When I think of Christmas, I think of my late mother Candida baking her special Sardinian cookies. They were called papassini, and they filled the house with the fragrance of almonds, walnuts and oranges. I never baked them myself, and when my mother passed, my baby sisters took over this loving ritual.

Just recently I decided to make them myself, carefully following the instructions my sister thoughtfully typed out many years ago. While rolling out the dough I thought of my mom and those timeless memories of her beautiful face as she gently rolled out the cookie dough. I swear she was in the kitchen with me, guiding me along. At one point, I knew her hands were on mine.

Here’s to another year of holiday spirit, reimagined as it might be. I’m pretty sure many – like me – are finding a sense of peace and purpose while rolling out family favourite recipes, to help cope through yet another COVID Christmas.


Every Sardinian family has their own a thick, crumbly texture. Note, the vanilla powder, Levitto Bertolini and baking ammonia are all available in any grocery store or supermarket.

12 oz. (340 g) plain almonds, skin off

6 oz. (170 g) walnuts

2.2 lbs. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. (1 mL) salt

1 package vanilla powder (or 2 tsp. (10 mL) pure vanilla)

1½ packages Levitto Bertolini (a baking soda and baking powder mix)

6 eggs

1½ cups (350 mL) sugar

¾ lb. (340 g) vegetable shortening, Crisco brand suggested

½ cup (120 mL) butter, softened

1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. (35 mL) baking ammonia

¼ cup (60 mL) whole milk, heated

Rind of one lemon and two oranges

1 cup (235 mL) golden raisins

Place almonds in single layer on cookie sheet and bake at 350 F (175 C) for 10 minutes, or until almonds are lightly golden. Cool. Repeat with walnuts. Place ¾ of almonds in food processor and process to fine ground. Set aside. Chop remainder of almonds into tiny pieces. Chop walnuts. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix ground almonds with flour, salt, powdered vanilla and Levitto Bertolini. Make a well in flour and add eggs and sugar and work together. Cube Crisco and butter and work into mixture. Mix until a soft dough is formed.

Add baking ammonia to heated milk and quickly stir – mixture will boil up. Add to dough mixture and continue working dough until it pulls from edge of bowl. Mix in lemon and orange rind and raisins until completely incorporated.

Roll dough into ball, cover with wrap and refrigerate 1 hour. Remove from fridge and cover dough with tea towel. Cut large chunks of dough and place on floured surface. Shape into balls. Roll to ½ -inch (1-cm) thickness. Dip favourite cookie cutter into flour and cut out shapes. Keep rerolling dough until used up. Place cookies on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake in preheated 350 F (175 C) oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool.

Makes dozens of cookies. Best icing for these cookies is royal icing.