Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Nonna Files

When I was little, I used to watch my grandmother cook. She didn’t write anything down, so neither did I. I thought I’d learned her recipes, kept them in the muscle memory of my hands.

I grew up, she passed away, I worked more and cooked less. One day I realized I couldn’t remember anymore.

I feared it was too late. But when I told her friends M and A my regret, I discovered they'd all shared recipes, and the friends had written them down. Now every week we pull out the card file, and I learn a new dish. Some were from my grandmother, some are M or A’s, and some were scrawled on the back of a paper plate during a party, source unknown. But each recipe, I assure you, is from someone’s Italian grandmother.

Lesson #1: Pizzelle

Sure, you can buy them in the market in those plastic boxes, but homemade is better. The only problem is that to make them at home, you need an iron to press out the cookies, and maybe you don’t want another very specialized appliance in your kitchen.

When I confessed to A that I’d always preferred her pizelle to my grandmother’s, she laughed because she uses my grandmother’s recipe. Here’s her secret: A doesn’t use a regular pizzelle iron, she uses an old Black Angus sandwich grill, which has an adjustable hinge height, so it doesn’t press as tight.

So if you like your pizzelle thin and light and crisp, and you have lots of storage space in your kitchen, get a pizzelle iron. But if you prefer a slightly denser cookie with a little more heft, you could experiment with a patterned sandwich press. Or you could search eBay for a Black Angus.

3 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
6 eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. anise extract

Sift flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then stir into dry ingredients. Add melted butter and extracts, and stir by hand until batter is smooth and glossy. Let batter rest for half an hour. While batter rests, heat up the iron, get it good and hot.

Put a little butter on a paper towel and grease the iron plates up well, then wipe of any excess. You only have to do this before you start pressing cookies; after the first batch, the butter in the batter will keep the plates lubed up.

Drop a teaspoon of batter into the center of each circle on the press, close it, and squeeze the handles together for about five seconds. Then let go and let cook for about 45 seconds. (Cook times will vary depending on your iron. Experiment with your first few batches, until you figure out how long it takes to achieve golden brown deliciousness.)

Carefully peel the cookies off the iron plates, using a table knife to protect your fingertips. Lay cookies flat on clean dish towels to cool. Once they’re cool, stack them and store in an airtight container.

While the pizzelle are right off the iron and still warm, they’re soft and malleable. If you’re so inclined and can work fast, twirl them into a cone shape or press them into a bowl, to serve ice cream.

1 comment:

ozeki91 said...


I am '91 Smithie and I have that same pizzelle iron which every time I plug it in with the '60's circa cord I feel like I am setting my house on fire. I make pizzelles in the same way that my Italian grandmother did and my kids love it. The store bought ones do not taste the same! Yeah for you!