In the basement of the old Saint Leo School in Little Italy, the sweet scents of cinnamon, vanilla and lemon surrounded the neighborhood ladies and other volunteers last Saturday as they made “pizzelle,” Italian waffle cookies, for the Saint Anthony Festival.
Pizzelle” is plural in Italian for the cookies. (Pizzella is one cookie). The word means, “small, flat and round.” Flour, butter, eggs and sugar complete this pizzelle recipe from Abruzzo in south-central Italy, minus one ingredient: aniseed. A spice plant native to the Mediterranean region, the taste of anise -a cross between fennel and licorice - doesn’t appeal to everyone according to ladies of Saint Leo’s.
Making pizzelles for St. Leo's Church Italian Festival. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun video)
Long-time volunteer Sue Corasiniti assisted Rob Daniels, Saint Leo’s Church facilities manager, in preparing the dough. Seasoned, as well as new helpers, set up folding tables strategically along the walls near outlets for the electric pizzelle irons. Cousins Anna Brotto and Carmela Serafini who have lived in Little Italy since they arrived in America in the 1950’s, have decades of pizzelle-making experience under their aprons. Each has her own method of pizzelle-making at their respective stations: Anna sits and Carmella stands while spooning the sticky dough onto the iron and waiting for it to cook.
Similar to a waffle iron but with shallower grooves, the irons produce two 4- to 5-inch decoratively ridged cookies at a time. About 20 volunteers made 1,400 pizzelle in one morning. St Leo’s Church members will also make them fresh during the Saint Anthony Festival held on June 2 and 3 at Stiles and Exeter Streets.
Volunteer Sue Spinnatto-Walmsley, 73, who was born and raised in Little Italy, says she tries to work all the neighborhood festivals she can. She has a special way to gauge the cooking time for the pizzelle which other volunteers have adopted. She says praying the “Glory Be to the Father… is too short; The Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) burns them; the Hail Mary (prayer) is just right.”