These delightful, soft, cake-like cookies are from the coast of Tuscany, around Versilia, and are traditionally made for January 5, the eve of the Epiphany, when the Befana comes to visit Italian children to place delicious treats in the stockings of the children who have been good, and coal for those who have been bad. The recipe makes plenty—around 50—cookies that not only are for putting into stockings but also for wrapping up in colorful packages to give to friends and family. These are also ideal for making with children, too, who will love cutting out the shapes and decorating. Some like to use aniseed liqueur instead of the rum (I like Alchermes, which gives the dough a rosy hue) or you can leave it out and use just an extra splash of milk instead. This recipe is adapted from Paolo Petroni’s Il Grande Libro della Vera Cucina Toscana. —Emiko
Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a wide bowl and make a 'well' in the centre. Crack 3 of the eggs (save one for glazing) into the middle, along with the liqueur, if using, and lemon zest. With a fork, begin beating from the centre outwards, incorporating the dry ingredients slowly into the eggs until you have a thick dough. If it is a bit dry or crumbly, add a splash of milk to loosen so that you have a soft but not sticky, compact dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
It is easiest to work in two batches, so cut the dough in half and keep one half wrapped and chilled until you finish the first half. Roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch (5 mm). Use various cookie cutter to cut out fun shapes and place them on a lined cookie tray.
When ready to bake, crack the reserved egg and beat in a bowl. With a pastry brush, glaze the tops of the cookies with the egg wash and decorate with coloured sprinkles (I like the method of placing the egg-side down directly onto a plate of sprinkles for full coverage).
Bake at 170ºC/340ºF for about 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and lightly golden on top. Let cool completely and serve or store in an airtight container.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.