There's Christmas music on the radio, the husband is cursing as he tries to untangle the Christmas lights and I just finished cleaning the oven. LET THE BAKING.....BEGIN!!!
I love baking, especially at Christmas time. There's just something about that marathon baking session, arranging platters of cookies, wrapping other confectionary treats and giving them all away that just makes me happy. And there is one recipe that gets things rolling for me every single year - Chocolate Italian Spice Cookies. Little balls of chocolate cookie, spiked with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, studded with chocolate chips and walnuts and finally drizzled with a simple white icing. The smell of cocoa and spices epitomize the Christmas season, in a culinary sort of way.
I've posted my complete recipe over on Grouprecipes.com. If you want to give these a whirl, go here:
Otherwise, I'm not going to bother with the exact quantities here - I'll just run through the visual with you.
You'll want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then in a LARGE bowl combine your dry ingredients - flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
I like to whisk them to smoosh up any lumps.
...and mix all of those together.
While you have the oil out, pour a few drops into a small saucer or bowl. This way you can dip your fingers in the oil as needed when you are working with the balls of dough. Otherwise, things could get a bit sticky!
Roll up your sleeves and start working the dough with your hands, making sure to lightly oil them as necessary. Just knead and fold the dough over, pressing the moistened dough into the dry portions, until it comes together in one big lump. Don't give up! This might take a few minutes, but when it comes together it does so quickly.
...and you can stop swearing at me. Seriously, the "oiling of the hands" tip will save you a lot of the headaches I endured over the years, perfecting this recipe.
WHICH, by the way, I did not create from scratch myself. When I was in high school, my sister and her best friend finagled the basics of this recipe from her friend's Italian grandmother. They are the ones who translated the "pile of flour, scoop of sugar and a big handful of cocoa" into actual measurements. I might have tweaked the spices and made a couple minor changes, but this is really but a variation of what Susan and Candy created.
Candy's grandmother would tell you to "roll into balls the size of a walnut". I'd say that's about right, if your walnuts are about 1 1/2" in diameter. You could go 2", but just remember that these will rise ever so slightly while baking. Continue oiling your hands as needed - just a drop or two will do - as you roll the dough into balls.
Place the balls on a lightly greased (and in my case, soon to be replaced) cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart, bake for about 10 minutes and let cool for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
Here's what the unbaked dough looks like in comparison to the freshly baked ones...
When the cookies are completely cooled, mix together the confectioner's sugar, milk and vanilla to make a thin icing.
You can dip the tops of the cookies in the icing if you like, but I like the look of drizzled icing. For easy clean-up, place a sheet of waxed paper under your wire rack to catch the run off...or just lick your countertop clean, whichever you prefer. Let it sit until the icing is dry, then store in an airtight container. These cookies also freeze beautifully - just lay them flat in a Ziploc bag and freeze. They'll thaw nicely in a few hours in the fridge, or even quicker at room temperature.