grandma's italian biscuits

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Grandma was most at home in her kitchen. In fact, it's hard for me to picture her in any other room. Everyone used the backdoor entrance to my Grandparents' house, which was fitting: they were easy and informal and had an unspoken open-door policy. And you'd best stop by when you were hungry.  That backdoor dropped you right into the cozy kitchen, where you'd be overwhelmed by the comforting smells of something delicious that was always simmering, baking, toasting or roasting.

A giant wooden kitchen table was the centerpiece of the small room and Grandma would inevitably be bustling around it, flitting from pantry to fridge to cupboard, from countertop to sink to stove, stopping to swoop you into a big tight housecoat hug, greet you with a cheerful "Hi, Honey!" and promptly fix you a plate.

Her specialty was cake decoration and she fashioned Birthday and Wedding cakes for her entire family, designing them to order. And come Holiday-time, she made candy--a multiple of varieties--and divvied them up into special tins, wrapping and labeling each piece and then delivering them to all her family and friends. I've never known anyone who showed love through food more generously and gracefully than she.

I see her influence on me, my love for cooking and baking and feeding people. I suppose writing about and photographing food is the virtual way of feeding others, the equivalent somehow to dropping off a comforting quart of soup or loaf of bread. And I'm sure she is to blame for my love love love of cookies.  Growing up, whenever I visited we'd bake together. Usually rolled-out sugar cookies that I could cut with one of her million cookie-cutters and then decorate with sprinkles and colored sugar, red-hots and those little silver balls that look like BB gun ammo.

My favorite though were these Italian Biscuits, little frosted donut-shaped cookie-cakes that remind me of her more than any other food. They're deliciously soft and sweet, festive yet hardy. They take practical, non-fussy ingredients and make something special out of them. Just like her.

When my brother and I moved to California, she'd regularly send us cookie boxes filled with them. And when we'd come to visit she'd send us off with a giant box to take on the plane. As if it wasn't enough to feed you on your way into her home, she'd give you food to take with you on your way out.

So in honor of her passing, I'm sending her off with a batch. And virtually sending a batch to you, too.  I'm sure she'd be so proud and glad to see her recipe shared, a new way for her to expand her delivery territory. A new way for her to spread her love through food.


Grandma Jenkins' Italian Biscuits with Icing

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup plus 2T sugar
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 cup milk
1t real vanilla extract

Combine the flour and baking powder. Whisk together well and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and salt for a few minutes, until light (we want the salt to dissolve thoroughly). Add the eggs and mix well. Combine the vanilla and the milk. Begin to add the flour mixture a bit at a time, alternating with the vanilla/milk mixture until all is combined. Do not overmix at this point. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least an hour (2 is better).

Preheat oven to 350. Roll dough (by heaping tablespoons) between your hands into a tube and then bring the ends together to make a ring. Place them onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake, 2" apart, for about 9-12 minutes. Watch these suckers closely--you want them to still be very pale on top, very light brown on the bottoms. Take care to not overcook. Cool on racks completely before icing.


1 cup powdered sugar
1 T milk
a few drops of food coloring
(have more of all ingredients on hand)

Whisk together the sugar and milk until you have a consistency between a glaze and a spreadable frosting. I almost always add too much milk at first so go slow. Add desired food coloring a drop at a time and mix well. Dip the tops of the cooled cookies into the icing and let the excess drip through racks onto wax paper or  parchment. If it's too thin and see-through once you start, add more sugar to the mix and then re-dip. I was going for a pale orange color (it's fall!) but it looked more like pale flesh (gross) so I added a couple more drops of red to make it truly pink. That was Grandma's favorite anyway.

{Carolyn B. Jenkins--------------1918-2011}


  1. what a beautiful tribute. grandma would be proud of you...

  2. your grandma was obviously an angel genius.

  3. Gloria Calderon KellettOctober 17, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    I love this post. What a fitting and stunningly touching tribute to your grandma. I had a virtual bite and am filled with yumminess! xo

  4. Very well said Jolie....perfect.

  5. ah, beautiful post Jol! I am going to make some today!
    Love you

  6. What a beautiful way to remember your Grandmother and to share her with your blog readers.

    I was sorry to read of her passing.
    My deepest condolences to you and your family.

    I'm going to try these myself...Thank you.

  7. What a beautiful post--writing and pictures. Grandmothers know, they just know and they do what's right.


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