Yesterday was the Babble Bake Off so the office teamed together and presented our favorite recipes (think Top Chef Just Desserts). We competed in a number of categories, and much of the day was spent in a sugar-induced coma, which resulted in a collective energy crash at around 3pm.
I wouldn’t consider myself a baker by any means, and the only recipes I know I’ve learned from mother or grandmother, which is why I was so surprised to win the category for “Best Story Behind the Recipe.”
Italian Lemon Drop cookies are one of my earliest memories. I remember how I was too small to see over the counter at my grandmother’s wine shop, where she would babysit my sister and me. Next door was a bakery, and before we went home we would stop in, and she would chat with the owners and let me pick one thing. I always chose (and still do choose) one of these cookies. There’s something special about the sweet crunchy layer of icing and light citrus taste that can perfectly follow any meal (especially a holiday meal where you ate way more than you should have).
This particular recipe stems further back than my own childhood, to my mother’s childhood. There, in the same kitchen I remember growing up in, my mother sat at the table with her grandmother, eating these cookies with her brothers and sister. For me, cooking always been a family affair—the women crouched over stoves during the holidays, passing around glasses of wine and shooing away hungry children looking for where the desserts are hidden. Sadly when my great grandmother died (long before I was born) she took her recipe with her.
Throughout my childhood my mother and grandmother tried to recreate the recipe and came very close. It’s probably the only thing my mom has baked within the last 10 years and I’ve tried many variations of it, each one closer to the way my great grandmother had made them. As I’m typing this now, my mom is eating the leftover cookies from the Babble Bake Off, telling me all the ways they are not like her grandmothers. I know that even though I might never taste the cookies of my mom’s childhood, these have brought me closer to a great grandmother I never knew and each bite tastes like the warm memories I’ve shared with my family. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, even the correct recipe. This is something I will teach my kids when they are young, and maybe one time, it will finally be the way my mom remembers it.
Italian Lemon Drop Cookies with Citrus-y Lemon Icing
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
Mix dry ingredients together separately. Fold into wet ingredients until smooth. For each cookie, place a tablespoon of dough two inches apart on a nonstick baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes (or until bottom is browned).
When completely cooled, drizzle with icing and top with sprinkles. Wait until icing is fully dry to serve.
1 box of powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon extract
Pour powdered sugar and lemon extract into a bowl. Slowly add water, a tablespoon at a time, until icing is smooth and pourable.
My great grandmother would freeze the dough until it was pliable and twist the cookies into figure 8s, topping with rainbow nonpareil sprinkles.
Related stories on Babble:
- Baking with My Son: When a Cookie is More Than Just a Cookie
- Italian Traditions in the Kitchen: 5 Family Dinner Tips
- Family Recipes That Kids Can Cook