Canestrelli cookies are a little bit like shortbread but lighter, with more of a crunch, and a more in-depth flavour. These Christmas cookies are from Italy’s Liguria region, and are buttery tasting with delicious lemon fragrance evident in every bite. You will want to add these Italian cookies to this year’s Christmas baking or holiday baking plans.
Flower shaped cookies with hole in the middle are a perfect afternoon tea cookie. It’s a tasty treat with a morning cup of coffee or cup of tea. The flower shape is distinctive and traditional Italian Christmas cookies are ideal for the holiday season too. This will be a wonderful addition to your holiday cookie trays.
A Surprise Ingredient in Canestrelli Cookies
Canestrelli cookies are crumbly and the icing sugar on top means you have to take care when eating them! Unless you want to end up wearing it, that is. These cookies are traditionally flower-shaped so you can recognize them easily. But just guess what the surprise ingredient is. It’s something you wouldn’t usually find in cookies of any kind. And the answer is …hard-boiled egg yolks! These help give the canestrelli cookies their typical texture and a wonderfully rich finish.
Although lemon zest is the typical citrus flavour used when making these Christmas cookies, orange or even lime zest would also work. So get creative with your Christmas baking and maybe try more than one version. This is one of the nicest things to come out of northern Italy.
You can make the dough for this canestrelli recipe ahead and it keeps for a day or so in the refrigerator. If you do this, bring it back to room temperature before rolling, so it rolls out smoothly. That’s handy to know if you want to make Ligurian canestrelli in advance to save time later.
When baked, these cookies will keep fresh for 2 or 3 weeks in an airtight container. If you don’t have a food processor, a stand mixer also works well here.
What Does ‘Canestrelli’ Mean?
The name of these Christmas cookies is Italian (of course!) and translates to mean little baskets. This refers to the baskets which were traditionally used to let the cookies cool down after baking. Today we use wire racks. And we also have food processors to make life a little easier and ensure the delicious canestrelli come out perfectly.
According to legend, these cookies were first created over 500 years ago in Torriglia. That is a little village close to Genova. Back in the Middle Ages, these cookies were often used as a gift on festive occasions. Whenever there was a religious feast or a wedding, a canestrelli recipe would make their anticipated appearance and everyone would see their characteristic flower-shape and know instantly what this treat was!
Traditional Italian Cookies
The Ligurian version of these Italian hard-boiled egg yolk cookies is usually pale and flower-shaped. The pale colour is important so keep an eye on them in the oven during the final few minutes of holiday baking. Golden brown isn’t what we are going for here with Italian egg yolk cookies.
Often there are other varieties of authentic Italian recipes, and that is true for this cookie. One is the hard, waffle-shaped type from Piedmont. Another is made by sandwiching a pair of thin chocolate wafers with chocolate hazelnut cream. Although very different, they also come under the broad canestrelli definition. We are making the original Ligurian version however. Many would argue that’s the best for Christmas baking because the shape and flavour are well known and eagerly anticipated every year.
Tips for Perfect Christmas Cookies
It is important to use softened butter in this recipe but that doesn’t mean melted. Mixing melted butter with the other ingredients means your cookies won’t keep their shape. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator until it is well chilled. This means your canestrelli cookies will have the right texture. If they’re too soft they will spread over the baking sheet before they are cooked. Then your flowers will look – well, a bit less like flowers!
In the same vein, knead the dough quickly and briefly. Too much kneading will warm the dough too much. Some people like to knead it a piece at a time, because it’s easier this way.
When removing the dough from the cookie cutter, use a spoon handle to help you and push it out gently. Put it straight on to the prepared cookie sheet. After baking, make sure they are completely cool before dusting them with powdered sugar. Tips like this always help with Christmas baking, especially if you’re new to these types of Christmas cookies! And these old fashioned Italian Christmas cookies are definitely worth making around Christmas time.
Italian Canestrelli Cookies Recipe
Italian Canestrelli Cookies
- Hard boil eggs and let cool. Remove shell, separate the white from yolk. Mash the yolk only with a fork. Set aside.
- In a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, corn starch and the lemon zest. Then add the butter and vanilla. Process briefly, and then add the egg yolk. Process until combined.
- Place on a lightly floured surface and knead until combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 325° degrees F. Prepare baking sheets and line with parchment.
- Remove dough from fridge, and divide into two pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1 centimeter thickness. Cut with a small to medium size flower cookie cutter.
- Use a straw or a small round cookie cutter to make a hole in the middle of the flower. Place cut out flowers on prepared cookie sheets and bake for approximately 12 to14 minutes. Note: the number of cookies this recipe makes will vary depending on the size of the cookie cutters you use.
- Remove cookies from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before you move to wire racks to cool. Dust with powdered sugar.
The nutrition information provided are only estimates based on an online nutritional calculator. I am not a certified nutritionist. Please consult a professional nutritionist or doctor for accurate information and any dietary restrictions and concerns you may have.
This is one holiday baking recipe you don’t have to be careful with, when it comes to the powdered sugar. In fact, some would say the more the better! There is no such thing as over-sugaring these finished canestrelli cookies. The soft blanket of powdered sugar certainly adds to their appeal! And who cares if they’re messy to eat. Italian Christmas cookie recipes are so worth it!
If you are thinking about making canestrelli cookies as a gift, that’s a great holiday baking idea. These cookies don’t take long to make. Even beginner home bakers will find it to be a straightforward cookie recipe. What’s even better is you can thread string or decorative ribbon through the holes in the middle for a cute presentation.
Let me know if you try these canestrelli cookies for your holiday baking this season, if you pair them with afternoon tea in place of classic shortbread cookies or make canestrelli biscuits as a gift or for the family.
Other Recipes to Try
Bella Bucchiotti of xoxoBella is a storyteller, food lover, dog mom and adventure seeker living on the Pacific coast. She shares her passion for recipes, dogs, sustainability, adventures, travel and philanthropy, in hopes of encouraging followers to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places and stand for a cause. Bella lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.
Bella Bucchiotti is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer for MSN and the Associated Press Wire.