Little Italian sugar cookies perfect for new year baking.
Happy new year! We spent the first day of 2020 eating morning buns from the Bovine Bakery and walking up to Divide Meadow in the Point Reyes National Seashore, the kind of thing that always seemed like a dream when we were living overseas but which now is deliciously ordinary (well — “ordinary” when your kids are six and three. But we survived and even had a wonderful lunch at Stellina afterward.). After a happily busy holiday season it was wonderful to get out in the damp sea air and climb fallen trees and throw sticks into rain-swollen streams.
Now it’s back to the routine of school and faster mornings; I do miss the slow rise to get coffee and make breakfast and leaving pajamas on as long as we pleased (a perk of working from home) but we make up for it in the afternoons. After school there is a lot of play, a lot of books, and the occasional tea party. For the first day back after the break I made a batch of befanini cookies, which I can describe best as soft, butter-free, lightly sweet Italian sugar cookies. I rolled out the dough and the girls cut out shapes and decorated them with sprinkles before baking.
This recipe comes by way of the food writer Emiko Davies, although there are others online, some that do call for butter and I may try one of those eventually. What I like about these cookies is that the dough is a bit sturdier than some of the sugar cookies we made for our cookie boxes, and doesn’t feel quite as sticky (I love sugar cookies but rather loathe the cutting-out). I will note that the cookies are best eaten the day they are made, although you could probably stretch it to another day.
Does the world need more cookies after we’ve just gotten through the season of eating copious amounts? Probably not but who am I to say? Anyway they make a lovely project for when it’s too chilly or rainy to venture outside for long and surely would make a nice mid-winter gift for teachers or neighbors. I like that they’re not too sweet and, freshly baked, are a beautifully pillowy cookie that’s hard to resist. We decorated them simply with sprinkles but you could also do a simple colored sugar icing.
Is it too soon to mention I’m ready for spring? I won’t — but please know I’m thinking about it already, if only so I can make some of the enticing recipes on Davies’ site, including this one for an “Easter Colomba”. Also I have a lot of flower seeds I’m eager to plant and a small vegetable garden to attempt. And we’ll definitely drag the picnic table under the apple trees this year and eat lunches out there … yes, I’m definitely ready. Only a few more months to go!
I translated this recipe into cups to make it easier for an American audience but please refer to the original for measurements in weights.
Makes about 24-48 cookies depending on the size you cut them.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 organic lemon
A splash of milk, if needed (I needed it)
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a wide bowl and make a ‘well’ in the center. Crack 3 of the eggs (save one for glazing) into the middle, along with the lemon zest. With a fork, begin beating from the center outwards, incorporating the dry ingredients slowly into the eggs until you have a thick dough. If it is a bit dry or crumbly, add a splash of milk to loosen so that you have a soft but not sticky compact dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes. It is easiest to work in batches, so cut the dough in half and keep one half wrapped and chilled until you finish the first half.
Heat oven toe 350ºF. Roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to a thickness of about 1/4-inch. Use a cookie cutter to cut out your favorite shapes. When ready to bake, crack the reserved egg and beat in a bowl. With a pastry brush, glaze the tops of the cookies with the egg and decorate with colored sprinkles.
Place in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and lightly golden on top. Let cool and serve or store in an airtight container, though preferably not more than a day or two.