Don’t tell me it is too early to start thinking about Christmas.
Sometimes, in order not to get caught up in the anxiety and thus spoil the festive atmosphere, a bit of organisation and bland planning are the only way to enjoy those days before Christmas, which otherwise always pass too fast. I’m not talking about buying gifts for everyone in August, or deciding on the Christmas day menu when outside the cicadas are still chirping. I mean planning ahead all those little activities that can be done weeks – or even months – in advance, dedicating a few minutes, and thoughts, to the people that are important to us.
The secret is planning ahead
In winter, around February, I make the candied citrus peels which I will later use to concoct my panforte in December (but you could use them also in the Easter colomba, or in the panettone, if only I had the guts to try the more complex sourdough festive baking challenge). Small investment big return: once you start using them, you can’t go back. Reduce the food waste using the orange peels, after you ate the fruit, and turn them into homemade candied peels with time, patience and sugar. And as a bonus, you’ll have a festive orange smell lingering in the kitchen for days.
From season to season, I make jams, marmalades, preserves, baby artichokes in oil, liqueurs and pickled vegetables. I store part of the jars in my pantry as a staple ingredient, while a few jars will later become a Christmas gift, paired with cookies or chocolate, based on the tastes of those who will receive them.
In September, it is time to bake the Christmas cake.
Rich in nuts and candied fruits, it is an English cake that has been part of my family traditions for some years now. From week to week, I feed it with brandy, or whisky, inhaling its spiced smell, anticipating the moment when I will finally bite into it, surrounded by friends and relatives, with the Christmas tree lights shimmering in a dark room and the smell of icing sugar lingering in the air. This year I baked a Christmas cake for us, plus six little ones to give to those who love traditional bold flavours.
During the year, I collect tags, ribbons, stickers, wooden clips, twines and decorations. I keep them, neatly organised, in a red box that is my pride. At any moment, I know I have a few jars in the pantry and everything I need to make them festive, to celebrate the moment, be it a Christmas party with colleagues, a birthday or a dinner at a friends’ house where you don’t want to show up empty-handed. Tiger and Ikea are a great resource for these decorations.
All of this, it does not make me anxious, quite the contrary.
I spend happy hours slicing the orange peel to make marmalade, pitting the apricots in the summer for jam, cleaning paper bags full of baby artichokes or choosing the cookies to bake. I think about who will receive them and I thoroughly enjoy that moment of peace that I grant myself in the kitchen. It is a safe space where I can create, express myself and give love through food.
When Christmas comes, the large part of the work is done, and I can try to live those bright December days with a more relaxed spirit, thinking about what really matters, the time I spend with the people I love.
Christmas Cookie Swap 2019
This year we managed to organise the Cookie Swap quite in advance, compared to the last time, in 2017. Two years ago, we had more than 70 participants, from Italy, Canada, France, Hungary, from England and the United States. We hope to be able to reach, and perhaps surpass, the number of participants of 2017: help us by sharing the initiative, so that in the days before Christmas there will be many little parcels of cookies travelling around Italy, Europe, and the whole world, bringing a smile and some sweetness to those who will receive them.
How does it work?
You just give us your address, we match you with two more people from your country and before Christmas you will receive two parcels of Christmas cookies. We will activate the Cookie Swap in a country when we reach two participants. The only request is to participate only if you know you can respect the time schedule, so that everyone will receive the cookies and won’t be disappointed just a few days before Christmas.
Some practical information. The 2019 Cookie Swap time schedule
- Subscribe to our Cookie Swap within Friday the 29th of November 2019. Do subscribe, just fill out this form.
- On Monday, December the 2nd we will send you your matches: you will receive the addresses of two people who will later receive your cookies. Bake cookies that can travel easily, and if possible choose typical local cookies, and let us know something about them.
- You have time until December the 11th to ship the cookies to grant that your matches will receive your parcel before Christmas. Once you receive the cookies, enjoy them with your favourite tea or hot chocolate. If you want to share the cookies you received, use the hashtags #cookieswap2019 #julskitchen.
- Share the recipe of your cookies on your blog or on Instagram in the week of December the 16th and send us a link to it within December the 20th. (If you do not have a blog or an Instagram account, don’t worry, you’re still welcome to participate in the Cookie Swap!).
- On December 21st we will share a post with a round up of all the participants and their recipes, so that you will have lots of ideas to bake some last minute edible gifts.
It is open to every country with at least two participants. Are you ready to share some Christmas magic?
15 Christmas cookie recipes
Choose the cookies you like the best, the ones that tell something about you and your country, or region, or town, or even your family. If you’re looking for inspiration, though, here you can find some Christmas cookie recipes from the blog archive.
- Dried fruit biscuits. These cookies are bursting with dried fruit and candied orange. These are delicate and tempting biscuits perfect to be served with ice cream, tea, chocolate, dessert wines… and most of all, you won’t believe how easy they are.
- Calzoncelli. Small bites of chocolate and almond heaven, with a gentle hint of lemon peel. The outer shell, even if it has to be as thin as you can make it, almost transparent, has an important role in the taste balance, because it is made with olive oil and white wine, becomes brittle and golden when baked, preserving a moist filling.
- Hazelnut, barley and cocoa cookies. This is a cookie meant to double the pleasure of the coffee and to break the silent pause with a crunching noise. The coffee, though, is supposed to remain the main character, so you need just a simple not too sweet cookie to enhance the roasted notes of coffee: hazelnut, cocoa and barley flour, nothing else is required.
- Chestnut flour and chocolate drop biscotti. I slightly changed the original cantuccini recipe, trying to make them mirror the amazing colours and flavours of autumn. I chose the chestnut flour, so sweet, and a whole oat flour. Just to bring these biscotti a step further in the scale of indulgence, I stirred in a generous handful of 70% dark chocolate drops, strong and slightly bitter.
- Pear shortbread cookies. This biscuit similar to the classic shortbread, buttery and full-flavoured; the filling is fruity and delicate. The dusting of icing sugar evokes images of the first snow during the winter mornings. At breakfast time, open the window and let a little light in, make yourself a nice cup of coffee and enjoy with a couple of these biscuits: the day’s off to a wonderful start.
- Occhi di bue. Occhi di bue are a reassuring constant in any pastry shop, bar or bakery counter in Italy. They’ve always been there, since I can remember. I am recently hooked by the charm of the ordinary, the genuine flavour of home food: occhi di bue represent this authentic taste, just a bite and you are taken back to childhood and to those grand cookies, three-time the size of the average biscotti.
- Dried apricot and white chocolate biscotti. This version of Tuscan cantuccini is softer and chewer: they are equally perfect when dipped in Vin Santo – our dessert wine – but they can also be enjoyed on their own, in the morning or during the afternoon tea, after a meal or as a midnight sneak. They can be stored for days in a tin box or in an airtight container.
- Panforte bites. I took the classic panforte recipe and played some magic: not just the traditional almonds but also pistachios and walnuts, plus I replaced the orange and citron candied peel with raisins, cranberries, apricots and dried figs.
- Sfratti di Pitigliano, walnut and honey Jewish cookies. The sfratti are the typical walnut and honey pastries of Pitigliano, still baked and sold in the bakeries and pastry shops of the village. They have the shape of a stick, a filling of chopped walnuts, honey, spices and orange peel covered with a thin unleavened pastry dough.
- Tuscan biscotti with pistachios and white chocolate. Not only almonds are added to the Pratesi biscuits, but, depending on the occasion, also hazelnuts (and dark chocolate, something worth trying) or pistachios and white chocolate. This is perhaps my favourite combination, elegant, refined and simply irresistible. Along with a strong coffee or black tea, but also alone, as a mid-morning or afternoon snack, they can take the edge off your hunger and sweet-tooth cravings.
- Ricciarelli. Ricciarelli are almond sweets typical of Siena, covered with icing sugar, with a soft heart that melts in your mouth, fresh and moist, characterized by the piercing smell of bitter almonds. They are precious and delicate, yet so simple to make. Bake a bath of ricciarelli for almond lovers, for those who would love to spend some time in Siena walking along the Medieval streets, for those who need a gluten free treat.
- Almond and rice flour lemon cookies. Soft, almost melting, characterised by a subtle lemon flavour which I exalted covering them with a thin glaze made of icing sugar and lemon juice. The contrast of sugar and lemon in a cookie has the power to surprise you every time, seduces you and prevents you from stopping at the first cookie, or at the second one.
- Mead and dried fig cookies. In 30 minutes you can have a box of biscuits scented with honey and dried figs, one of those cookies you usually indulge on during holidays, when calories don’t count. Carve out 10 minutes for yourself, relax and enjoy a cookie in silence. Then collect all the crumbs with a finger, lick it, do not leave anything behind. You’ll be ready to go again.
- Wine and olive oil cookies. They are the easiest cookies I have ever done, fun to mix and shape. The recipe calls just for very few ingredients that you can always easily find at home, you can customise them as you prefer, adding spices and nuts, and, moreover, they are suitable for those who are lactose intolerant, not to mention that they are really fun to make for children.
- Cavallucci. These Tuscan Christmas cookies are not nice to see nor colourful cool or chic… they are round, a bit flat on the edges and dusted with flour. When I was young, mum used to bring home a white paper bag from San Gimignano, full of cavallucci, a gift from my Grandad. For me, they still taste like Christmas.
I’m back with the collection of links, interesting articles, podcasts and books that I collected during the week, and that somehow made me stop, interrupting the idle flow of the feeds to read something thought-provoking, and well written.
- Online, no one knows you’re poor. This caused me goosebumps. Written by Shauna James Ahern for The Guardian, it is excerpted from her Enough: Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It, the next book on my reading list. Over and over, I saw that what my fellow recipe developers and I hashed out to make ourselves relevant – Vegan treats for the whole family! How to use hempseed! – was not being made in most homes. It humbled me.
- It’s so much more than cooking. Have you ever considered all the activities that are included in the simple, and apparently harmful task of making dinner? We talk about recipes, and eating, and sometimes about cleanup, but we don’t discuss all of the other labor, both physical and mental, that’s bundled into the single word “cooking.”
- Amaro di Sant’Antimo. At an abbey in the Tuscan countryside, monks specialise in a curative, flower-based liqueur. If you have the chance, you should really include the Sant’Antimo abbey in your travel list, and not just for the liqueur.