Classic Italian-American Chocolate-Spice Holiday Cookies.Jump to Recipe
Meatball Cookies are hands-down my favorite Christmas or Holiday cookie. My mother has probably been making these cookies for the last 70-years. She’s definitely made them for my entire life. They’re a spice cookie with cocoa powder, walnuts, chocolate chips, and raisins. Their origin is from Sicily, which makes sense for my family as my father’s side is from the South of Italy in the vicinity of Naples. These cookies are also known as Toto cookies, Tetù cookies, or Sicilian spice cookies.
I’m not going to lie, these were NOT my favorite cookie when I was a young child. I think their spice-forward flavor profile was not for my palate. The cookies have cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. Don’t tell my mom, but I also like to add a little cardamom. One thing that I remember loving when I was a boy was helping my mom to decorate the cookies after she gave each one a dollop of thick icing with her index finger. In our house we usually decorated with standard red and green sprinkles and sugar, but in my kitchen in Brooklyn I have a flashier sprinkle selection.
My mom’s original meatball cookie recipe could feed an ARMY! It calls for 18 cups of flour, that’s more than 2-kilos! I’ve halved the recipe here in this post, and I may update the post with a quarter-recipe too. I want to test the recipe to make sure a quarter-recipe works well. But, know that you can easily double this recipe. The only problem I could see would be that the original recipe size might not fit in your stand mixer. When I was a boy I remember my mom mixing the full batch of these cookies in a giant crockery bowl with a huge wooden spoon.
The half recipe that I’m posting here makes about 100 cookies for me. This makes the recipe GREAT for bake sales and to make many plates of cookies to gift to friends and families. The cookies keep well for several weeks, if they last that long. I’d say that they’re still quite delicious for us to three weeks. I find that once the icing has set they mail quite well, making them great to send in holiday care packages too.
Tips for rolling the cookies:
Once you have scooped out the correct meatball cookie portions, you need to roll them in your palms to make them into tight balls of dough. In my opinion, the tighter the balls of dough, the better. My sister helped me realize that rolling the dough tightly helps them not expand as much and leads to a denser cookie that I think might even retain moisture better and dry out slower.
Some notes on the recipe and some possible swaps:
This recipe calls for vegetable shortening, I sometimes use butter-flavor shortening if I have it in the cupboard. I’ve not tried to make this recipe with another fat like butter or lard….. I might though! If I do I’ll update this post. I used regular Hershey’s cocoa in this batch of cookies that I shot for this post, but I sometimes like to use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa. I love how almost black it makes the cookies. You can choose to add more or less of the chocolate chips, walnuts, and raisins depending on your taste. My mom sometimes uses half milk chocolate chips. I’d like to try a batch with white chocolate chips one day too. I am a huge fan of vanilla bean paste. I love the robust flavor and also the little flecks of vanilla that it adds to the icing.
Here’s a rundown of some of my favorite tools that I used to make this giant batch of meatball cookies:
Do you have cookie scoops or portion scoops? If you don’t, you really should invest in some! Using portion scoops allows you to make sure that all of the cookies are the same size, which in turn helps them to bake evenly.
Meatball cookies are an easy and delicious Italian-American chocolate spice cookie with chocolate chips, walnuts, raisins, and a sweet icing.
- 1½ cups sugar 300g
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 eggs large
- 2 tsp salt
- 9 cups All-purpose flour 1136g – I always measure the flour by weight, if you measure by cup you may wish to add 8 cups first, and then slowly add little bits more if needed. You want the dough to be handleable and not shaggy.
- 5 tbsp cocoa can use dark cocoa if you wish
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tsp allspice
- 1½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1½ tsp ground cloves
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1½ bags semi-sweet chocolate chips standard US bag is 12oz
- ½ cup raisins you can add more if you wish
- 1 pound powdered sugar 455g
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste can use vanilla extract
- sprinkles for decoration
Preheat oven to 350F
In a stand mixer, cream together sugar and vegetable shortening on medium speed for about 5 minutes.
Measure out dry ingredients, including raisins, walnuts, and chocolate chips, into a large bowl, mix together, and set aside.
Add buttermilk, oil, and eggs to stand mixer and mix until incorporated.
With mixer on low, slowly add dry mixture a spoonful at a time until fully incorporated.
Using a cookie scoop, portion out small balls of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Using the palms of your hands, roll each scoop of dough into a tight ball. You'll want to get out much of the air and condense the dough into a ball. The dough should not stick to your hands as there's a lot of oil in it.
Place each ball of dough onto your baking sheet. They do not expand too much in baking so you can place them about 1 to 2 inches apart. I can fit 24 balls onto a large baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on baking sheet and then transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Repeat process until all the dough is used.
Add powdered sugar to a large bowl.
Measure out milk and add half to the powdered sugar and mix together with a whisk. Add vanilla bean paste and mix. Add more of your milk as needed. You want the icing to be a thick consistency.
Dip each cookie into your icing and put them on a wire rack. Decorate with sprinkles as desired. Allow icing to set completely before serving or storing.
Donna Liotto-ScocozzaNovember 30, 2021 at 7:24 pm
Love your name for these cookies similar to ones I have been making for many years. As a former magazine food editor, my recipe has been printed in various women’s magazines. My family called these – Chocolate Pepper Rocks or Chocolate Pepper Cookies.
we are all magicNovember 30, 2021 at 7:28 pm
So much fun! It’s funny how families take liberties with naming and set their own traditions! Happy holidays!