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Cookies without Nuts
Italian ricotta lemon cookies
Mary's Italian Ricotta Lemon Cookies (using butter, flour and sugar, flavored with vanilla and lemon zest)
Originated from: Italy
Occasion: Easter & special times
Contributed by: Mary Melfi

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Mary's Italian Soft-Centered Ricotta Lemon Cookies*

2 1/4 cups flour (plus 1/4 cup more flour if needed)**
1 cup sugar
1 cup ricotta cheese, drained
2 "extra large" eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted (and then cooled)
2 teaspoons Magic baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Finely grated zest of 2 small lemons or 1 large lemon (about 2 tablespoons zest) blended with 2 teaspoons sugar

For coating cookies
about 1/2 cup icing sugar

Equipment needed
2 extra-large "Dollar Shop" aluminum baking pans or sheets (about 12 X 18 X 1 1/4-inches)
Parchment paper
A round-shaped 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter

*Makes about 3 dozen cookies

** While any all-purpose white flour can be used, the type of brand of flour one uses might affect the amount of flour needed; the texture of the flour varies from brand to brand, one is not necessarily better than the other, they're just different, so when one does a recipe the amount of flour suggested might not be all that suitable for the brand of
flour one is using -- the difference between brands is not all that great, one is talking about a few tablespoons (a little more or a a little less). For example, I found I need 2 1/4 cups if I use "Red Rose" flour to make these cookies but if I use a no-name brand than I need about 1/4 cup more. As making good-tasting, home-baked cookies is difficult, such differences might affect the outcome. Using one's own good sense also helps in getting the desired result.


Place the oven rack in the middle or the top half of the oven (To help avoid burning the cookie bottoms.).

Line a large aluminum baking pan with parchment paper (Cheap aluminum baking pans available in Dollar Shops seem to work better than the more expensive cookie sheets sold in kitchen specialty shops. Aluminum doesn't conduct heat all that well, and strangely enough this is a good thing, as it helps the cookie bottoms from getting burnt.).

Place the finely grated lemon zest on a dinner plate. Using your fingertips mix the finely grated zest with sugar.

Using an electric beater, beat the eggs.

Add the butter (The butter should be in liquid form, but it should not be warm, otherwise it will start to cook the eggs which would prove disastrous.).

Add the vanilla extract to the butter and eggs, beat well.

Add sugar and beat until frothy (Do not cream the mixture).

In a separate bowl drain the ricotta. If the ricotta is the grainy kind, put it in a blender and make it smooth. After the ricotta is drained, measure 1 cup.

Add the ricotta to the egg-sugar-mixture, and beat vigorously.

Add 1 cup flour. Beat well.

Add the salt. Beat well.

Add another cup flour. Beat well.

Add the baking powder and beat well.

Add 1/4 more cup of flour and beat well. If the mixture has the right consistency, i.e., if it is soft and sticky (but not too sticky) do not add more flour, if the mixture appears too soft (more like a batter than a dough) then add 1/4 cup more flour but not any more than this (Keep in mind that the dough will naturally harden a little while it is resting in the fridge, so it can at this point be quite soft -- the less flour used, the softer the cookie and that's a good thing, unfortunately, if the dough is too soft, the cookies will drop while baking and then one will have a flat cookie rather than a ball-shaped one, a bad thing.)

Beat vigorously, making sure the dough is nicely mixed.

Using a spatula fold in the lemon zest.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the uncooked dough on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Cover the uncooked dough with another parchment paper, and using the palms of your hands or a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/4 of an inch thick.

Cover the dough with a clean kitchen napkin and then place it in the fridge for about 1 hour (This will make the dough a touch less soft and easier to handle).

After the dough has rested in the fridge for an hour or so, preheat oven to 350 F. degrees.

Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a wooden board.

Remove the parchment paper from the top of the dough, but keep the bottom one. (Using parchment paper will make it easier to handle the dough; usually flour is used to facilitate the rolling out of the dough but as cookies are later coated with icing sugar, it's best to avoid the use of flour.).

Using a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter cut out rounds.

Using the palms of your hands, shape each round into a ball (Should be about 1-inch dough balls).

Coat each dough ball with icing sugar by rolling it every which way.

Place the sugar-coated dough balls on an aluminum baking pan that has been lined with fresh parchment paper (There is no need to flatten the balls as they are supposed to have a round ball-like shape; besides, they'll drop a little while they are baking.).

Continue processing the dough, making sure that the icing-sugar-coated-dough-balls are spaced on the baking pan at least 1 1/2 inches apart as the cookies will expand in the oven. (When a baking pan has been filled up with the cookies, place in the oven. Baking one cookie batch at a time will ensure more even heat, helping to avoid under-cooking and/or over-cooking. Stacking two baking pans on two separate racks impedes even baking.).

Bake at 350 F. degrees until ready -- about 13 minutes to 17 minutes.

Cool the cookies.

Keep in the fridge in clear plastic bags until needed.

Repeat all the steps for the second batch of cookies.


Because I had problems making Italian ricotta cookies with the recipes I tried (The dough was always too soft and too sticky) I decided to come up with my own proportions. My take on the recipe I think it is very easy to do. The recipe actually sounds more complicated than it is, as the dough is not all that sticky (as it so often is) and can be easily shaped. I favor high protein desserts and because these cookies have ricotta cheese in them (I love ricotta cheese!), I find they're more to my liking than other cookies that have a higher content of carbohydrates. Most Italian ricotta cookies are flavored with lemon zest (They generally go by the name, "Italian Lemon Ricotta Cookies"), but for those who like the taste of orange, orange zest can be be substituted. I have used orange zest, and sometimes I prefer it to lemon zest, and sometimes I don't. The quality of the orange zest varies, depending on the brand of orange, and the season one is in. The flavor of the cookies can theoretically be enhanced by adding orange juice for orange-flavored ricotta cookies or lemon juice for lemon-flavored ricotta cookies, but I myself found that adding juice to the dough makes it hard to adjust the amount of sugar needed, and as the amount of sugar vis a vis the amount of flour used is pretty important, the extra ingredient could be a recipe for disaster, so I avoid its use but that's just me. Those with expertise can add extra flavoring. Personally I avoid using artificial lemon flavorings and colors as I heartily dislike anything artificial or factory-made, but to each his own (as they say). Obviously, those who like their cookies iced or frosted can frost or ice these cookies, I don't like that stuff so I don't do it. Hopefully my take on this rather traditional Italian cookie recipe can easily be duplicated, and enjoyed. Apparently, prior to World War II these cookies were traditionally made for the Easter festivities in the Southern part of Italy, but nowadays everyone has forgotten this, and most people do them whenever they are in the mood. Comments and photo: Mary Melfi.

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