What is Pizzelle?

Brendan McGuigan

A pizzelle is a simple sugar cookie, originating in Italy and now popular throughout the West. A pizzelle is made using sugar, flour, butter and eggs, and most often flavored with traditional ingredients such as lemon or vanilla. Once the dough has been mixed, the cookies are baked using a special pizzelle iron. A pizzelle iron is similar to a waffle iron, with both traditional and modern electric versions available.

Pizzelles are thin cookies that can be flavored with anise extract.
Pizzelles are thin cookies that can be flavored with anise extract.

The traditional pizzelle iron is a heavy cast-iron double skillet, made to be held over an open fire until the cookie is baked. Modern electric pizzelle irons simply plug into a wall and are pressed down for a few seconds to cook the pizzelle through. Historically, a pizzelle iron would be embossed with the family crest or some other symbol of personal significance; modern pizzelle irons use a handful of symbols, most often a snowflake, basket or some sort of floral print.

A liquor like sambuca might be added to a pizzelle recipe.
A liquor like sambuca might be added to a pizzelle recipe.

When the pizzelle was invented is uncertain, but they are known to be quite old. Originating somewhere in central Italy, they were at first made exclusively during large celebrations. They quickly became associated with both Christmas and Easter, and would be imprinted with symbols appropriate for these holidays.

Pizzelles have seen something of a renaissance in the past decade, as their flexibility in baking becomes more known. Because of their consistency and thinness, pizzelles can be manipulated into a range of shapes after they have been baked but before they cool completely. The most popular shaping for a pizzelle is a cone, often sprinkled with sugar and partially dipped in dark chocolate. Cups and baskets are also popular shapes, especially since these lend themselves to being filled with chocolate, custard and other sweet fillings.

Traditional pizzelle irons can be difficult to find, though some blacksmiths make custom irons with the symbol of your choice emblazoned on them. These older-style pizzelle irons can cost anywhere from US$50 to US$300 depending on the craftsmanship and whether they are custom cast. This style of pizzelle iron is intended for use over an open fire. Modern electric pizzelle irons are very affordable, with good low-end irons costing less than US$50. A very good pizzelle iron can cost around US$100, but the difference in quality is negligible.

One of the greatest draws of the pizzelle is its versatility as a dessert, so when baking one should not be afraid to experiment with new ingredients or toppings. In addition to the basic four ingredients, many people add liquors such as Sambuca or Amaretto to the mix, giving a distinctly Italian yet somewhat exotic spice to their cookies.

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