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A Reason to Make Sprinkle-Covered Cut-Outs Right Now (Really!)

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You might be putting away the cookie cutters after Christmas, but in Tuscany, there's a tradition for making deliciously soft, cake-like cookies in the New Year, specifically for January 5, the eve of the Epiphany.

Soft Tuscan Cut-Out Cookies (Befanini)
Soft Tuscan Cut-Out Cookies (Befanini)

Religious legend has it that the Befana, an old witch-like woman riding a broomstick visits Italian children at night, placing delicious sweets (like these "befanini", her namesake cookies) in the stockings of good children and coal or sticks for those who have been bad. The Befana basically does Santa’s job in Italy. And like Santa, children like to leave out a plate of food (and a glass of wine) for her. Before she leaves, the Befana, famed for her housekeeping, sweeps the floors with her broomstick. It's symbolic, as if she's sweeping away any problems lingering from the past year, and wiping the slate clean for the new year (and don't we need it).

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Don't pack those cookie cutters away quite yet.
Don't pack those cookie cutters away quite yet. Photo by Emiko Davies

The scent of lemon rising out of the oven while these airy cookies puff up is unmistakeable. Coated in colorful sprinkles, they make wonderful gifts for children (big and small). Even better, they're so easy to throw together and ideal for making with the kids. Roll out this dough with plenty of flour (it's egg heavy and can be a little on the sticky-side) and let them go crazy. Unlike delicate sugar cookies, which shouldn't be handled too much as they're full of soft butter that easily melts in hot little hands, this butter-less dough can withstand quite a bit of pushing and pulling, re-rolling, and kneading without any negative effects.

Use your most colorful sprinkles.
Use your most colorful sprinkles. Photo by Emiko Davies

And here's some even more good news: The recipe that follows makes plenty of cookies, so not only will you have enough for stockings for the kids, but also to give to friends and family.

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Soft Tuscan Cut-Out Cookies (Befanini)

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Makes 50 cookies
  • 4 cups (500 grams) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 eggs (save one for glazing)
  • 1 splash of rum or Alchermes, optional
  • splashes milk, if needed
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • Colored sprinkles, as needed

Tell us: Have you heard of the legend of the Befana before?

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Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Tuscany, cookies, cut-out, children, kids cooking, sprinkles