Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Italians eat cookies for breakfast (and that’s ok by me)

Cookies: part of your Italian’s complete breakfast

Sounds like the title of a song: “Italians eat cookies for breakfast (and that’s okay by me)”. The “refrain” is an add-on, for it was not okay by me a mere decade ago.

Here is a story of integration – and a great recipe for cookies from Nonna Dina (below).

Brought up with the North American concept of a balanced breakfast, which generally included some kind of cereal, milk, and fruit, I was horrified to see a whole country start their day in the wrong way – with a sweet of some sort dunked in milky coffee. While cereal takes up an increasingly large space in the supermarket, a decade ago it was still considered American-food (right about down there at the level of cat-food; actually cat food might be prepared at home and include pastina, making it superior). Welcomed into the home of my in-laws, I saw my future husband eat dry cookies (dunked in caffe latte) for breakfast for the first time and said “non é una colazione” (that’s not breakfast).

Now, I’m okay with it. Check out the beautiful plate of home-made cookies smothered in Nutella and jam that he prepared for himself this morning! Who said Nutella cannot be breakfast of champions? We’re adults now. We’ll get our fruit later. If the cookies are good – and have few ingredients – I figure it’s just fine. Normally T’s diet consists of bagged cookies from the coop but yesterday I made his grandmother’s breakfast cookies, the recipe for which is below.

Meanwhile, there’s another part to the story. The Italian diagnosis of my breakfast. When I first traveled to Italy, I brought my own cereal. Now, I do the inverse; I brought Italian “Vitalis” granola with me to Canada last time! So, a decade ago when I lived in Chicago and spent long summers living at my in-laws, my father in law observed that my breakfast was probably hurting my stomach. Tea; then bowl of granola with milk, followed by a big glass of orange juice. “We used to add citrus to milk – to make it curdle! You’re making ricotta in your stomach.” He was right. I quit the orange juice. (In case you’re wondering, my father in law eats Special K in an a bowl with milk and the coffee poured in there too for good measure.)

Nonna Dina’s Italian breakfast cookies recipe

Here is what I got from Nonna Dina in Taranto when I complimented her on the delicious cookies that she makes for breakfast-consumption, and that I find great day-round. This makes about 80 cookies so I usually half the ingredients, although they do disappear at a shocking rate.

1 kilo 00 flour
300 grams white sugar
3 eggs
250 grams butter (unsalted)
2 baggies of lievito vanigliato (which is about 2 tsp baking powder)
1 orange, juiced (add the juice, not the orange ;-) )

Combine butter and flour, add egg. Combine flour and baking powder. [OPTION: I substituted 50 grams of flour for equal amount of Semola di grano duro which made them yummy and soft). Add dry to wet (slowly). Put in fridge for a bit. Roll into balls and then half moons. Bake at 180F (350C) for 10 minutes until the edges just turn light brown.

Then, eat for breakfast. Only if you want to.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Rgallerizzzo

    Thanks for the recipe.

  • Celia Prosechino

    I love my sweet high carb breakfasts too

  • Miss Footloose

    I remember on my various visits to Campania seeing the locals (en route to the office) pop into the coffee shop and stand at the bar while the barrista plopped an espresso in front of them with a cornetto or other sweet bread thingie. They’d gulp the coffee down — merely a tablespoon, really — and eat the cornetto and be on their way. Having heard of the famous Mediterranean diet, I was not impressed!

    In Portugal also, breakfast is some sort of sweet bread. I grew up in Holland and breakfast consisted of tea and bread with cheese and the second slice of bread with jam or honey. Cheese first! When American cornflakes was introduced, it was eaten for dessert! Old fashioned deserts were usually pudding or yogurt, so cornflakes with milk seemed to fit the dessert category. Now there are many varieties of dry cereal available and cereal is breakfast food.

  • Josullivan

    Thanks you for this validation (and the recipe!).

  • Laura Debenedetto

    It was quite fun for me to read this post for some of the some of the following reasons:
    1) I’m not the typical Italian, then, as for breakfast I have a cup of tea, orange juice and a ‘merendina’ – a sort of English breakfast as I don’t drink milk since I was a teen-ager Actually the typical Italian breakfast is ‘cappuccino e brioche’ taken at a bar quickly before going to work. And it’s not healthy, indeed, with an amount of saturated fats and sugars that are not good for you. But…
    2) … are you sure that industrial cereals / granola are good for you? Do you read all the ingredients in the box? I’m sure that Nonna Dina cookies are much better than a portion of Vitalis granola for your health.
    3) I didn’t know Northern American diet was a benchmark for the rest of the world! I know that Mediterranean diet made of cereals (pasta, pane, etc.) fresh vegetables and fruit, once a day fish or meat with salads is an example all over the world. And, in fact, I’d never seen so many obese in Italy compared to the ones I have the chance to meet in every metro station in NY chicago etc. So there must be something wrong…
    4) in the end what Alexandra says is the right approach: eat what you want for breakfast but then balance the rest of the diet during the day. There’s no point in having a fit and healthy breakfast and then eating Whopper and Fries at Burger King and a T-bone steak with butter for dinner, isn’t it?
    5) Last question: when are cookies supposed to be eaten ?

  • arttrav

    thanks laura for the long analysis. I know you’re exceptional in your breakfast habits (as you are as a person ;-) ).
    You’re right about the industrial cereals, they are often not very good for you. But Vitalis actually has pretty natural ingredients, other than the high fructose syrup which i’d prefer to avoid. I have made granola at home and honestly it doesn’t end up much healthier, i use a ton of honey and maple syrup or else it doesn’t stick together.
    The fact is i guess i like a good caloric kick in the morning and just cookies isn’t enough for me. I do put banana in my cereal, plus the milk, if one can tolerate it (I found out recently that i can, sort-of) is a rare form of protein and calcium that i’d not get otherwise.
    When are you supposed to eat cookies? like the english: at TEA!!

  • arttrav

    I love the Dutch and Portughese input, thanks!! In Japan and Korea their breakfast looks a lot like their dinner… to each her own.