I love the Italian custom of adding the word “bello” to describe a mundane action, object or food – thus, elevating “il quotidiano” – the everyday – to something special. “Prendiamo un bel caffe” – Let’s have a nice coffee. “Facciamo una bella passeggiata” – Let’s take a nice walk. “Mangiamo un bel piatto di pasta” – Let’s eat a nice plate of pasta. “Facciamo un bel bicchiere” – Let’s share a nice glass of wine.
A classic cookie recipe from my mother’s extensive baking repertoire is one she calls “Nice Cookies.” These chewy, buttery cookies are made entirely by hand and glazed with a tart lemon icing. My mom taught me how to make her “Nice Cookies” last week and when I asked her how they got their name, she responded, “Ma guarda come sono belli!” – look how nice they are!
Nice Cookies (Biscotti al Limone)
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©
Makes 60 Cookies
For the cookies:
- 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for working the dough)
- 6 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 ¾ sticks of unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (1 orange should do)
For the glaze:
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice (use Meyer lemons if available)
- 1 lemon, zested
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare 3 baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone liners. Sift the flour and baking powder together into a large bowl. Add the softened butter and work together with your hands until there are no clumps of butter remaining. The texture should resemble coarse sand. Make a well in the center of the mixture and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, vanilla and orange juice together until combined. Pour the egg mixture into the well you made in the center of the butter and flour mixture. First with a fork and then with your hands, work together to incorporate the ingredients. The resulting dough will be very sticky so add a tablespoon of flour at a time until the dough comes together and no longer clings to the bowl. Don’t overwork or the cookies will be tough. Allow the cookie dough to rest for about 5 minutes.
Break off a piece of dough – about a scant tablespoon – and roll it into a rope about ½ inch in thickness.
Fold the rope in half and braid it together.
Transfer each cookie onto the prepared baking sheet about two apart (I was able to fit 5 rows of 4 cookies on each baking sheet).
Bake the cookies for 18-22 minutes, until slightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to thoroughly cool prior to glazing.
Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by combining the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.
When the cookies have cooled, spoon about 1/2-teaspoon of glaze onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Store in a airtight container for freshness.