What Are Your Earliest Chocolate Memories?

This question often sparks an engaging conversation among chocolate tasting program participants.

For me, it brings me back to our kitchen in our second floor flat in San Francisco’s North Beach and visions of my paternal Nana (my namesake) making a Sicilian specialty called Totos di Cioccolata. (The pronunciation of these treats isn’t like Dorothy’s little dog, but with the accent on the second syllable).  

My Nana, Savina “Carmelina” Fazio, was well-known for her cookies.

This spicy, iced cookie version not only has cocoa powder in it, but chunks of dark chocolate as well. I fondly recall eating them while they were still warm. Yet after they are cooled and iced, these are still heavenly. Roughly ten years ago, I called my Aunt Melina and Mama Maria and they shared this family recipe with me. As you might imagine, they both had slightly different variations on my grandmother’s recipe.  Big Savina (as opposed to me, Little Savina) never measured or wrote anything down- always cooking and baking “more or less by heart.”

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

Cookies: 3 cups sifted flour (My family has always used Gold Medal), 1/2 cup chopped walnuts,  1/2 cup tiny raisins,  3 tsp baking powder, 3 tb Crisco, 1 cup sugar,  1 tsp allspice, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves, ¼ tsp nutmeg, 1 12 oz package Nestle’s mini semi-sweet morsels, 1 cup Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder (Nana would have to have this brand or she wouldn’t make them.  Not sure if it was because of the quality or the fact that Domingo was Italian!), 1 big orange for the grated zest and juice, regular milk.

Icing:  Powdered sugar,  regular milk  and lemon juice.

Putting It All Together:  Mix the flour and Crisco with your hands until the shortening is in very fine pieces. Then put in all the additional ingredients.

Carefully mix everything together (“Easy, easy,” as my Aunt emphasized). Slowly add the milk, a little at a time. Work it with your hands and be careful not to make the mixture too wet.  Let it stand for an hour.

Take about a tablespoon of the mixture and roll into a ball. Arrange them on a greased cookie sheet- they don’t expand much during baking, so can be fairly close together. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. Be sure to watch the bottoms to avoid burning. Let the cookies cool completely.

For the glaze, mix powder sugar and milk with a fork. To make the icing shiny and add extra flavor, sprinkle in a tablespoon of lemon juice. Try to make it not too watery and not too thick. You’ll know the right consistency by sight and feel (Think Elmer’s glue). After the cookies have cooled completely, apply the glaze with your finger tips to the top and sides of the cookie. Let them dry overnight. (If you are especially motivated, you could then apply glaze to the bottoms).  Scrape excess icing from the bottom edges with a knife if you find that necessary.

Found a recipe that was similar to this one on the web, only they called them Chocolate Italian Wedding Cookies. I always thought wedding cookies were those powdered sugar-covered shortbread cookies from Mexico, Greece or Russia that just melt in your mouth. Who knows, maybe Italians were more realistic by adding those walnuts and chocolate chunks to symbolize the “rough and bittersweet spots” we encounter along the road of life!

Making these cookies can be tedious, but well worth it. Let me know if you ever try them.

Happy chocolate reminiscing. We’d love to hear about your earliest or favorite chocolate memories in the comments below.

Buon Appetito!

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