More >

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, rind 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

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup vegetable shortening, melted

1/2 cup milk

6 cups King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest


1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/4 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

Red or green food coloring, optional


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. 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.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets.

Place the dough on a well-floured surface. Break off egg-sized pieces of dough and roll each piece into an 8-inch rope. Bring the ends together, pinch to seal, and twist to form a figure 8. Place the twists 1 inch apart on the greased cookie sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly colored and firm to the touch.

Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool slightly before frosting.

To make the frosting, in a bowl, combine the sugar, milk, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add food coloring if desired.

While the cookies are still warm, dip the top of each twist in the frosting. Place the cookies on racks to let the frosting dry before storing. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week or can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Note: These cookies can also be shaped into knots instead of figure 8s.


  1. lori's avatar


    love these cookies. My Italian grandma always made them and then my mom. Their our top cookie at Christmas time. I usually have to double the recipe because my brothers and sisters and their kids all want them. We all make them and eat them at each house when we visit. Love you Mary Ann, watching for years- found this recipe in you cookbook when I couldn't find my recipe one year. Briefly met you in Italy- got your autograph when I was in cooking school in Bologna, you were in same hotel. You a great source for the classic recipes esp. when you lose the family recipe and so knowledgable. thank you.

Leave a Comment

Looking for even more photos and recipes?
Order my latest book.

Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy

Mary Ann's newest book contains over 150 recipes, 60 gorgeous food photos, and many scenic pictures of Italy taken by Mary Ann on her travels through the years.

Order using this link and receive a signed book plate.

Available now!