Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Dolce di San Martino, a Venetian traditional giant cookie
As you can see, pastry lettering is not my forte. 
One of the greatest challenges and joys of being an expat parent is keeping up with traditions from home. The challenge comes especially when my Venetian calendar demands a specific sweet to be consumed on a specific date, and I realize I have to f*cking make it myself since there are no Venetian bakeries from where I could just purchase said traditional sweet (remember Easter?). Well, today is San Martino (Saint Martin), a strictly Venetian holiday that is celebrated with the Dolce di San Martino, a gigantic cookie covered in candy and shaped like a knight riding a horse. The cookie shape is inspired by the legend of San Martino. Children, gather round and listen.

It was a horribly cold and windy November 11 many centuries ago, and Martin was riding on his horse, shrouded in a warm cloak lined in sheep wool. Along the muddy way, he encountered a poor old beggar covered in rags. So Martin got off his horse, cut his cloak in half with his sword, and shared it with the old beggar. As Martin rode on, the cold wind subsided, the clouds dissipated, and the day became warm and sunny. And that was the beginning of the so-called "Summer of San Martino", or the handful of warm and sunny days that often grace our early Novembers.

It is not clear how San Martino's act of charity became linked with the traditional decadent mega-cookie, but as a child I didn't question (and, truth be told, I don't really care even today). I loved unwrapping my Dolce di San Martino and breaking off a limb from the Saint or his horse to eat in perfect merriment. That was the extent of my celebration, but you have to know that traditionally children also walk around Venice banging on pots and pans demanding money or candy while singing an adorable song that ends with the curse THAT YOUR PIG MAY DIE if you don't give them anything—I guess it's still cute as long as they haven't joined a gang yet.

Today, I want my children to experience the same joy, so I made my own Dolce di San Martino. I traced down the outline from the web (straight from the monitor, because drawing is another of my non-skills), applied it on a sheet of 1/4''-thick shortbread dough, cut along the outlines, and then baked knight and horse for 20 minutes. Then, under the enchanted gaze of my oldest child, I decorated with cheap colored icing and chocolate chips. And for today, my job as a Northern Italian mother is done.

Check out a fancy Dolce di San Martino here.


2 C all-purpose flour

1/3 C sugar
3/4 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
zest from one lemon
1 stick of COLD unsalted butter (in chunks)
2 large eggs

  • Draw and cut out the outline of the San Martino on a piece of cardboard or construction paper. I used this one
  • Heat oven to 350F.
  • With an electric mixer, mix together the dry ingredients.
  • Add the lemon zest, the butter, and the two eggs and mix together until they come together in a ball.
  • Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough on parchment paper to a 1/4'' thickness, and cut out the San Martino using your cardboard outline.
  • Transfer the San Martino with the parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until it just starts to brown around the edges and the center is just firm.
  • Let the cookie cool down, then decorate with icing and candy. You should definitely use icing to glue chocolates still in their wrapping (see here). I didn't have any and I regret not buying them.


  1. It is wonderful that you maintain these traditions for your children and yourself! Italy ahs so many special ones, though! It's hard to keep track.

    For years and years I kept upt the traditions of my Swedish grandmothers and 1st generation mother. My mom would spend night after night in December making all the special cookies for Christmas! Alas, I have no daughters to whom I can pass those old-fashioned, futzy recipes and traditions. Much to my joy, I did find a Swedish church in Rome that has a Christmas market where I can indulge a bit without having to make the darn things!

    1. Ha! Yeah, I'm happy to make a few traditional dishes, but when I think that everybody else is going to their corner bakery while I have to tame multiple risings (not in this case) or trace complicated outlines from the web, then I get a little frustrated. I hope it's worth it! :)