How an Italian Pastry Brightened an Indian-American Family's Christmas

Thanks to the generosity of a neighbor, the Jason family now celebrates the holidays with traditional Indian cuisine as well as pizzelle cookies

Posted in , Oct 19, 2018

Karen, Rachel and Layna

“I know just what I want for Christ­mas, Mom,” my 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, announced excitedly. “My own pizzelle iron.”

When we moved into our neighborhood, we didn’t know what a pizzelle was. My husband and I are both from India, and I brought a lot of recipes with me when I moved to the U.S. Rachel grew up in a kitchen filled with scents of cumin, carda­mom and turmeric. So how did her heart come to be set on Italian pastries?

The answer was hardly a mystery: our neighbor Layna Rizzo.

When the university where I taught scheduled me for a class in the afternoon, Layna offered to let Rachel come to her place after school. At first, Rachel settled in front of the TV with a snack and chocolate milk. But the aroma of Layna’s Italian cooking wafted in. Then one day Rachel watched her chop onions and puree toma­toes. “When I was a girl I helped my grand­mother cook,” Layna said. Soon she was telling Rachel about the different types of pasta—campanelle, orecchiette, acini di pepe. She showed her how to chop vegeta­bles and let her taste fresh basil, oregano and rosemary. During the holidays, Layna demonstrated how to make pizzelles.

Rachel barreled out of Layna’s house to greet me that day. “Mom!” she shouted, holding up a cookie with an intricate de­sign. “We made pizzelles—and a mess, but Layna didn’t mind.” In her other hand Ra­chel had a neatly tied bag of the cookies, coated with flour—as were her clothes.

At home Rachel preferred savory Indian snacks, mixtures with chickpea flour, pea­nuts and chili powder. But making pizzelles with Layna became a hobby—and Rachel became an expert. On Christmas, she opened the new pizzelle iron we gave her and ran over to Layna’s for the recipe. Then she measured ingredients, mixed the batter and added anise seeds—a gift from Layna. “These give them their special taste,” Ra­chel explained. “They look like cumin!” She poured the batter carefully into the iron. “A perfect pizzelle is golden brown and paper thin,” she told me. “It should melt in your mouth like a snowflake.”

“How long do we leave it in the iron?” I asked, reaching for the timer.

“Three Hail Marys,” said Rachel. “Layna says that’s just the right amount of time.”

Our family happened to be Methodist. We didn’t say Hail Marys. Rachel had learned the prayer from Layna. When she finished three in a row, the pizzelles were ready. More than ready—they were perfect. Rachel gave them to all our friends. Her sister shared them at the Ronald McDon­ald House where she was an intern. The best pizzelles Rachel saved for Layna.

Today, pizzelles are a Jason family tradi­tion. Every year at Christmas Rachel takes out her iron and gathers us in the kitchen. When a batch go into the iron we stop what we’re doing and say three Hail Marys.

We still save the best pizzelles for Layna. After all, she gave the best to us.

Try Layna's recipes for homemade Pizzelles in your kitchen!

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