These Christmas cookies are my favorite sweets. I like both kinds: Plain, as my mother made them, or stuffed with nuts, as people on the islands do. If you can resist eating them all right away, with time they will get even better.
Makes about 40 cookies
1 1/4 cups light olive oil (not extra virgin)
1/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3–4 cups all-purpose flour
21/2 teaspoons baking powder
11/2 cups fine semolina
1/2 cup brandy
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
FILLING (optional) or COATING for the cookies
2 cups finely chopped walnuts or 1 cup, for sprinkling
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon or 2 teaspoons, for sprinkling
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
11/2 cups water
In a large bowl, beat the oil and sugar with an electric mixer until blended. Beat in the orange zest and juice. In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour and the baking powder. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the oil mixture. Beat in the semolina, brandy, lemon zest, cloves and cinnamon.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding 1 cup or more flour as necessary to obtain a smooth, soft, oily dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the filling, if you are using it, by combining in a medium bowl, the walnuts and cinnamon.
Take pieces of dough the size of a small egg and roll with your hands into ovals, about 2 1/2 inches long. If you are stuffing them, push three fingers into the bottom of each cookie to make an opening, and stuff with 1 teaspoon of the filling; reserve the remaining filling. Press the dough to close the opening. Slightly flatten each cookie and if you like, make an indentation on the top with the tines of a fork. Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets about 1 inch apart.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until they just start to color.
Meanwhile, make the syrup: In a medium saucepan, simmer the sugar, honey and water for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Place the hot cookies in a large dish or baking pan that holds them snuggly, and pour the syrup over them. Let stand for 15 minutes. Turn the cookies to moisten the other sides and let stand until the cookies have absorbed all the syrup. Place the remaining filling, the chopped nuts and cinnamon, on a plate and roll each cookie in it to coat on all sides. Place the cookies in an airtight container, with parchment or waxed paper between each layer. Let stand for at least 1 day before serving. Store for up to 1 month.