SCHENECTADY — With the season for holiday parties in full swing, those seeking to spice up their festivities with some traditional Italian Christmas cookies don’t need to look any further than Schenectady for either recipes, or the fresh-baked cookies themselves.
From tried and true anise cookies to the popular and cake-like Venetian rainbow cookies, Schenectady’s bakers offer a multitude of the sweet treats and recipes.
For long-standing bakery Villa Italia, the holiday season is always busy, particularly the two weeks right before Christmas. Owner Bobby Mallozzi explained that some of the cookie recipes used at the bakery are traditional and come from past family generations, but that some are the result of new bakers who have come into the shop.
“We go into the old recipe book once in awhile,” he said.
Villa Italia sells cookies by the pound, and also sells platters. Often, customers call ahead to place orders. The store also fills many corporate orders around the holiday season as well.
Christmas Eve, Mallozzi said, is often the store’s busiest day. Often, long-time customers line up outside the door of the bakery at 6:30 a.m. Christmas Eve day to buy their cookies.
As far as Italian cookies go, Villa Italia’s most popular, said Mallozzi, are the stores’ almond crescent cookies and the multi-layered Venetian cookies.
“We sell a boat load,” he said about the square, tri-colored cookies.
Also traditionally popular are Villa Italia’s anise cookies, which can be made with butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and anise or almond extract. Frequently, the round cookies are made with frosting and rainbow sprinkles as well.
Rugolahs are also a hit with customers, which are a crescent-shaped Jewish pastry made with sugar, cinnamon, and filled with cream cheese.
For anyone hoping to bake their own holiday cookies though, Mallozzi recommended getting all of the ingredients out the night before, and making sure they’re all room temperature when the time comes to use them. Warm butter being mixed with cold eggs, he noted, could lead to possible baking issues.
Perreca’s Bakery, another staple establishment for Italian goods in town, sells platters that feature an assortment of butter cookies during the holidays. Anthony Cinque, a server in MORE Perreca’s Italian Kitchen, carves out time during every holiday season to make the chocolate covered Venetian cookies for his family.
“I think people are drawn to color,” Cinque added, emphasizing that the cookies, which have a cake-like consistency, are especially popular with children.
The cookies actually have seven layers: two layers of chocolate on the outside, a green layer, white layer, and pink layer on the inside, and two layers of jam on the inside between the colors that hold them together. The cookies have an almond flavor.
To start, Cinque makes the cake filling, which contains egg whites and almond paste. The cake then is divided into three separate sections, each to be dyed a different color. Each layer is baked separately, and then left to cool.
Next, Cinque puts a layer of apricot jam, or seedless raspberry jam between each layer, and puts them in the freezer to cool. He then melts chocolate, and when the cake is cooled, he covers each layer in the chocolate. The cookies ultimately come out bite-sized and almond-flavored.
“I make them every Christmas,” Cinque said. “It’s very time consuming,” noting that it can take him at least a day to make a batch of the cookies.