones she can find, one at a time, until the surface of the dough is smooth, shiny and slippery".  I made mental note of every instruction. 

6a0120a8551282970b0154383f535b970cAbout a week later, Joe arrived home from the office to find a tray of Mrs. Prizzi's cookies on our kitchen counter.  He asked me where I got them.  I told him, "I 'trew' a pound of flour on the kitchen table, added about half as much sugar, some baking powder and  cut in some Crisco.  Then I trew in some eggs, until the surface of the dough got shiny!!!"  You might think I am making a joke here, but that is exactly what I did.  Well, after about three more tries, I perfected the recipe using precise weights and measures, tweeking the amounts of baking powder and vanilla extract to achieve their airy texture and subtle flavor.  In her last years, Theresa often proudly told me she thought my cookies were even better than her mothers.  These cookies, fondly referred to as Mrs. Prizzi's Cookies, are indeed a Preschutti family favorite.

To date, I have never come across a recipe for this particular type of frosted Italian wedding/celebration cookie as delicious as these.  Most of the versions I have tried, seem to be quite small, crunchy throughout in texture and are topped with a thick, spreadable frosting... sadly, most of these seemed bland and tasteless to me after eating Mrs. Prizzi's.  The versions with a similar softness use ricotta cheese, which produces chewy, rather than crumbly cake-like, cookies that tend to get sticky and gummy in texture after a day or two.  Don't get me wrong, they are delicious (I make them myself), they are just not the same.  Like the smaller, crunchy versions, Mrs. Prizzi's Cookies have a long shelf-life and get better with each and every day.  What makes these so special is, even after a week or two, they still retain their soft cake-like center.  So you ask, what makes me a self-professed authority on the subject of Italian cookies?

Tabletop 3I grew up in the coal regions of Pennsylvania, where the cookie table is traditional, and is a particularly big deal at wedding receptions.  Folks in and from the The Steel City (Pittsburgh) get touchy on this subject, as they think they invented the cookie table, but  truthfully, they didn't.  It a tradition in parts of New York, Ohio, the Virginias and New Jersey too, and, no one person or place can claim it their invention, .  Wherever you have blue-collar, primarily Catholic or Orthodox immigrants (Italians, Irish, Greeks and Eastern Europeans) gathering to celebrate just about anything, a cookie table is a given.  Don't roll your eyes darlin', most of these cookie tables are planned and mapped out months in advance of the celebration at hand and impress the pants off the snootiest of food snobs.   I'll be sharing a lot of these delightful and diverse ethnic cookie recipes with you in the future, but I wanted to start with this very unique and special one. 

Do as the Italians do:  dip these delicious cookies in your coffee for a breakfast treat or your red wine for an after dinner delight!

Theresa's Cookies #3 (Ingredients) For the cookies:

1 1/2  pounds unbleached, all-purpose flour, weighed on a kitchen scale

8  ounces sugar, weighed on a kitchen scale

2  tablespoons baking powder

1/2  teaspoon salt

1  pound butter-flavored vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2" slices or pieces

2  tablespoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

8  jumbo eggs

Theresa's Cookies #4 (Glaze Ingredients) For the glaze:

1  pound confectioners' (powdered) sugar

2  tablespoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1/2  cup milk, more or less, until desired consistency is reached

1-2-3  drops liquid food coloring, color of your choice, I use red to produce a pink glaze

colored sugar crystals, for sprinkling over tops of cookies

Theresa's Cookies #5 (Mixing Cookie Ingredients) ~ Step 1.  Using a kitchen scale, weigh and measure the flour and sugar.  Place in a large mixing bowl along with the baking powder, salt, shortening and vanilla extract.

Using a pastry blender and a sharp paring knive, "cut" the shortening into the flour/sugar mixture, until the mixtures has a very coarse, grainy texture.

Do not overwork this mixture.  Error on the side of doing less.  This process should only take about one minute!

Theresa's Cookies #6 (Adding the Eggs) ~ Step 2.  Using one hand, start working the eggs into the mixture one at a time.  Trust me:  you will not get the same result if you use a rubber spatula or a spoon.  This was a double-yolk egg!

I'll be using 8 jumbo eggs because Theresa told me her mother used the "biggest eggs she could find."  I have baked these cookies successfully using smaller eggs, but you'll need more of them... 10-12 large eggs.

Theresa's Cookies #7 (Eggs Added)~ Step 3.  Using your hands, continue to blend in the eggs, one at a time, making sure that each one is incorporated before adding the next. 

If you are doing this for the first time, you are going to be as surprised as I was to learn that just as Theresa described:

When you add the last one, the surface of the dough will become smooth, shiny and slippery... it happens every time!

Theresa's Cookies #8 (Placing Cookies on Pan)~ Step 4.  I am using 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans lined with parchment paper sheets along with a 2 1/2" x 1 3/4" oval-shaped ice cream scoop as a measure.  I place 12 cookies, well-apart on each pan.  You can use any size pan you want, but make sure the cookies are placed well-apart.  Do not flatten the ovals. 

Theresa's Cookies #9 (All out of Oven)~ Step 5.  Bake each pan of cookies on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 12-13 minutes.  Cookies will be just beginning to brown, soft, puffy and set.  You will have 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

Using a metal spatula, immediately transfer to cooling rack(s) to cool completely.

Note:  Because the cookies will be glazed after they cool, I place my cooling rack(s) over two layers of paper towels to catch the drips.  Be certain the cookies have cooled completely before glazing them, about 1-2 hours.

Theresa's Cookies #9 (Glaze Mixed) ~ Step 6.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the glaze except for the food coloring.  Stir constantly until thoroughly combined.  The mixture should be smooth and somewhat thin, but if you want the glaze to be thicker, use a little less milk, that is fine with me (but not with Mrs. Prizzi).  Add and stir in the food coloring, one drop at a time, until desired color is reached.  My pastel pink color comes from 2 drops.

Theresa's Cookies #11 (Dipping Tops) ~ Step 7.  Invert and dip the top of each cookie into the glaze, just deep enough to coat 3/4 of the top surface of each cookie.  Remove from the glaze and allow excess glaze to drizzle back into the bowl.  Return each cookie to the rack, where they will continue to "drip".  After you have dipped a series of 6-8 cookies, sprinkle the tops of them evenly with the sugar crystals.

Theresa's Cookies #12 (Dripping Cookies) ~ Step 8.  Allow the cookies to remain on cooling rack until the frosting dries and hardens, about 3-4 hours or overnight.

Store cookies in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper, in a cool dry place for up to 2 weeks.  Once the frosting hardens, the tops will stay firm and pretty as long as they are stored in a cool place.

Theresa's Cookies #15 (Finished Fullpan Shot)

Mrs. Prizzi's Cookies (Italian Celebration Cookies):  Recipe yields 3 1/2 dozen large, gourmet, bakery-style cookies.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; pastry blender; sharp paring knife; 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" parchment paper sheets; 2-3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks or one full-sheet-pan size cooling rack (as seen in above pictures); paper towels; 2 1/2" x 1 3/4" oval-shaped ice cream scoop; metal spatula; 1-2 air-tight food storage containers; wax paper

Cook's Note:  If you do not have the 4 baking pans, make sure whatever pan you have is cooled completely between batches.  Rinse the pan under cold water if necessary to bring it back to temperature.  If you place the raw cookie dough on a warm or slightly-warm pan, the cookies will flatten out and you will have missed this fantastic cookie experience!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)


Donna! 1 1/2 cups of flour = 5 cups (+ 2 tablespoons to be safe). That being said, when I bake, especially a recipe like this one which depends heavily on flour, I like the security of knowing I'm putting the same amount in each and every time! Enjoy the cookies!

About how much is a 1 1/2 pound of flour in cup measurment? I don't have a kitchen scale.

Dear Italian Cookies, these really are as delicious as they look... the cookies melt in your mouth. It is a GREAT recipe to let have your children help with, so have lots of fun! Happy Holidays!

I could almost eat the entire batch. They look absolutely delicious. I love the glaze used on top of each cookie. I wanna try this as soon as possible. I'm sure the kids'll bbe excited to help too.

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