What Are Italian Pizzelles?

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The seeds of star anise are used to flavor traditional pizzelles.
The seeds of star anise are used to flavor traditional pizzelles.

Italian pizzelles are one of the oldest cookies in the world. Also called Italian wafer cookies, the thin, crisp waffle-patterned biscuit name is the plural form of pizze, which means round and flat. The original pizzelles were anise-flavored and are now traditionally served during the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons.

  1. Pizzelle Irons

    • Instead of being baked on a flat baking sheet like most cookies, pizzelles are cooked with irons. Small pieces of dough are flattened between two preheated heavy metal disks, lightly coated with oil and cooked over stovetop burners for a few minutes on each side until crisp. The original pizzelle irons were made by blacksmiths and frequently included family crests in their patterns, making them treasured family heirlooms. Modern pizzelles are made with cast iron, aluminum stovetop irons or electric irons, which both use the original pizzelle cooking concept.

    Ingredients

    • Although the basic ingredients of pizzelles are standard cookie components, the traditional citrus-licorice flavor of pizzelles makes them unique. Pizzelle cookie dough is made with eggs, sugar, shortening or oil and flour. Their unusual, original flavor comes from a mixture of anise seeds, vanilla extract and the fresh juice and grated rinds of lemons and oranges. Grinding the anise seeds before adding them to the mixture is common to intensify the flavor and prevent them from sticking in between teeth. Many modern Italian bakeries make up to 50 different flavors of pizzelles, ranging from sweet to savory.

    Earliest Historical Account

    • Pizzelle history is not clear-cut. Some accounts claim that around 700 BC, the Italian village of Colcullo in the Abruzzo region was so overrun by snakes the human population dwindled. Villagers were advised by the god Apollo to capture the reptiles, drape them around his statue and release them back into the wild. They followed his directive and the snakes relented. To celebrate the victory, pizzelles were baked and consumed by the townsfolk. This celebration was called the Festival of the Snakes and rechristened the Feast Day of San Domenico when Christianity replaced the worship of Greek gods and Apollo became Saint Domenico.

    Alternate History Claims

    • Other historians maintain pizzelles gained popularity in Salle, also in the Abruzzi region of Italy, in an annual festival honoring 12th-century monk Beato Roberto, which is still celebrated today. When the party begins, people bring food to a town square feast and display pizzelles on tree branches as they march in unison to the event.

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