These are the last of my holiday cookies, however I waited to post them until today, because yesterday was the day that La Befana or “the witch”, traveled around Italy giving gifts to all good children and coal to those not on such a good path. Before Santa or Babbo Natale appeared on the scene in Italy, La Befana was already there.
La Befana is nowadays associated with the Feast of the Epiphany in Italy, celebrated on January 6. The Christian story tells us that she was visited by the Three Magi (Wiseman) on their search for the baby Jesus. She was too busy doing her chores to go with them, and afterwards regretted it. So now every year, gives gifts to all small children in Italy hoping to inadvertently finally give her gift to baby Jesus.
However, the story of La Befana is pre-Christian in nature, and much like Christmas itself, a celebration which was converted from native Pagan beliefs to the new religion. In pre-Christian times, La Befana begins with Winter Solstice and takes origin from the bonfires burned in the squares to celebrate the end of the year, a symbol of time cycles always ending and beginning again.
The witch is the ancient priestess of nature. The “coal” that she would leave to the nasty children was actually also a symbol of fertility connected to the sacred bonfires and the Ceppo – the Italian version of the Yule Log. To learn more about the origins of La Befana, both Pagan and Christian, please visit this informative website.
Regardless of religion or ethnicity, please make these delicious cookies!
Adapted from Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma
3 ¼ cups organic spelt or AP flour
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
1 ½ cups softened, unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBS limoncello
Freshly grated zest of one lemon
1 tsp dried lavender
Soak the lavender in the limoncello so the lavender can “bloom”. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt – then set aside. Cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in the egg and egg yolks one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract, lavender infused limoncello and lemon zest.
Beat in the dry ingredients, creating a stiff batter. Remove dough from the bowl, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for about an hour, or until firm enough to handle easily.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time, and keep the other pieces refrigerated. On a floured surface, roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Using a floured, 2-inch star cookie cutter, cut dough into stars. Place cookies ½ inch apart on the prepared trays. Gather the scraps of dough and repeat the cutting out process. Continue with all three pieces of dough.
You can brush cookies with an egg wash, or bake them as is. Bake cookies until they are lightly golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through cooking to ensure even baking.
Allow cookies to cool slightly on the sheets, then remove with a spatula to a wire rack to cool. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container, layered between parchment paper for about 4 days. Makes 4 dozen.