Friday, August 26, 2005


In Italy, there's a thin, crispy cookie baked on an iron much like a waffle iron, only the patterns are different. Some are geometric and some are floral, some hold family crests, others are more fanciful still. The most common pizzelle iron in America is the simple floral one, available either as a single or double iron. Sometimes, the plates can be reversed so it may also be used as a regular waffle iron.

These cookies can be served flat, dipped in chocolate in various creative ways, with or without nuts. They can be rolled into cornucopias and filled with cream, dipped in chocolates topped with nuts. Or they can be rolled into tubes, and filled, dipped, topped. Or they can be rolled into cones and filled with gelato or ice cream or even have cake baked in them. Or they can be molded over shallow bowls and filled with ice cream, or pudding, or fruit and whipped cream.

They are altogether versatile cookies.

Most commonly, they are flavored with anise, but I have a special fondness for them flavored with almond.

This is because my introduction to this cookie wasn't through Italy, but through a medieval cookbook called the Goode Huswife's Jewel. That recipe called for baking small cakes on a hot iron. I had a pizzelle iron. And that was my first wafer cookie.

Pizelles themselves have an interesting history. According to legend, a small village in Italy called Colcullo was overrun by snakes around 700 BCE. The villagers appealed to Apollo for help. His advice was to capture the snakes, drape them around his statue and release them. The domesticated snakes would never bother the villagers. This worked, so each year, they they held a festival called Festival of the Snake, where they sold sweet cookies embossed with a picture of Apollo enveloped by live snakes. At some point, Apollo became Saint Domenica and fireworks were added to the festival, but they still drape snakes around the statue and haul it through town to release the snakes into the wild - and they still serve embossed wafer cookies.

I don't know how their popularity spread through Italy, though. I do know that similar cookies were baked in Scandinavia called Lukken, and Norway has a cookie called a krumkake that is also thin, crisp, and baked on an iron, and Germany has its own Wafflekekse.

All these cookies are thick doughs pressed between two heated ornamental iron plates and baked until crisp and browned.

I want to make some pizzelles this weekend. I'll post pictures for you then.

In the meantime, here's a scaled down version of one of my favorite pizzelle recipes, adapted from that old English recipe. I substituted baking powder for the hartshorn, which is a very difficult to find ingredient if you don't hunt, but otherwise it's still a similar cookie to one you'd have found in the 1500's.

1 cup butter
6 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 ½ cups flour
2 - 3 teaspoons flavoring extract (anise, vanilla, almond – I prefer almond)
1 cup chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans

Cream the butter, then add eggs singly. Beat in the sugar and liquid flavoring. Mix the baking powder and flour and stir in. It will make a thick dough. Put a heaping tablespoon (or whatever size is needed to fill your pizzelle iron – mine’s large so a tablespoon is the right size, but the small ones can only handle 1 teaspoon full). Sprinkle on a few chopped nuts. Close the iron and let it cook – usually 40-60 seconds. Makes at least 30 pizzelles.

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