21 Italian Christmas Cookies for a Buon Natale!
Transcend boring holiday cookie purgatory and bite into the divine with these special recipes, including cucidati, biscotti, amaretti, pizzelles, brutti ma buoni, polenta, pine nut, ricotta, and more
Healthier, better-tasting meals are easier than you think with help from Yummly! Try it free now.
Photograph by Olga Ivanova
(Want more Christmas recipes and tips? Check out our big Yummly Christmas page!)
It’s time to channel your inner Carmela Soprano and get baking! Families are finally reuniting this holiday season, and the level of joy it’s bringing could definitely be described as Italian-worthy. But why choose Italian Christmas cookies this year? While each country’s cuisine brings something special to the family table, Italians will be the first to point out that the image of a nonna (grandma) carefully rolling out sheet after sheet of dough and twisting it into timeless shapes is more than a stereotype — from-scratch Christmas raviolis, the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, and the dazzling array of Christmas cookies on offer are the very real experiences for many an Italian famiglia.
But each family isn’t the same. The country that brought us gnocchi, Dante, Michelangelo, and black and white truffles is also a country of differing climates, regions, and cultural distinctions; as a result the Christmas cookie offerings are varied and delightful, from delicate snowflake-shaped pizzelle to cucidati packed with sunny ingredients like figs, pistachios and almonds. And since many Italian sweets use olive oil in place of butter and ground nuts in place of refined flours, plenty of the cookies below are special diet-friendly.
So mangia! This Christmas, gather your family, whether biological or chosen, and encourage them to have just one more cookie. We all deserve it.
Jump ahead to:
Note: The Yummly Meal Planner is available to paid subscribers.
Christmas cookie questions: Italian extravaganza edition
Learn how to make and store Italian Christmas cookies so you're never without a little stash
Many types of Italian Christmas cookies call for almond flour. Can I grind my own almonds to make it?
At the store, look for the slightly grainy kind of blanched almond flour; you don’t want it to be too fine and powdery for Italian cookie baking.
Can you freeze these cookies?
Some cookies freeze well, but it can be hard to keep glazed or decorated cookies from getting wrinkled or smudged. However, you can freeze cookies, let them defrost, and then glaze or decorate them before serving. Freeze cookies in a single layer on a baking sheet, then gently transfer to a one-gallon freezer bag. Amaretti and ricotta cookies freeze beautifully; let them sit out for 24 hours to slowly defrost. Do not freeze pizzelles; they are too fragile and many will break.
How do you store Italian Christmas cookies? And how long do they last?
Any lidded tin or airtight container should do the job; there is no need to refrigerate them once they’re out of the oven. Most will last a week, but biscotti are good for a few weeks — making them a great choice for holiday gift giving (they ship well, too).
The divine cookie platter
These traditional Italian Christmas cookies are guaranteed to transport you from the darkness of the last two years into the divine sweetness of the dazzling cookies below — that you might, for just a moment, taste heaven
Mangia! Figs, chocolate, orange, and nuts form the filling of these Sicilian holiday cookies that are a festive, more fabulous version of a Fig Newton; dipped in a vanilla glaze and scattered with colorful sprinkles, they make everyone feel merry and bright.
Espresso and two kinds of chocolate ensure this variation of the “ugly but good” cookies have a depth of chocolate flavor that will be hard to find in any other chocolate Christmas cookie.
These festive Christmas cookies have a crumb that’s closer to a tiny cake: They’re delicate, fluffy, and soft, sort of like biting into a sweet ricotta cloud. Lemon zest and vanilla add to the heady aroma; use your best holiday sprinkles for these cakey beauties.
The dough for the most traditional Italian Christmas cookies of Sicily is made in a fashion similar to pasta, with a flour mixture formed into a well that is filled with eggs and then gently stirred together. The filling has figs, raisins, walnuts, dark chocolate, coffee, and saba. Saba is a grape must syrup; if you don’t have any in your pantry, use balsamic vinegar instead (saba is a main ingredient in balsamic vinegar).
Polenta is one of the staple foods served toward the top of Italy’s boot, so it’s a natural fit for these traditional S-shaped Christmas cookies. While there is plenty of cornmeal produced in the U.S., try to find Italian polenta in specialty stores or online to get the best texture in these lemon-scented sweets.
Have you ever wanted to eat a snowflake? These anise-scented Italian Christmas cookies are crisp and delicate sweet wafers; a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar completes the snow-powdered scene. (Feel free to swap in vanilla extract in place of anise extract.)
Chocolate and orange is a classic Sicilian combination, thanks to the sweet oranges that grow in orchards across Sicily. In the States, citrus is in season in the winter, so these delicate orange cookies dipped in chocolate taste fresh and bright. Plus, only eight ingredients and not chilling the cookie dough means these easy Italian Christmas cookies can be ready in a flash.
Biscotti e amici (and friends)
“Biscotto” is the most common Italian word for cookie, though the literal translation means baked twice: bis = two times, cotti = baked. Traditional biscotti has no oil or butter, which ensures a craggy, crispy cookie that beautifully soaks up any liquid it’s dipped into: sweet wine, a warm latte, or a hot cup of black tea. A bread knife is ideal for slicing the cookies after their initial bake.
These easy Italian Christmas cookies originally came from Florence, and they’re so good the recipe has barely changed over time. Sliced almonds and orange zest make them fragrant and full of good cheer; they’re baked twice, so are best dipped in a glass of vin santo, a Tuscan dessert wine, but are also fabulous with a cup of strong tea or a cappuccino.
Use your best cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips to deliver a double hit of chocolate in these crunchy and satisfying (yet surprisingly easy) Italian Christmas cookies.
Crunchy cranberry and pistachio biscotti (pistachio trees can be found in many regions of Italy) are the perfect accompaniment to a warm holiday drink, and are a real treat with their final brushstroke of white chocolate.
It’s the holidays, go nuts
Nuts form the basis of a number of old school Italian Christmas cookies; thus some are historically grain-free, some have no dairy — but all of them are delicious.
These classic Italian Christmas cookies are naturally gluten-free and contain no dairy, either. Ground almonds stand in for refined flours, so they taste great and have a nutty chewiness that makes it hard to only eat one. And if you prepare them with the two types of Italian Christmas cookies below, you’ll have not only traditional red, white, and green holiday colors on your holiday table, but the colors of the Italian flag, as well.
The evergreen color in these cookies strikes the perfect holiday note, and with matcha, one of this year’s hottest ingredients, you can’t go wrong. The almond flavor pairs beautifully with the tea, and there’s no bitterness thanks to the sweetness of the cookies.
Freeze-dried raspberries (carried at Trader Joe’s and online) are ground into a powder to make these delicious little treats. The bright red color will fade a bit in the oven as they bake, so feel free to add a drop or two of red or pink food coloring if you want a brighter crimson hue.
The classic snowball cookie gets a luscious Italian upgrade by swapping out pecans for hazelnuts, or nocciola, plus a festive surprise filling of Nutella. You’ll never make snowballs the old way again.
With ingredients inspired by classic Italian buon Natale cookies — like olive oil, pistachios, and lemon — these Christmas tree cookies will make any holiday table sing with good cheer. Plus, the pistachios on top add their own natural green to the tree effect.
These crisp-on-the-outside, light-and-chewy-on-the-inside treats are one of the simplest Italian Christmas cookie recipes, with only five ingredients. They’re naturally gluten-free and have a nutty quality throughout, thanks to the almond paste and pignoli (pine nuts), and are a fun recipe to have kids help make.
You can almost see the shrugging of the shoulders on the day these cookies got their name: Ugly, But Good. And they are! Ground hazelnuts and powdered sugar make these bumpy, rock-esque cookies surprisingly light, and with only four ingredients they come together in a snap.
Their name translates to “Lady’s Kisses,” and these roasted hazelnut cookies sandwich a layer of dark chocolate cream, making them reminiscent of Nutella — which is certainly how some kisses feel, and regardless always tastes like a jolly holiday. Be sure to use very chilled butter so the cookies don’t spread too much in the oven.
Special diet Italian Christmas cookies
While a paleo, keto, or vegan diet is not part of Italian cuisine, lots of Italian baked goods naturally rely on olive oil instead of butter and ground almonds in place of refined flours; in many cases, it becomes easy to make a few simple ingredient changes while still retaining the spirit and flavor essence of the cookie.
Whole wheat flour, ground flax seeds, and vanilla almond milk will make these easy Italian Christmas cookies the bell of the ball, especially once they’re dipped in (vegan) chocolate.
Aquafaba (the liquid left behind in a can of garbanzo beans) stands in for the eggs in these almond-scented, refined flour-free amaretti cookies. And you know what? They’re spectacular.
These crunchy and sweet almond biscotti will keep in a covered container for a week, and each cookie has only 2 grams of net carbs, for an Italian holiday indulgence to feel good about.
Want more fabulous cookie recipes?
Check out these charming Yummly cookie stories for more recipes and tips to complete your holiday cookie platter.