Angela DeSalvo and Anna Romano set out to search for authentic classic Italian cookie recipes after receiving numerous requests for them from their Nonna’s Way blog readers. Their journey brought them into many kitchens where they had the opportunity to meet and chat with nonnas (grandmothers), and learn first-hand the recipes and how-to techniques to make Italian cookies. Of course, nonnas don't follow recipes nor do they have any specific quantities written down (those of you who had the opportunity to cook or bake with your grandmothers can relate), so Angela and Anna fine-tuned these recipes before capturing them in their first self-published cookbook, Nonna’s Way: A Collection of Classic Italian Cookie Recipes.
Self-publishing can be quite an undertaking, so I asked Angela and Anna whey they chose to go that route.
Liliana: Why did you choose to self-publish?
Angela & Anna: As a new foray into the world of blogging, we felt we were too young and not so well known for publishers to want to pick us up.
With that said, we were getting a lot of requests from readers and followers to do a series on Italian cookies. With our combined experience in photography and accurately capturing Nonna’s recipes, we considered doing a book on our own! After crunching the numbers and researching several options, we realized we might be better off self-publishing and off we went.
Table of Contents
I really like the format of the Table of Contents. It’s beautifully laid out with small colour photos accompanying all the Italian cookie recipe names and their page numbers. It’s a helpful guide to help identify the cookies at a glance. Following the Table of Contents, there’s a page listing essential Italian baking ingredients such as lievito vaniglinato or vanillina that not everyone’s familiar with, unless you’re an Italian baker. These ingredients can be found at Italian grocery or specialty shops.
No Italian celebration is complete without the cookie tray full of Italian cookies. It’s proudly displayed as a symbol of love made by family members who gather together to bake for the occasion. I remember watching my aunts in the kitchen kneading, rolling and cutting cookie dough under the watchful eye of my nonna. She was always in charge.
The recipes in Nonna’s Way are well formatted, listing the ingredients one the left side of page and instructions on the right, with tips and options at the bottom of the page. Although the instructions aren’t numbered, they’re well spaced out and easy to read. The recipes are also accompanied by beautiful, full-page colour photos.
There’s no quantity yield included in the recipes, so I asked Angela and Anna why they were omitted.
Liliana: Why did you choose not to include the quantity yields?
Angela & Anna: We actually pondered this quite a bit while working on the book. By working with different nonnas, we learned that each of them does things just a bit differently (size/shape of cookies) which ultimately affects the yield. When testing the recipes we found that most of the recipes could be customized in terms of individual cookie size so we opted not to put in a specific yield. For example, the ciambellette di vino are typically made roughly 2.5 inches in diameter but we made a miniature batch and they were so cute. This made us aware of the fact that everyone’s preference is different. Wherever possible we did include the size of dough/batter used by the nonna providing us with the recipe. Having said that, it is one of things we are considering adding with a book update in the future.
Sample recipes include:
- Almond Crisps
- Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good)
- Cannoli Sciliani
- Twist Cookies
Some recipes require special equipment such as a pizzelle machine to make Pizzelle and a pasta rolling machine to make Frappe, as this recipe requires the dough to be extra thin to achieve a crispy texture.
Italian cookies are known by different names throughout the regions of Italy. When I was first married, my mother-in-law asked me if I had a container for guanti (gloves). First thing I wondered was why does she need a container for gloves? I later found out that she was referring to the Crostoli that she brought over that day.
Since I was testing these cookie recipes during the holidays, I used the recipes from Nonna’s Way to make Cuccidati (page 77), Pizzelle (page 105), and S-Cookies (page 113). The Cuccidati and Pizzelle turned out perfect and tasted quite similar to ones I make.
The S-Cookies on the other hand, are supposed to melt in your mouth, but turned out dense. This was my first attempt at making them so I will have to make them again to see if I get the same results.
The last recipe I tested is for Bomboloni (page 33), a sweet deep fried dough filled with pastry cream, jam, or hazelnut spread. I usually don’t make fried desserts, but this recipe sounded too good not to try. You have to plan one day ahead to make the Bomboloni as the dough has to rest for 12 hours before it can be rolled out.
I fried them in my deep fryer and drained them on paper towels before rolling them in sugar. Half were filled with jam and the other half I left plain. They’re best eaten warm and, although the recipe says they make a favourite treat for kids, they’ve become a favourite treat for adults in this house.
Thanks to Angela and Anna, the recipe for Bomboloni is below.
- ½ cup (125 mL) lukewarm water
- ½ cup (125 mL) lukewarm milk
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) active dry yeast
- ⅓ cup (80 mL) room temperature butter
- ¾ cup (185 mL) granulated sugar (plus more for coating)
- 2 large eggs
- 4 cups (1000 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ (7.5 mL) tsp salt
- vegetable oil for frying
- chocolate hazelnut spread, pastry cream or preserves for filling
- In a shallow bowl combine the water and milk. Add the yeast and cover to let activate for 15 minutes.
- In a separate large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time and mix well.
- Add the yeast mixture and 2 cups of flour to the butter mixture. Give a little mix then add the rest of the flour and the salt.
- Mix or knead for a few minutes until you have a soft but not sticky dough. Cover with food safe plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about ½ inch thickness.
- Cut out 1 ½ inch diameter circles and place on a baking sheet.
- Cover lightly with a tea towel and let rise for at least one hour.
- Prepare a small pot or deep fryer with oil and heat to 360°F.
- Fry the dough a few at a time so they are not over crowded and turn to ensure even cooking. Remove when golden brown and roll them in sugar while still hot.
- Place on cooling rack. When cool enough to touch, fill with desired filling using a piping bag with a plain tip.
- Best eaten while still warm.
It’s evident Nonna’s Way was a labour of love for Angela and Anna. They captured traditional classic Italian cookie recipes I’m sure will bring feelings of nostalgia for readers of Italian descent. I’m a first generation Canadian-Italian, and reading through the cookbook brought back wonderful memories, as I could link recipes to family members that are no longer with us. I had a feeling of contentment as I remembered the anecdotes behind those recipes that made them so special.
If you’re a cookie lover you’ll want to add Nonna’s Way to your cookbook shelf regardless whether you’re of Italian descent or not. Either way, you’ll discover cookies from different regions of Italy, or discover cookies from another culture you might want to add to your own cookie tray. After reading Nonna’s Way you’ll want to start capturing your own family recipes to preserve for generations to come.
Nonna’s Way: A Collection of Classic Italian Cookie Recipes
Authors: Angela DeSalvo and Anna Romano
Photography: Angela DeSalvo
Caricatures: Kelly Gyoker, Kelly Kreations
Softcover: 142 pages
Publisher: Nonna’s Way, Angela DeSalvo and Anna Romano
Nonna’s Way: A Collection of Classic Italian Cookie Recipes cookbook is available for purchase on the Nonna’s Way website.
Excerpted from Nonna’s Way: A Collection of Italian Cookies Recipes by Angela DeSalvo and Anna Romano Copyright 2016 © Nonna’s Way. Used with permission from Angela DeSalvo and Anna Romano. All rights reserved.
The Nonna’s Way cookbook review was written by Liliana Tommasini, author of the aptly named blog My Cookbook Addiction. Her passion for baking and cooking began at an early age. Liliana grew up in an Italian household where each meal was made from scratch with fresh ingredients and Sunday family lunches were always a celebration. She has a passion for collecting and reading cookbooks as she really believes that every recipe tells a story. You can connect with Liliana on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.