Ciao'd with a cup of hot cocoa.

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Holidays drift upon memories and traditions. We hang baubles on the tree and a holly wreath on the door. We collect pine cones and make pomanders. We sing carols and stuff stockings. Well, maybe "we" don't but you may. Amongst the flurry of holiday activities, I am willing to bet that one tradition reigns supreme: baking cookies. If you are a holiday cookie baker, chances are you harbor a favorite, must-have, it's-not-Christmas-without cookie recipe. I know I do.

My Italian aunts called them simply Chocolate Christmas Cookies. In reality, they are sweet, rich bites of Puglia, the Italian region from which my family hails. The cookies are spiced with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, studded with toasted walnuts, chocolate morsels, and raisins, and spiked with a healthy dose of bourbon that knits the ingredients into rich and complex goodness. You can't help but swoon.

I published this recipe last December but I have had so many people request it again that I'm sharing it once more. For the recipe as well as more about my aunts who bestowed this holiday ritual upon me, simply click here

Buon Natale. May you have a happy and delicious holiday.  

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Ciao'd with the scent of hyacinths in the air. 

Let's toast to the moms. The moms who cooked dinner every night and shared it around the table. The moms who weren't comfortable in the kitchen but managed to put food on the table anyway. Let's toast Marcella Hazan, a mom herself who, let's face it, cooked us all under the table with dishes she prepared for her husband, Victor, and her son, Giuliano. Iconic dishes like her tomato sauce with onion and butter, roast chicken with lemons, and white bean soup with garlic and parsley. I know, the recipes sound so simple. They are. It's the finesse with the ingredients (always fresh and kept to a minimum) and the clear, straightforward instructions that jolt the recipes to remarkable. 

So it is with this chocolate dessert. It's called spuma which translates loosely to foam. A heavenly concoction of semi-sweet chocolate, eggs, and cream, with a spark of rum and coffee, spuma alights between a thick and rich French mousse and a soft and floaty British fool. The middle is the miracle. As Goldilocks taught us, that means spuma is just right. 

If you are inclined to whip up a dessert for your mom next Sunday, perhaps consider Marcella's Spuma di Cioccolato. It's complex yet familiar, sweet and just a bit bitter, and unabashedly authentic. Just like our moms. 



6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup strong espresso coffee
2 tablespoons dark rum
2/3 cup very cold heavy cream

In a 250 degree oven, melt the chocolate in a small saucepan. Alternately, place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on medium-high for 1 minute. Remove and stir. Continue heating in 15-second increments until the chocolate completely melts and has a smooth consistency.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and egg yolks and beat until pale yellow. Stir in the melted chocolate, coffee, and rum. 

In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it is stiff. Fold it into the chocolate-and-egg-yolk mixture.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold into the mixture. When all the ingredients have been gently but well combined by hand, spoon the mixture into goblets, custard cups, or any other suitable and attractive serving container. Refrigerate overnight. (The dessert can be prepared 3 or 4 days ahead of time, but after 24 hours it tends to wrinkle and lose some of its creaminess.) Recipe by Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook,  Ballantine Books, 1973. 

NOTE: Don't exceed the recommended amounts of rum and coffee, or you may find a liquid deposit at the bottom of the dessert.


These festive cookies are spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, studded with toasted walnuts, chocolate morsels, and raisins, and spiked with a healthy dose of bourbon that knits the ingredients into a rich and complex goodness. No doubt the recipe has Medieval origins. And because we Italians like to gild the lily, the cookies are finished with lemon-scented icing and colorful sprinkles.

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