Staff Writer Gina Brown gets philosophical during her annual pizzelle-making extravaganza.
A yearly tradition in my Italian-American family is making pizzelles the day after Thanksgiving. As an anti-consumerist, this tradition aligns with me much more than the dastardly holiday that is Black Friday. The only thing I want to consume is pizzelle after pizzelle!
A little history of pizzelles: they are thin, waffle-like cookies made with tons of eggs (12) and a great deal of flavored extract (four different types!). They are very popular around Christmas and Easter, and my family regard the first batch of pizzelles as an important way to ring in the season. I have incredibly fond memories of rolling the little balls of dough into perfect spheres, little hands covered in butter to stop the dough from sticking. Now I have graduated to operating the pizzelle press: similar to a waffle press, the balls of dough go in the center, and the top is pressed down. Sounds easy, right? Instead, this process is complicated by the fact that our family recipe for the pizzelles renders the dough thick, which makes for a thick, chewy cookie but great difficulty in pressing the balls flat. On top of that, the light that indicates when the pizzelles are done is broken: therefore, it’s trial and error for the first half dozen pizzelles to see when they are properly cooked. My mother refuses to upgrade our broken-down press: “the pattern is iconic!” She’s referring to the lace-like pattern that gets imprinted upon the pizzelles. Family lore says that my great-grandparents used to have a press emblazoned with the letter “L,” for our last name “Lazzara.”
Included here is a photograph of my mother’s pizzelle recipe, which was written out by my grandmother on an index card. I have never met her, since she passed away before I was born, but when I see all of her recipe cards, I feel closer to her. Today, these index cards are yellowed, grimy with spills, and the pencil writing that once was vibrant has smudged to a shadow. Such is life. You can even see where my mother has made her own adjustments, reforming the recipe to resemble today (who even uses shortening anymore?). I will not attempt to decode it for you—it’s a part of the cooking experience!
Making the pizzelles is only one part of the tradition: one cannot press the several pounds of dough without It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) playing in the background. This very moment was the only thing getting me through the last week leading up to Thanksgiving: pressing the pizzelles on my kitchen island by the fire while the movie played in the background. It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, and I cry every time. I could also probably quote the entire thing!
I pressed those pizzelles for the entire 2 hour and 10 minute run time of It’s a Wonderful Life and still only got through half the dough. The rest was sent into the freezer, where it will wait for me until my return home. Before I left for break, my mother made sure I was stocked up on pizzelles for school. “To hold you over until Christmas!” But the first thing I did with the pizzelles was give them to all my friends to try. I’ve been thinking a lot about how around this time last year, I only had a few friends, and was feeling very alienated socially. Making friends was harder than I thought at college; even after a full semester had passed, I felt like I was surrounded by acquaintances rather than people who truly knew me. So this time around, I was incredibly excited to share my confectionary creation with some of the people who mean so much to me.
Although my tummy hurt from the ridiculous amount of pizzelles I snacked on during break, I knew it was also full with love from all the amazing people I’m honored to have as friends.
Pizzelle Pictures via Author