Holiday Baking: Pizzelles


Whenever we visit Jim’s family in Pittsburgh, his Italian grandmother always sends us off with some of her amazing homemade foodstuffs, such as her hand-rolled gnocchi and her sweet pickled peppers. But at Christmas time Grandma’s attention turns to baking. Brown paper bags and clear plastic containers fill the kitchen and dining room, all containing her homemade holiday cookies for family and friends.

Thin, waffle-like Italian cookies called pizzelles are the stars of her festive baked goods. And Pizzelle ironnow that Jim and I are forming our own holiday traditions in Brooklyn, pizzelles are our buttery link to his family in Pennsylvania. So this week, in between setting up our Christmas tree and decorating our apartment, we pulled out our pizzelle iron and started waffling away. 

I had never heard of pizzelles before I met Jim, but I’ve since learned that they are specialties of Abruzzo on the central east coast of Italy, where Jim’s grandmother was born. My family is from Puglia in southern Italy, a region with its own culinary traditions, pizzelles not included. Those Pugliesi don’t know what they’re missing.

Although pizzelles are traditionally flavored with anise or vanilla, there are many variations, including chocolate, hazelnut, and almond. Supposedly pizzelles are one of the earliest known cookies. The older waffle irons were even made with specific family crests, but today’s electric irons commonly emboss the dough with a flower and basket weave pattern. Feast days are not complete without these celebratory waffle cookies, although I’ve only seen them during the Christmas holidays.

Jim’s grandmother is a wonderful cook and doesn’t use written recipes. She simply knows what feels right, whether she’s rolling out dough for potato gnocchi or Easter bread. So for a definitive pizzelle recipe we turned to the trusty Villaware recipe pamphlet that came with our iron.

Sifting the ingredients for pizzellesMixing the ingredients for pizzelles

We started with a basic mix of eggs, flour, sugar, butter, and baking powder, adding both vanilla and anise oil for a double dose of holiday flavor. The dough was thicker than Jim and I remembered, so we tried to thin it out with a few tablespoons of water. When the iron was hot and ready, we dropped two spoonfuls of dough into the pizzelle molds, held the iron closed for about 30 seconds, and then removed the fragrant disks to a paper towel. We started the process again, opening and closing the iron over the thick dough to efficiently produce twenty-four pizzelles.

Unfortunately, this round of pizzelles was just okay. The anise oil and vanilla subtly flavored the dough, but the final texture of the cooked pizzelles was too dense. During an emergency telephone call to Jim’s grandmother on Sunday she informed us that we had used too much flour. She had just finished making nine-dozen pizzelles, so she knew what she was talking about. Stay tuned for another batch…and a recipe, I hope!

Update: Recipe for Pizzelles
Adapted from the Villaware Prima Pizzelle Baker pamphlet

In our pizzelle-making experiments this year, we’ve determined than Grandma was right (of course): Using less flour than recommended by Villaware makes a lighter, more airy cookie. The recipe below reflects this adjustment; if you prefer a denser pizzelle, add a little more flour to your batter.

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla extract, and anise oil. Sift flour and baking powder together, then combine with egg mixture. The batter should be slightly thick, yet you should be able to drop it off a spoon onto your pizzelle maker. Recipe makes 20-24 pizzelles. Enjoy!

6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Liz said,

    I was reading your entry and was happily surprised to see pizzelles. I make them (anise) every year for Christmas and other holidays. It is a family tradition. My grandparents and relatives are from Lettomanopello, Italy the region of Abruzzo. They arrived in New York in the early 1900’s.
    My grandmother had the iron that made one pizzelle at a time. She make them over an open flame. I am so happy that I don’t have to make them that way. My electric iron is over 25 years old and still going steady.

  2. 2

    Christina said,

    Hi Liz! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s nice to hear such wonderful family memories about pizzelles. I too am glad to have an electric iron, although I think it would be really interesting to see one of the older, more “rustic” versions. Thanks so much for your comment, and Happy Holidays!

  3. 3

    Ralph said,

    Hello and Help !
    My wife has just begun making Pizzelles using a Cuisinart Pizzelle Maker. She has followed the recipe exactly, but most of the Pizzelles seem to have hundreds of tiny black speckles, albeit they look good and taste good.
    Question – What is causing these black dots or ‘ speckles ‘? Thanks

  4. 4

    Christina said,

    Yikes, I am really not sure. If this is your first batch of pizzelles with a new pizzelle maker, check the iron and see if any of the coating is flaking off or if it is slightly dirty. You might need to discard the first few batches made with a new appliance, just to break it in. Hopefully the remaining batches would emerge without specks. The only other thing I can think of is to check that your flour is not old. I’m sorry I don’t have better advice. But good luck! Let me know if you figure it out.

  5. 5

    […] Holiday Baking: Pizzelles « Artichoke Heart […]

  6. 6

    Sandie Caradori said,

    Cleanings cupboards out today and found my old pizzelle baker. Will make some today for grand kids and hopefully start a tradition

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