Katie Boyce is a student at the Culinary Institute of America, and she talks about childhood memories of pizzelles, which are traditional Italian cookies, and the special place they held in her upbringing with her parents and grandparents. Here’s her story:
Much like Proust and his madeleines, pizzelles conjure an array of images and emotions brought back to me from my childhood. Though my mother was adopted, and I inherently am not related by technical terms to my grandparents on my mother’s side, I still very much consider myself to be Italian. Half of my lineage cannot be traced, but by my standards, I believe this half of me to be from Italian descent–not by default, but by my upbringing. I have never considered my mother’s adoptive parents to be anything other than my true grandparents, just as I have never considered myself to be anything other than one half Italian. Both of my grandparents came from humble and very Italian backgrounds. Therefore, it makes sense that I, too, was raised very much under Italian influence. Large and loud family gatherings, Italian cuisine, and of course, classic Italian cookies were all staples of my childhood.
Perhaps the most common cookie that my mother prepared was the pizzelle, and it is of no surprise that this cookie alone holds a lot of significance to me and my identity. I remember clearly those afternoons, be it a Saturday or a Sunday, with which my mother would spend her time procuring a large pile of simple, yet delectable, cookies.
Pizzelles are prepared similarly to waffles: The dough or batter is placed in a pizzelle iron and cooked until golden brown. Once cooled, the final product is a round, thin, crisp cookie with a unique pattern, generally a mix of cross hatch and floral, with a small four-point star in the middle. As a child, I was always drawn to the uniqueness of the cookie, both in its preparation, and in the final outcome: so simple, yet so undeniably delicious. I distinctly remember my mother using two metal spoons to scoop the chilled, slightly stiff batter into the hot iron, gently closing the greased lid, and then waiting for the cookies to cook, as the batter spread inside the iron and steam escaped through the edges, swirling and disappearing into the air warmed by the aroma of pizzelles.
For what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was a mere few moments, I stood there waiting for the first two pizzelles to be done. Having mastered the fabrication of pizzelles, my mother always knew exactly when each pair of cookies was ready to be removed from the iron. Using two butter knives, she would carefully slide the hot cookies onto a plate to cool. It was then, once the cookies had reached the plate and I had allowed them an adequate thirty seconds to cool, that I would approach the counter, full of excitement and apprehension, and cautiously grab my first cookie. With both hands, I gingerly grasped the pizzelle and gradually nibbled away at it, working in a circular motion towards the center, until all that was left was the small, four-point star. It was at this point that I closed my eyes, made a wish, and savored the last twinkling bite of the pizzelle.
Pizzelles will forever be a nostalgic connection to my childhood and, to this day, I still eat the star last. Further, pizzelles also connect me to my grandparents, who have played a major role in my life and to my faux-Italian lineage. I love Italian cuisine and traditional Italian cookies, and I know that I will continue to bake them throughout my career to secure the connection between myself and my Italian roots. Such cookies have not only inspired me to pursue the baking field, but have also encouraged me to create desserts that other people enjoy just as much as I enjoy pizzelles.