Most pizzelle baking irons are round, probably because it's much easier to get lace-edged circles than any kind of rectangle. But regardless of shape or perfection thereof, these crisp, light not-too-sweet cookies look great on the plate - while they last.
In the middle of the Northeastern winter, when gardening consists largely of spraying insecticidal soap and looking out the window at the naked spot where you meant to plant a chamaecyparis 'Filifera' but didn't, it's only natural to use baking as a creative outlet.
Plus there's the Pavlovian component: Just as springtime is full of cues to get out there with trowel and pruning shears, the season of Light's Return Celebrations* is a near constant reminder that cookies should be made.
Some years we begin with gingerbread, which adds the warm perfume of spices to old reliable butter + sugar + flour + oven = happiness; but we usually start with pizzelle, a family tradition from the Italian side of Bill, who arrived in my life equipped with his grandmother's pizzelle iron.
That would be grandmother Josephine, the world's greatest cook, born Guiseppa Cario in 1894, near Palermo, resident for most of her life in Washington, PA (near Pittsburgh).
The grandmotherly pizzelle iron IS iron, not the more modern cast aluminum. And it has both a very long handle and little feet, like the feet on old cast iron skillets, suggesting original design for use on an open hearth - although they may simply be there to provide balance; the applied handle means the plates don't lie flat.
Most importantly, the iron has grandma's initials and those of grandpa Fidele engraved on one side, along with the date: 1931, the twentieth year of their marriage.
The personalized parts are not deeply cut, so they never show up as clearly as the patterns standard on the iron, but that just adds to the challenge. If the dough comes out just right, you can see 'em. If it doesn't, the pizzelle are still delicious, and of course if you've gotten close enough to eat them, you don't have to see the initials to know they're there.
The basic batter is easy to make, and over the years I've tried many variations, some with vanilla, some with citrus rinds, some with crushed nuts and spices. Even chocolate, which is better than it sounds but not all that terrific unless you're one of those people with a chocolate problem. Reception is always the same: Bill takes a bite and then says "My grandmother's had anise in 'em."
E-bay is rich with vintage pizzelle irons, both stovetop and electric, but there are many modern versions, including several with non-stick coating (which is widely considered non-good). Fante's in Philadelphia has a particularly broad selection, including a version of our family heirloom that you can have engraved with YOUR initials and pass down to your grandchildren.
Pizzelle are ideally so thin they're almost translucent, their intricate patterns picked out in the gold brown of perfect toast (middle top). But achieving this goal is not essential. Even when quite thick they're still delicate, and tasty doneness can be anything from barely colored to almost burnt. In all of its manifestations, homemade is so much better than commercial it's like the difference between a twinkie and a Payard petit four.
What you're making is basically a batch of extremely thin waffles and as with all waffles success is not instant; you generally have to discard the first couple. This was clearly no problem in former times; old-fashioned recipes make 60 or more. This one yields far fewer, but it can be doubled with no problem as long as you have a sturdy mixer.
*The last time I addressed this subject I was in the throes of irritation at the people who are endlessly on about the meaning of Christmas trees, and so neglected to mention things like Saturnalia and Hanukkah. Please consider them mentioned. That post also includes a recipe for shortbread, the world's easiest holiday cookie and one of the very best.
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