Christmas the Umbrian way: zuccherini cookies

Christmas in Foligno Umbria Italy

Finally 2020 comes to a close and we are facing more than 2 weeks in lockdown. I am not happy about it, but I can look at the past year knowing that we have resisted so far and even accomplished a new and unexpected project.

After a tremendous effort to finish editing and proofreading, Festa Italiana has been published in late November. This means that we have made it just in time to deliver all orders (thanks to you all! <3 ) before the holiday craze.

Sending 200 copies to Amazon in Illinois was the most worrisome part. It first took days for FedEx to even give us a price for the shipment (it was not low). Then Amazon did not let us send all the copies which were in pre-order so I had to open a second account. The books travelled from here to Lombardy, then to Germany, to Paris, then again to Germany to finally take off for the US. More days went until Amazon made the books available for purchase with the warning that they would have been shipped after Christmas!

Can you imagine how many sleepless nights I had over this? Eventually they started to ship the books quite quickly and I know several of you have received them already.  We even have our first review. Again thank you all so much for you support and participation!

Now that we have moved a mountain, I am delighted to use this quiet time for some power cooking. For me, there is no better way to regenerate and relax.

Tea is coming home for Christmas after spending several months in The Netherlands attending International studies. It’s a small miracle that she will be able to travel and I will only believe it when I see her off the bus tomorrow. The refrigerator and freezer are full of food including multiple trays of lasagne , a stuffed beef roast, lots of roasted squash,  stuffing for the cappelletti in brodo on Christmas day (see also Festa Italiana on page 243) and of course a considerable number of sausages. I know she missed the sausages, and especially the pasta alla norcina. I also have a torcolo sweet bread which is similar to panettone without the added emulsifiers, preservatives and other junk. We have much to celebrate even if it will be a party of only three people plus the cat and dog!

And of course there will be cookies.

The Umbrian cookies are very simple and most often than not derive from bread dough sweetened and enriched with nuts and raisins. Bread dough is more difficult to shape before baking and that’s why so many Umbrian cookies and cakes are shaped as a ring. The zuccherini, also called roccetti or ciambelline, are traditionally made for Christmas in Bettona, a cute hill town across the valley from Assisi.

This simplified version is made with baking powder and is every bit as enjoyable.

zuccherini cookies
Photo courtesy Jacobien Cobuse

500 g stoneground Type 1 flour or all-purpose flour (protein content 10-12%)
200 g light brown sugar
2 tablespoons anise seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
150 g olive oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons orange liqueur or brandy
150 g milk100 g (1 cup) nuts of your choice (e.g. hazelnut, almonds, walnuts, finely chopped)
30 g (1 oz) best quality candied orange peel, finely diced
150 g (1 cup) raisins

Preheat oven at 160 °C (340 ° F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Making dough with a food processor:
Place flour, seeds, sugar and baking powder in a food processor bowl. Using the blade at high speed, add the liqueur, egg, olive oil and blend to incorporate. Add the milk gradually until the mixture forms a soft ball of dough, about 2 minutes. Depending on the protein content of your flour, you might need to adjust the quantity of milk to form the dough. Add raisins, nuts and candy peel and pulse briefly to incorporate, but avoid chopping the raisins.

Making dough by hand:
Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add oil, egg and liqueur and stir to incorporate. Add enough milk to obtain a soft dough. Add nuts and dried fruit.

Shaping the cookies:
Transfer dough on a floured worktop and roll into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) diameter cylinders. Cut each cylinder into 10 cm (5 inch) pieces and roll them into ring cookies or weave into small braids.

Carefully arrange the rings on the baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 min until just golden around the sides.
Cool on a wire rack and serve with a dessert wine like a Vinsanto, Passito or Marsala or a mug of herbal tea.

Makes 50-55 cookies depending on size.


  1. Thank you so much, Letizia, for bringing such wonderful reminders of the Italian table to us throughout the year. Your stories and recipes touch your readers’ souls, and we are all very grateful to you.

    Buon natale,

    Howard Hellams Columbia, South Carolina USA


  2. Those cookies sound divine, Letizia! They have all the flavors I love… Will give this a go soon. And check out your book, I’m afraid that passed me by until now… Until then, have a wonderful holiday season!

Comments are closed.