History of the Pizzelle - The World's Oldest Cookie
By: Elesha Piper
You may love a hot, crispy waffle but have you heard of the world’s oldest cookie; the pizzelle? Dating back hundreds of years in Italian culture, no Italian catholic celebration or wedding is complete without the famous pizzelle!
Light, crispy Italian waffle cookies, the pizzelle is a traditional favorite around Christmas and Easter time and you’re likely to see them piled high on the sweet table of an Italian wedding. These delicious treats were the very first cookie our own, Chef Ted, learned to make as a child. Chef Ted has his mum to thank for his lifelong passion for food. His mother’s friend, Giovana DâAgostino (aka Mama D.) was a talented Chef and taught young Ted how to make a pizzelle cookie.
At just six years old, Chef Ted was teaching adults how to make egg rolls, the famously tasty, deep-fried appetizer. His small hands made him an expert at the folding and rolling technique. As he grew, so did his love for food and today we count ourselves lucky to have this award-winning Chef running the kitchen here at Unique Dining Catering.
Let’s get back to where Chef Ted’s journey all began; the pizzelle. If you’ve never heard of this classic Italian dessert, you’re sure to enjoy this tasty little gastronomic history lesson.
‘Pizze’ comes from the Italian word for ‘round’ and ‘flat’ (that’s right, just like the word pizza) and the ending ‘elle’ means small. These eternally popular, small, round cookies are made from a simple batter of sugar, eggs, flour, butter or oil and flavoring. Although Anise (Black licorice) is the “traditional” flavor of the pizzelle, modern options include vanilla, peppermint, anisette, lemon and chocolate but there are countless recipes and flavor combinations for this humble Italian cookie.
Pizzelles are made using iron plates, either the modern, electric version used the same way you’d use a waffle iron or you can opt for the traditional cast metal plates, the type used centuries ago.
How to make them
To cook the pizzelle, the batter is pressed between two iron plates. It’s common for these iron plates to have some sort of decorative design on them, usually a snowflake, which is then transferred to the batter and cooked into the pizzelle.
Hundreds of years ago, a family’s traditional pizzelle iron would be individually designed to proudly incorporate family crests, special dates, or other meaningful designs. Decorative plates were a prized possession for this timeless treat and often passed down through generations along with the pizzelle cooking technique.
When cooking with these traditional irons, the cookie dough is rolled into a rope to form a figure eight and placed onto one of the plates. The cast metal plate is then held over an open flame and turned to cook each side of the pizzelle.
Once the pizzelle cool off, they’ll harden but coming straight from the hot iron, the cookie is soft and malleable so instead of keeping it’s flat, round cookie appearance, it can be molded easily into other shapes. The pizzelle is often wrapped around a tube, forming the sweet, crunchy cylinder used to make the other famously tasty Italian dessert; cannoli.
Pizzelle cookies are often also shaped into a cone to top with gelato or ice cream and it’s common to create a pizzelle ‘bowl’ where the cookie is molded to the inside of a bowl. Once hard, it’s used as a dish for desserts and piled high with sweet toppings like fruit and cream.
Pizzelles cooked in their original shape, flat and round, can be stacked between layers of ice cream. For those with a truly sweet tooth, try alternating layers of pizzelle, Nutella and ice cream to create a decadent Nutella Ice Cream Pizzelle sandwich. The light layers of the of the pizzelle perfectly complimenting the creamy richness of the Nutella / ice cream combination.
The range of different ways the cookie can be used, especially with modern takes on the traditional recipe, clearly makes it a winner as a super versatile dessert option, regardless of the occasion.
Aside from the design embedded into the pizzelle from the hot iron, there are a few popular traditional ways to decorate and serve up these tasty, waffley morsels.
Food coloring can be used to tint the cookie. Pizzelles are also delicious dipped into chocolate, icing or sprinkles. In the simplest style, the pizzelle is served with a dusting of powdered sugar or cinnamon. Elaborately decorated pizzelles packaged in a beautiful festive wrap can make a wonderfully tasty homemade Christmas gift.
A Little History
So, who do we have to thank for the creation of these delicious cookies that are still a popular staple treat of Italian celebrations today? The pizzelle first appeared in the south-central area of Abruzzo, Italy where two small villages, Colcullo, the Province of L’Aquila and Salle, in the Province of Pescara claim rights to the origin of the sweet treat.
Pizzelle treats are part of Colcullo’s enticingly named celebration called Festival of the Snakes, one of the most unique and ancient festivals in Italy. At one point, centuries ago, the village was overrun with snakes and when Benedictine monk San Domenico cleared out the local fields that were riddled with serpents, the village celebrated with pizzelles. The festival is held on the 1 May each year and, in addition to the pizzelle, attracts some of the world’s major snake-lovers who often bring their own snakes.
Every July, Salle celebrates the festival of 12th-century monk Beato Roberto da Salle. During this popular festival, Pizzelle is hung from tree branches and celebrants walk through the streets with them as an offering.
Interestingly, the history of the pizzelle may go back even further, drawing on the ancient examples of bread stamps in both ancient Greece and Rome where the bread of a similar size and shape was often stamped in geometric patterns. Religious imagery, such as a cross, was also impressed into flatbread during the early days of Christianity to be used as the Holy Eucharist.
The pizzelle is clearly a cookie with a lot of history. It’s the cookie that started it all for Chef Ted and he’s been cooking ever since!