The Inaugural Italian Gals Cookie Exchange

Italian cookies This cookie platter is the result of four Italian gals chatting on Facebook about some of the cookies we were baking, Adri, Linda, Domenica and myself.

Over the years we have formed friendships through the world of blogging, and have expressed several times how fun it would be if we could cook and bake together.

Almost immediately Linda  suggested we do a cookie exchange through the mail, we all loved the idea and within minutes Linda took charge and sent us all an email with instructions for the first, Inaugural Italian Gals Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Each person was to bake and mail two dozen cookies to three people. The cookies should be the type that ships well, something like pizzelle would be too fragile. Then place them into a tin of some sort and send them either Fedex or U.S. Mail, she even listed the rates for us.

We baked them just a couple of days before we sent them out for optimum freshness and not too long after boxes started arriving at my front door!

cookies by mail Beautiful boxes wrapped in ribbons with cards.

Italian cookie exchange

This tin was from Adri, the cookies are called, Three Nut Fingers, a recipe she adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book called, Rose’s Christmas Cookies, they are filled with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans and she even added in a little Frangelico, they were heavenly! Here’s Adri’s version.
Italian cookie exchange The next day I received this tin of crunchy Cranberry-Hazelnut Biscotti, a recipe Domenica adapted from her new and forthcoming book called Ciao Biscotti, which will be released this March, ( you can pre-order now) how lucky were we to be able to taste a recipe from her new book. Wonderful with morning coffee or tea!

Italian cookie exchange And last but not least Linda’s, Italian Christmas “Brownies” glazed with Lemon Icing. A cookie filled with chocolate and pungent spices, a perfect after dinner treat, it even includes a surprise ingredient that makes the flavor even more intense and delicious.

fig filling for cucidati My contribution to the cookie exchange was Cucidati, a traditional Italian cookie originating from Sicily that I make every year with family, it’s filled with figs, nuts, dates, orange, raisins and spices along with a little rum or whiskey to top it off.

making Italian fig cookies They’re a labor of love and can be time consuming to make, so when we do it we do it big, at least 400 or more so that everyone will have a good amount to take home and share. It’s become an annual event at my house where we spend the whole day baking Cucidati from early morning until late afternoon. We start out drinking coffee but end up sipping Dumante ( a pistachio liqueur) before the day is over. It’s a fun day and we look forward to it every year!


Italian fig cookies My tables and counters quickly get filled up with these figgy little gems!

boxing up Italian fig cookies I actually whipped up a fresh batch of cucidati for my Italian Gals cookie exchange two days before I mailed them. I layered them in a box with lots of waxed paper in between and they all arrived safely!

Italian cookies So you see, you don’t have to live near each other to have a cookie exchange, you can do it through the mail like we did, though you might want to limit the amount of people involved due to shipping costs.

Italian cookies This was so much fun, and it was the next best thing to us all being in one of our kitchens and baking together!

Italian cookie platter


Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake with Amaretto and Mascarpone Whipped Cream

pandoro Christmas tree I’m excited to share this festive cake with you and you don’t even have to do any baking, it has a beautiful presentation because it resembles a snowy Christmas tree, it comes together in no time and it will certainly impress your guests!

Do you want to know what it is?

pandoro at Eataly Chicago It’s called Pandoro, or golden cake and it’s something you buy, it’s sold almost everywhere during the holidays. You can find it along with Panettone at most supermarkets, pastry shops and Italian markets, I’ve even seen it in T.J. Maxx and Marshals this time of year. I went to Eataly Chicago last weekend and they were displayed everywhere.

Pandoro is a traditional sweet bread from Verona, golden in color because of the large amount of egg yolks used, there are no nuts or dried fruit like in Panettone and it’s baked in a star shaped mold. Trust me, it’s heaven in a pretty box!

pandoro You can buy  the large size as well as the smaller, more individual ones, pretty much the same way they sell Panettone.

I have to be honest, I’ve never made this Christmas tree cake before so I opted for the smaller version just to see how it would turn out, I’ve seen it done on different blogs and websites in the past and always loved the look of it, such a festive dessert and the taste is decadent!

I’m here to say this is a wonderful addition to your holiday table, I know now by making the smaller version, that the larger one will be on my table.

sliced pandoro  Horizontally cut the Pandoro gives you beautiful star shaped slices that you can now layer with whipped cream, mascarpone or a custard, you can also flavor it with Amaretto, Limoncello, Rum,  chocolate, whatever you so desire.

sliced pandoro I used Amaretto to brush on my slices and to flavor my cream mixture, it was divine! You can embellish it anyway you want even using fresh fruits and nuts.

pandoro christmas tree The layers build upon each other to form the look of a Christmas tree, the perfect addition to your sweet table this holiday season!

Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake with Amaretto and Mascarpone Whipped Cream
  • This recipe is for a 3.5 oz. Pandoro, you can double everything for the larger size.
  • 1 cup, heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup of mascarpone, room temp
  • 1 heaping tablespoon, powdered sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 2 teaspoons of Amaretto to flavor the cream mixture,plis additional for brushing layers
  • toasted sliced almonds for garnish and between layers,
  • white sprinkles, optional
  1. Cream Mixture
  2. In a mixing bowl add the mascarpone and the heaping powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
  3. Add in the heavy cream and the 2 teaspoons of Amaretto and beat mixture into stiff peaks.
  4. Slice the Pandoro horizontally, being careful not to break the points of the star shape. Place the largest slice on a serving dish then brush with Amaretto, then spread cream mixture on top with some toasted almonds.
  5. Place the next largest slice on top placing it on an angle so the points of the stars are staggered alternate layers.
  6. Repeat with the Amaretto and cream mixture on every slice and continuing to stagger the layers until you reach the top.
  7. Place cream mixture on the very top, sprinkle with almonds and other garnishments.
  8. Dust all over with powdered sugar.
  9. This can be made a few hours ahead of time and kept in a cool place.



Stuffed Cabbage Cake

stuffed cabbage cake I have to say right off the bat that this post was solely inspired by a photo I saw in the beautiful new cookbook by Mimi Thorisson, A Kitchen In France. In fact she posted the recipe recently on her blog, the name she calls it is, Chou Farci.

Instead of individual rolls of stuffed cabbage like most of us are use to seeing, her recipe was made and molded into a cake-like form by building layers of meat and vegetable filling and then wrapping it all into a beautiful little package of lacy savoy cabbage leaves.

After reading her recipe, which I’m sure is  quite delicious, I thought it would be fun to make my Italian style version, just the way I make my own stuffed cabbage.

unmolding stuffed cabbage cake You’ll need a round, deep souffle or casserole dish because you’re going to layer the bottom and sides with the cabbage leaves as well as each layer of filling and the top. After it’s baked together you let it rest a bit, then invert it onto a serving plate.

unmolded stuffed cabbage cake All the filling stays neatly contained inside the wrapped cabbage leaves. It looks like there’s a cute little tree on top doesn’t it?

stuffed cabbage cake But I just couldn’t keep it unadorned, so I decided to embellish it with warm marinara and freshly grated parmesan cheese, just like frosting on a cake!

stuffed cabbage cake This way of presenting stuffed cabbage takes a simple meal and elevates it to something very special. You can try Mimi’s version, or use a filling that your own family would like, the sky’s the limit!  Just follow the directions for the cabbage layout and you’re good to go.

Here’s my Italian style version.

Stuffed Cabbage Cake
  • 1 head of savoy cabbage, it has pretty lacy leaves
  • 1½ pound of good quality ground beef or turkey
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 small red pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup of grated romano or parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup of marinara sauce plus extra for topping mold and plating
  • 1 cup of cooked rice
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil
  • fresh chopped basil and parsley, a small bunch of each
  • salt and pepper
  1. Core and separate the leaves from the savoy cabbage, then cook them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, pat dry and set aside.
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of a deep souffle type dish and then arrange the prettiest and largest leaf on the bottom. Place another leaf on top of that and up the sides of the dish all around.
  3. In a large saute pan cook your meat until you see no pink, if it needs to be drained of added grease do so and set aside.
  4. Add olive oil to the pan and cook the onions, carrots, garlic and diced red pepper until soft, then toss it all together with the cooked meat.
  5. Add the grated cheese, marinara and fresh herbs, toss til well coated, let it cool then toss in the egg.
  6. Put your first layer down, about ½ inch then layer a cabbage leaf on top. Repeat until you reach the top or run out of filling.
  7. Finish with cabbage on top making sure to tuck it in the dish all around.
  8. Drizzle the top with olive oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of romano cheese all over.
  9. Bake at 350 for around 40 minutes.
  10. Let it rest then invert a serving plate over the souffle dish, then flip it over.
  11. Cut into slices and serve with additional warmed marinara and more grated cheese.