Rita Ricci’s Cookies / Biscotti di Margherita Ricci

Rita Ricci was a friend of my Grandmother Galasso and my mother. I remember her as a roly-poly woman with rosy cheeks, who could have passed for Mrs. Santa Claus. She was always cooking and then giving away what she cooked.

Over endless cups of dark brewed espresso, and these cookies, she and my grandmother would talk in Italian about how things used to be in the old country.

Her original recipe calls for 4 dozen eggs, a 3-pound can of shortening, 8 cups sugar, 20 teaspoons baking powder, 4 tablespoons vanilla, and juice of 4 lemons, and 20 cups of flour. I’ve reworked her instructions and made the quantities much easier to manage. (Mrs. Ricci’s recipe says it will make “one half bushel of cookies.”)


  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening. melted
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs grated lemon zest
  • Frosting
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. In a bowl, beat the eggs until pale yellow. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until thick and light colored. Add the melted shortening and milk, beating well.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the egg mixture. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, mixing well. The dough will be soft; wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate for 1 hour to make it easier to handle.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine all the frosting ingredients and mix until it is a glaze consistency. Cover and set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
  5. Break off walnut size pieces of dough and roll each on into a rope about 5 inches long; then make a loose knot and place the cookies on parchment lined baking sheets about 1/2 inch apart.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until cookies are light golden brown. Cool then lightly frost and let dry completely.
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