These Italian cookies are so tender and soft with a simple vanilla glaze. They are incredibly simple to make (no chilling!) and can be formed into fun shapes too!
Classic Italian Christmas Cookies
A sister to the anise cookies I shared yesterday, this authentic Italian cookie recipe is a cherished family recipe that was generously given to me by my grandmother’s cousin, Janet (and it feels weird to call her “my grandmother’s cousin”, she’s just been a close family member my whole life).
One of the main differences between yesterday’s recipe (besides the licorice flavor) and this one is the glaze; as Janet said (and was very clear about when sharing this recipe!), “you need a clear glaze for real Italian cookies”. As a result, today’s glaze is not nearly as thick as the icing I shared yesterday.
Italian cookies are more dry than a lot of my cookie recipes, but this it totally normal and to be expected. Classic Italian cookies have something of a biscuity texture, and they’re also not too sweet. The balance is quite nice and a lighter alternative to the rich hot chocolate cookies I shared earlier this week!
What You Need
This ingredient list is about as simple as you can get! We’ll be using basic pantry staples like butter, eggs, milk, flour, etc. Nothing fancy, and nothing complicated!
- Flour. How much flour you need depends on what you plan to do with your cookie dough. If you plan to just scoop and roll it into balls, 3 cups (375g) will be just fine. If you want to form your dough into fun shapes, you can add more flour (up to 1 additional cup). I talk more about this in the FAQ section below.
- Eggs. Set your eggs out ahead of time so they can come to room temperature, as they will incorporate much easier this way. If you forget to set yours out, follow my trick for quickly bringing eggs to room temperature.
- Butter. Janet says she sometimes uses margarine instead of butter, so if you want to do that, feel free. This is a rare recipe where I do use salted butter (to stick with old-fashioned tradition) but you can substitute unsalted, you will need to add more than a pinch of salt to your dough; read my post on salted vs. unsalted butter for the conversion.
- Milk. We’ll use just a few splashes of milk in the cookies and the glaze. Since it’s such a small amount, any kind will work here (even non-dairy milks).
SAM’S TIP: This is such a fun recipe to make with kids! They can help roll the dough into balls, brush on the glaze, or add the sprinkles.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Italian Cookies
- Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Stir in the eggs until well combined, then add the milk, vanilla, and salt.
- Whisk 3 cups of flour and the baking powder together in a separate bowl until combined, then gradually add this to the wet ingredients.
- Add additional flour as needed: if you are forming your cookies into balls, your dough is ready. If you plan to shape it, add more flour (up to 1 cup) until the dough is manageable.
SAM’S TIP: Note that I actually halved Janet’s recipe because it was so large, so just know this recipe does double well if you want a whole bunch of cookies (perfect for a cookie exchange!).
- Form the dough into your desired shapes and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Give the cookies a little breathing room so they can bake evenly.
- Bake for 8 minutes, then let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.
- Whisk the powdered sugar and milk together, then brush over the cooled cookies.
- Add sprinkles, if desired. Let the glaze set before enjoying.
SAM’S TIP: Italian cookies will stay pale, even when they are done baking. If you wait til yours are golden brown on the edges, they will be over-baked and will not have the proper texture or flavor!
Frequently Asked Questions
I include a range so you have options for shaping your cookie dough. If you’d like to make your Italian cookies in a classic ball shape like I have above, then you can use the standard 3 cups or 375g.
Or, if you want to use this recipe to make your cookies into shapes like pretzels, knots, etc., you will need to add additional flour so the dough holds its shape. You can add up to 1 additional cup of flour until you dough reaches the right consistency for molding/shaping.
Yes! Lemon, almond, peppermint, or anise would work well here instead. I’d love to hear what flavors you try in these Italian cookies–let me know in the comments below!
They absolutely do! Place them in an airtight container in the freezer and they will keep for a few months this way. Perfect for the holidays!
I’ve got just a few more Christmas cookie recipes until we wrap things up for the New Year! What other recipes would you like to see?
- ½ cup (65 g) powdered sugar
- 1 ½ – 2 Tablespoons milk
- Nonpareils or sprinkles optional
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and use an electric mixer to beat until light and fluffy.10 Tablespoons (142 g) salted butter, ¾ cups (150 g) granulated sugar
- Add eggs and beat into the batter until well-combined.3 large eggs
- Add milk, vanilla extract, and salt, and stir until completely combined.2 Tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, Pinch of salt
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 3 cups of flour and baking powder. Gradually add flour to wet mixture. At this point, the dough should be firm enough that you will be able to form it into balls. If you would like to make other shapes (loops, knots, pretzels, etc.) continue to add up to an additional 1 cup (125g) of flour until dough is manageable.3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, 3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- Break off a ball of dough about 1 Tablespoon in size and roll into a ball (or form into shapes). Place cookie dough on prepared baking sheet, spacing at least 2” apart.
- Transfer to center rack of 350F (175C) oven and bake for 8 minutes.
- Allow to cool on baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before carefully transferring to cooling rack to cool completely before glazing.
Prepare the glaze
- In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and milk. Glaze should be very thin. Use a pastry brush to brush over completely cooled cookies. Immediately sprinkle with nonpareils or sprinkles, if desired.½ cup (65 g) powdered sugar, 1 ½ – 2 Tablespoons milk, Nonpareils or sprinkles
- Allow glaze to set before enjoying.
Flour3 cups of flour should give you a dough that’s sturdy enough to be rolled and dropped. However, if you’d like to make fun shapes with the dough (pretzels, twists, etc.) you may find the dough is not thick enough. Feel free to add up to another cup (125g) of flour until the dough reaches a consistency that is shapeable. Note that the more flour you add, the more dry and less sweet the cookies will be.
StoringStore in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Cookies also freeze well – tightly wrap and freeze for up to several months.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.