Lemon-Infused Christmas Cookies from Malta

Everything about Christmas excites me: the lusciously decorated tree in our living room, the dreamy Christmas markets when it's cold and snowy outside, and, especially, my weekend baking sessions throughout December.

I'm like a child at this time of the year: I start writing long lists of all the cookies I want to bake in early November.

Photo by Meike Peters

It includes both traditional recipes from my German family that have been with me for decades and American and Maltese recipes from my boyfriend's family.

Shop the Story

There's a lot of baking going on in my kitchen as I also want to try out new creations, and time is tight: only four weeks to fill the cookie boxes and empty them again. But thanks to family and friends, this has never been a problem.

Photo by Meike Peters

One of my favorites are Maltese lemon cookies, a Christmas classic. They are thin and crunchy, a little flaky, and quite buttery, with a strong aroma of lemon and vanilla. The recipe is from my boyfriend's Maltese mother, Jenny, who uses the most fragrant lemons from her little Mediterranean garden for the dough.

Many recipes, both sweet and savory, from the archipelago south of Sicily feature citrus fruit. As soon as she pulls the first batch of the cookies out of the oven, Jenny's house fills with the most tantalizing fragrance of lemon and butter. For my boyfriend, this is the smell of childhood and Christmas, and to me, it's the smell of Malta and of beautiful gatherings in the Mediterranean.

Photo by Meike Peters

This is a relatively easy recipe, but the dough has to be frozen for around half an hour as it's packed with butter, which makes it quite soft. It creates wonderfully rich cookies; they're not as easy to cut out as more dry and floury dough, but the result is delicious.

Photo by Meikie Peters

In our family, these Maltese lemon cookies are covered with colorful sprinkles but you could also use a little lemon zest instead if you prefer a more elegant look.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • judy
  • Kim Tanti
    Kim Tanti
  • Michelle Zassenhaus
    Michelle Zassenhaus
  • Meike Peters | eat in my kitchen
    Meike Peters | eat in my kitchen
cookbook author, blog, podcast


judy December 26, 2015
This looks like it could be a refrigerator cookie> i'm not really into rolling out dough a cutting up cookies-too fussy for me. Though i love it when others do it! could make a log and roll in confetti or lemon zest and a little sugar. Freeze, then slice and bake as needed. I like to have several varieties on hand as we like all kinds of cookies for a quick sweet any time of year. Growing up in So CA, I'm all about citrus in just about anything!
Meike P. December 27, 2015
Hi Judy, I'm sure it'll work! I always cut them the way my mother in law does - with cookie cutters - it became a tradition but you'd save some time by slicing a log instead. Maybe I'll try that next next. I'm the same, I could add citrus to almost everything, lemon, lime, orange, kumquat - I love it! Have a wonderful new year!
judy December 27, 2015
Meilke: I didn't have any baking traditions from growing up. My Mom didn't cook, let alone bake, no grams around. But I learned to bake and cook because of that. I have a few food traditions that I established for my kids, but they were both boys, and had no interest in baking, though they are both pretty good cooks. To this day they do expect cinnamon rolls and brownies and pumpkin pie several times a year, and Trifle at least once in berry season in the summer. I don't see them very often any more, but when they come the baking begins.....
Meike P. December 28, 2015
Hi Judy, I love these cooking and baking traditions, no matter if they are hundreds of years old or if you establish your own. They have to start at one point. Like trifle in berry season, I can't wait for that!
Kim T. December 23, 2015
Thank You for the Maltese cookies. My husband of 36yrs. has never mentiones these. I make the fagoli. Which is for Easter but I will suprise him with these and see if he remembers them. Sorry Yes he is Maltese
Meike P. December 23, 2015
Hi Kim, I love baking Figolli at Easter time! This recipe is from my Maltese mother in law, it's perfect for this season, very lemony and buttery! Merry Christmas!
Michelle Z. December 21, 2015
These are awesome. Light and delicate, with a buttery-lemon flavor. My husband is Maltese, and although he didn't recognize them, they were a huge hit with the kids and guests. Tiu need lots of flour to roll them out as they are quite sticky. Otherwise pretty simple and a refreshing take on the standard sugar cookie.
Meike P. December 22, 2015
Hi Michelle! Thank you! I'm glad you and your family enjoyed them! I tried adding more flour to the dough but the texture wasn't as nice. Merry Christmas!!
Michelle Z. December 22, 2015
Yes, I just meant lots of flour on the rolling out surface. The recipe is perfect!
Meike P. December 22, 2015
Thank you, I'll tell my mother in law, that will make her very happy :)