I finally figured out why my mom has so many different recipes for basically the same holiday cookie. Her generation of women made the traditional Italian cookies from the region in Italy where they came from originally. Each region has a slightly different version of many of the Christmas (and other holiday) sweets. So my mom and her friends shared these variations, and when I look through her recipe folder, I find 3 or 4 recipes for the same thing, just with a tweak here and there. It’s been confusing the heck out of me, but I now realize what was going on. I sift through the bits of worn papers with ingredients, etc until find the recipe that I remember best. Hence, “Betty’s Knots.” I know my mom tried several other recipes, but this is the recipe that she made year after year. Betty is her sister-in-law (my aunt), and she is a great baker. She’s a good cook as well, but it’s her baked goods that have made it into our recipe files.
I used to love to make these knots as a child. It was fun to roll them out and then knot them into that funny shape. I also loved to ice them with that sugary glaze. A little icing for the cookie……and then a little icing for me! It’s funny how I can still see in my mind, my sister and I rolling out the dough into cigar-like shapes, and then tying the knots. It still is a great way to engage children in the cookie making process, without too much mess.
I hadn’t made these cookies in many years, as my sister-in-law became the official “knot maker” in the family. These were my brothers favorite cookie, so she started to make them every year. I used this opportunity to branch out a little and stray from tradition. I tried gingerbread cookies and many other recipes that I found in Holiday cookbooks. But when I returned to these cookies this year, I was filled with warm memories. I suppose this is why we hang on to traditions. Is it the taste we love or is it the memories?
RECIPE: makes approximately 3 dozen
1/2 pound butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. anise extract (or Sambuca liquor)
5 tsp. baking powder
5 cups flour
juice of one small lemon
juice of one small orange ( I use 1 1/2 tsp orange extract)
one box of confectioners sugar, sifted
2 tsp. anisette liquor, such as Sambuca
1. Cream together the eggs, butter and sugar. Add in the vanilla and anise extract or liquor.
2. Combine the flour and baking soda, and add it to the egg mixture a little at a time. (I stop using the electric mixer after 4 cups, and work in the last cup of flour by hand). Knead and form into a large ball. Cover and let stand for one hour.
3. Flour a pastry board so the dough won’t stick when you roll it out. Cut off pieces of dough and roll out to about a six inch cigar shape or piece of rope. Twist into a knot, and place on a cookie.
4. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until light brown.
5. Meanwhile, make the icing, by combining all the ingredients and mixing well with a whisk. It should be rather thick so that you can spread it on the cookie with a knife.
6. Cool the cookies completely before icing and adding the sprinkles.
7. Let them sit on a tray until the icing is completely dry before storing them away.