With all the kneading, shaping, rolling, cutting of the last few weeks, these Ricotta Cookies are a nice change of pace. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a drop cookie. Sure, the frosting is an extra step, but guess what? They’re good without the frosting too! If you’re looking for something a little different this year, this sixth installment of #TwelveDaysofSanta has just the cookie for you–Frosted Ricotta Cookies (aka Italian Christmas Cookies)–straight from an Italian-American grandmother somewhere in Northern California.
Growing up in an Italian-American family, Christmas was a big deal, as you can imagine. Every year, the Christmas Ravioli were prepared on Christmas Eve in anticipation of the big Christmas Day feast. The whole family gathered at Nona Mary’s house to partake in all sorts of merrymaking and gift exchanging. On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, we celebrated what we called “Little Christmas,” but to a lesser extent than the big day (ie, no gifts). As a child I often wondered why call it “Little Christmas” if gifts weren’t involved! But as it turns out, in Italy, what we called “Little Christmas” or the Feast of the Epiphany was, in fact, the bigger celebration when compared to Christmas.
That’s not to say there is no Santa Claus in Italy–for sure, some folks do recognize Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) as the gift bringer on Christmas Day; however, for most, La Befana is the iconic character who brings gifts to children on Epiphany Eve. According to legend, the Biblical Magi (Three Wise Men) stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask for directions. She took them in, fed them, then sent them on their way. In deciding to follow them in search of the Baby Jesus, she lost her way, and each year on the 11th night La Befana flies around on her broomstick in search of Baby Jesus, leaving toys and sweets for good children and candied coal for the bad ones. Similar to Santa, she arrives down the chimney, however, she uses her broom to sweep up after herself. It is custom for children to leave a glass of wine and some treats for La Befana to rejuvenate her on her journey.
Perhaps Befana could use a boost from these delicious ricotta cookies–after all, they have ricotta in them, so they must be good for you! Plus, they’re quite lovely with a glass of wine. I love the cake-like texture, and the ricotta cheese gives them a unique taste–almost like fresh milk. Best of all, there’s lots of room here for tinkering. I can imagine using almond extract instead of vanilla, and maybe tossing in some sliced almonds to add a little crunch. I have a feeling the possibilities are endless with this one. This particular recipe was adapted from Mamma Mia! Favorite Recipes of the Italian Catholic Federation, which my local ICF put out a few years ago.
First, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla, until light and fluffy. Then mix in the ricotta and egg.
Sift together the dry ingredients, then slowly incorporate into the ricotta mixture until completely blended.
Drop by the rounded teaspoon full on a greased baking sheet.
Bake until just golden, then transfer to wire racks for cooling.
While the cookies are cooling, make the frosting–basically toss all the frosting ingredients in your mixer bowl, and blend until it reaches a spreading consistency.
Frost the cookies, and immediately decorate with sprinkles or sugar.
Tastes great with a tall glass of milk (or wine)!
Ooops! I think Befana was here!
Here’s the printer friendly version:
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp butter, softened
- 1½ – 2 cups powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 1½ – 2 tbsp milk
- Colored sprinkles/sugars for decoration
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla, until light and fluffy.
- Add the ricotta and the egg, mixing well.
- Meanwhile, sift together the baking soda, salt, and flour. Then slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the butter/cheese mixture. Blend well.
- Drop dough by the rounded teaspoon on a greased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown.
- Cool on wire racks.
- Once the cookies are all baked, prepare the frosting. In a large mixer bowl, cream the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla, adding enough milk until the frosting reaches a good spreading consistency.
- Frost the cooled cookies and immediately decorate with the sprinkles/colored sugar.
- Best kept stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
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