A batch of soft Tuscan cookies

I seem to be raising a little cook — not a surprise really, as we probably spend three-quarters of our day in the kitchen. She has taken to liberally adding her touch to dishes that she can reach on the table (apple juice tipped into the marinade and half a jar of dried chilli flakes shaken over the salad were some highlights this week) or completely taking over whenever she sees any type of dough being made, rolled or cut out. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to make any type of cookie, pizza or bread without her getting involved.

befanini tuscan cookiesbefanini cookies

I think she sees cooking as a craft project, as play. And I mean why not? Cooking should be something enjoyable and positive and I love that we can spend so much time in the kitchen together as a family, watching her learn how to mix, knead, roll, pinch, brush and sprinkle. So when I decided to make a batch of befanini — lovely, soft, sprinkle-covered, cake-like cookies — for a recent Corriere della Sera post, and I saw her eyes widen in delight when she saw the dough and the coloured sprinkles (this three year old’s favourite addition to pretty much any food that she can get away with), I let her take over.

befanini cookies

These lemon-scented cookies are loved by Tuscan adults and children alike. Typical of the area of Versilia on the Tuscan coast, they are traditionally made for January 5, the eve of the Epiphany, when the Befana, an old witch-like lady on a broomstick, comes to visit Italian children to place delicious and lovely things (like befanini) in the stockings of the children who have been good, and coal for those who have been bad. She basically does Santa’s job in Italy.

The recipe makes plenty of cookies so not only will you have enough for putting into stockings but also for wrapping up in colourful packages to give to friends and family. Some like to use aniseed liqueur instead of the rum or you can leave it out entirely and use a splash of milk instead.

befanini cookies for new year

Befanini cookies
Recipe adapted from Paolo Petroni’s Il Grande Libro della Vera Cucina Toscana. Note: we also made a second batch of these which were baked plain (no glaze or sprinkles) and then after baking we glazed them with icing sugar mixed with some water and decorated them like crazy — with different shaped sprinkles, coconut flakes and miniature chocolate chips. Although less traditional, this way you can add decorations that might otherwise get ruined in the oven during baking. See the last photos below.

Makes about 50 cookies

  • 500 grams flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 grams sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • a splash of rum (or aniseed liqueur), optional
  • a splash of milk, if needed
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • coloured sprinkles

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a wide bowl and make a ‘well’ in the centre. Crack 3 of the eggs (save one for glazing) into the middle, along with the liqueur and zest. With a fork, begin beating from the centre outwards, incorporating the dry ingredients slowly into the eggs until you have a thick dough. If it is a bit dry or crumbly, add a splash of milk to loosen so that you have a soft but not sticky, compact dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes. It is easiest to work in batches, so cut the dough in half and keep one half wrapped and chilled until you finish the first half.

Roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to a thickness of about 5mm. Use a cookie cutter to cut out your favourite shapes. When ready to bake, crack the reserved egg and beat in a bowl. With a pastry brush, glaze the tops of the cookies with the egg and decorate with coloured sprinkles.

Bake at 170ºC for about 15-20 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and lightly golden on top. Let cool and serve or store in an airtight container.

Befanini with glazeBefanini with glaze and sprinklesMariu's befaniniMariu's befanini

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Comments

9 Responses to “A batch of soft Tuscan cookies”
  1. Marcellina says:

    Wonderful to have your child with you in the kitchen. So much is learnt…even more than cooking skills. But I’m sure you know that. My children are 18 & 21 and I still love having them in the kitchen with me. Beautiful recipe!

  2. thefolia says:

    Happy collaborating in the kitchen!

  3. georgette says:

    I can’t even lie Emiko, I literally DROOLED on my computer screen when I read this. There is nothing quite like a beautiful soft vanilla cookies with sprinkles. I love that she is enjoying this as much as you do!

  4. Those little hands making the finishing touches! Gorgeous! Beautiful photos! I’ll need to try the recipe with my daughter!

  5. Jan says:

    The recipes reads when ready to bake glaze with the reserved egg and top with sprinkles.
    It looks like the sprinkles are being put on after baking and there is a glaze..
    Cam you tell me if I am reading this correct?

    Thank you.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Hello Jan, the first photos show the sprinkles being put on before baking — this is the most traditional. And you’ll see in the headnote of the recipe that I had written that some sprinkles can get ruined this way, so if you prefer you can decorate after baking with a glaze and sprinkles (as in the last photos) and that this, however, is not traditional! Hope that helps clear things up!

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