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Italian Butter Sweets are festive, easy-to-make and delicious

Food columnist Sarah Nasello will give away a dozen Italian Butter Sweets next week as part of her weekly SarahBakes Holiday Giveaway.

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Festive, rich and buttery, Sarah's Italian Butter Sweets will make a splash on your holiday sweets table.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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FARGO — I fell in love with these charming Italian cookies the first time I visited my husband’s family in Toronto. His parents lived just a block away from the famous Sanremo Bakery in the Etobicoke district, and this was my first visit to an authentic Italian bakery. I was hooked from the moment I tried them, and they have been a favorite in my Christmas baking repertoire for more than a decade. This is my kind of cookie – festive, easy-to-make and delicious.

I never cease to marvel at how the same combination of pantry staples – butter, sugar, flour and eggs – can yield so many different creations simply by adjusting the amount of each ingredient. I call this group “the usual suspects” of baking, because they appear in nearly every cookie recipe. One variation here is the use of egg yolks, rather than the full egg, which adds the fat needed to bind the cookie together and create a tender crumb, without adding excess moisture.

While Italian Butter Sweets may appear like other buttery-rich cookies, they are distinctly their own. Whereas spritz are delicate, and shortbread crumbly, these cookies are another perfect combination of textures: soft and tender on the inside (but not chewy), with just a hint of crispness on the outside.

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Two sticks of room temperature butter are creamed with 2/3 cup sugar for five minutes until light and fluffy. This step aerates the dough and gives the cookie a tender crumb.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Room temperature ingredients are the key to this cookie’s texture. For butter, this means soft enough to leave an indentation in the stick when pressed with your finger, but still firm enough to hold its shape. Creaming the butter and sugar together for about four to five minutes is essential, as this step creates pockets of air that produce the cookie’s lovely texture.

I pipe the dough into strips using a piping bag fitted with a medium or large open-star tip, but you could just snip off the end of a plastic bag instead for a simpler design. This is a stiffer dough, so I fill the bag just halfway to keep it from splitting as I pipe the cookies.

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A large open-star piping tip is ideal to create the signature grooves of an Italian butter cookie.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

You can create a variety of shapes - rosettes, half-moons, S-swirls - but I keep it simple by piping a straight line of dough, approximately a half-inch wide and one-and-a-half to two inches long. The cookies bake at 350 degrees until the edges turn golden brown, about 11 to 14 minutes, depending on how golden you like them (I lean toward more golden than not).

Once the cookies have cooled completely, I dip them in melted chocolate and rainbow sprinkles, and you can vary the coating and toppings by using white chocolate or colored candy melts for dipping and chopped nuts or coconut for the garnish. I usually stop here, but you can go one step further and create a sandwich cookie by adding a filling of jam, ganache, citrus curd or buttercream.

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Sarah dips each cookie in melted semi-sweet chocolate before coating in sprinkles.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I am giving away a dozen of these Italian Butter Sweets next week for my weekly SarahBakes Holiday Giveaway, and there is still time to enter for a chance to win at sarahbakesnd.com . In the meantime, go round up the usual suspects and get baking!

Enter Sarah’s 10th Anniversary Giveaway Update: Congratulations to Connie Hamre and Sharon Sietsema, this week’s lucky winners of a freshly baked Scandinavian Almond Cake from SarahBakes. In full disclosure, Connie happens to be my neighbor, so I drew a second winner just for good measure. Lucky you, Sharon!

Italian Butter Sweets

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies (depending on size)

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 cup festive sprinkles, chopped nuts or finely shredded coconut

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Optional fillings:

Jam, Nutella, ganache, citrus curd, buttercream

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Use a stand or handheld mixer to cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed (setting 6 on my KitchenAid) until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and salt and mix on medium for 15 seconds.

Add the egg yolks and beat on medium until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the flour and mix on low speed just until combined – do not overmix.

This dough is somewhat stiff, and if it is too stiff for you to handle well, you can add a little bit of milk, starting with ½ teaspoon and not more than 2 teaspoons.

Fit a piping bag with a large open-star piping tip (I use Wilton 8b or Ateco 828 most often). Fill the bag half-way with the dough, squeezing it all the way toward the tip to remove any air pockets. Too much dough may cause the bag to break, so be careful not to overfill.

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Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets, in pieces about ½-inch wide and 1 ½ to 2 inches long (I prefer shorter, especially if adding filling), leaving a 1-inch space between each cookie. For a clean finish, you can use a knife or scissors to cut the dough for each cookie, or rub a little water on the end, but I just let the melted chocolate cover any imperfections.

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The cookies are ready when the edges start to turn golden brown, but Sarah bakes them just a couple minutes longer for a slightly crispier cookie.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Bake the cookies until they are golden at the edges, about 11 to 14 minutes, depending on your oven and how golden you like your cookies. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble:

Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

For best result, use a small bowl with raised sides for the melted chocolate and sprinkles, like a ramekin or Pyrex prep bowl.

If making sandwich cookies, add the filling before dipping. Pipe or spread a little of the filling down the center of one cookie, then top with another cookie.

Dip the top third of each cookie in the melted chocolate, scraping off any excess along the rim of the bowl. Press the dipped end into the sprinkles and place the cookie on the wax paper. When all the cookies are done, they can be refrigerated for about 10 minutes to set the chocolate.

To store:

Keep the cookies (plain or dipped) in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for several months. If frozen, remove the cookies from the container before thawing, to prevent condensation. Cookies with filling should be refrigerated.

Sarah’s Tips:

· Room temperature ingredients are key to creating the tender crumb of these cookies.

· The cookie dough can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer (several months) or refrigerator (one week); however, it must be warmed to room temperature before piping, or it will not pipe.

More recipes from Sarah Nasello

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Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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