Christmas tradition, Italian Chocolate Cookies

Every year at Christmas my family and many of our friends, anxiously await their portion of these yummy cookies.

The tradition started with my Grandma Cicero.  She would make these cookies every year for us.  I have no idea how many she made, but it was a lot.  My grandmother was a "cook by touch" kind of cook and baker.  There were no measuring cups, it was a handful of this or a pinch of that so there was no recipe for these cookies either.

That is until one year when my mother helped make the cookies and as Grandma "measured" in her hand, Mom measured with cups and teaspoons!  Now we had a recipe!

Mom and Grandma Cicero in Grandma's kitchen.  Lots of great memories in that kitchen!
The next hurdle was doubling the recipe.  We knew we needed to considering the growing number of people wanting these gems each year.  Grandma insisted it couldn't be done.  We proved her wrong!  I've doubled the recipe, halved the recipe even quartered it (considering a batch is 300 cookies, quartering is not unheard of!) and they always turn out great.

Tradition was that these cookies were made the Friday after Thanksgiving.  We're not into the craziness of Black Friday.  There's enough craziness in our kitchen on that day!  Well, with marriages and children and busy adult lives, that tradition has fallen to I make them whenever I can get them done!  My brothers all know how to make these cookies, they choose not to, but they're always very willing to eat them!

We are celebrating Christmas at Thanksgiving with my family this year so the cookies can't wait until after Thanksgiving.  Dave has military duty this weekend so spending the day in the kitchen doesn't cut into any time I could be spending with him.  This year was one of those years I knew I needed to double the recipe so I enlisted the help of the daughter of a coworker to get them done.  It really does go faster when there's two of you.

So here we go!

First there's the preparations.  You have to buy all the ingredients which includes things like 4 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of raisins and a pound of lard.  Yes, lard.  Would they work with another shortening?  I don't know.  I'm not willing to risk it.  Lord help me the day the health nuts ban lard from the grocery store!

Prepare the table for the cookies by covering it with waxed paper and get the cooling racks ready!

You will need a very large vessel in which to mix the dough.  Remember what you just read, this is pounds and pounds of dough.  And remember this year I doubled it!  I had to mix 8 pounds of flour, 2 cups of cocoa, 2 pounds of lard, 4 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of raisins, 2 quarts of milk and a bunch of spices!  In what do you mix this dough?  A canner of course!

I mix all the dry ingredients first, breaking up any clumps of raisins, then add the melted lard and milk.  Mom and I used to worry about which we were supposed to add first.  I don't worry so much about that.  I'm sure we've done it both ways in the past!

I can mix it a little with a wooden spoon but unfortunately I don't own a big Hobart mixer so I have to mix it just like my Grandmother did, with my hands.  I get my upper body workout for the morning.

Once mixed it's time to roll it in little balls and bake.  Typically I would use about a teaspoon and a half per cookie.  It makes a nice 2 bite cookie.  I was feeling lazy to day so I did 2 full teaspoons.

The cookies are baked for 15 minutes.  Lucky for me I can have three trays going at a time.

It's when we get to about this much dough left I want to start making tablespoon sized cookies!

After a couple of hours the canner is empty again!

When the cookies are cooled they are glazed with a mixture of powdered sugar and water then decorated.

Today, with my fantastic helper Alessa, we got 607 cookies baked, glazed and decorated in just under 4 hours!  That has to be a record!

The worst part is, after the cookies dry, packing them up!  That will be done later tonight. Oh yea, and the cleaning up the kitchen!

For those of you brave enough to try this, here is the recipe:

4 pounds flour
2 pounds sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound lard, melted
1 pound raisins
1 quart milk (we use 2%)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cloves

4 pounds powdered sugar

Mix the dry ingredients (except raisins) well.  Add raisins and mix well, breaking up any clumps of raisins.  Add lard and milk and mix well.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on lightly greased cookies sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Cool completely.

Mix some of the powdered sugar with water to form a slightly thin glaze (mine is a different consistency every year!).  Drop the cookies in the bowl of glaze and pull out one at a time, scraping the excess glaze off the bottom of the cookie.  Place cookies on waxed paper and sprinkle with your favorite decoration.  When dry pack up in air tight containers or zip top bags.

These freeze really well!

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