Margheritine di Stresa, or literally translated, Little Daisies from Stresa, are divine, melt-in-your-mouth, can’t-stop-eating-them cookies. Like the name says, these cookies are typical of Stresa, a picturesque and renowned town along the western shores of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy.
Originally created in 1857 by Italian pastry chef Pietro Antonio Bolongaro, the cookies are named after princess Margherita, as they were presented to her on the occasion of her First Communion. The princess later married Umberto di Savoia, and thus became the first queen of Italy. This, by the way, is the same Queen Margherita for whom the first pizza Margherita was created in Naples.
There are about three or four types of cookies which are my top favorites, and these margheritine are in that top tier. The others being, in no particular order of preference: Palmiers, Madeleines and Vanillekipferl. A few more follow very closely, and I will share them all by and by, as I have recently been caught in a cookie baking riptide.
These days, several patisseries in the town of Stresa offer these cookies, each boasting to have the best. Of course, the cookies are known and also offered by other patisseries in Northern Italy, each with their own version. My absolute favorites are from Il Bar Gigi, a bar, patisserie & restaurant in Stresa just a short block from the lakeshore.
As you an imagine, those are the ones I have tried to recreate, and I think I have done quite well. The ingredients are listed by law, of course, yet the trick is figuring out the amount balance for each. A quick search around the web yielded three separate sources that shared the exact same recipe. I thought that would be a good place to start. The recipe came close, but not really.
The result was a cookie that was a bit too dry and lacking in something: a richness, a “oh-my-this-is-so-divine” sigh of blissful satisfaction when popping it into my mouth. So I tweaked, and I tweaked, first this ingredient, then that, then the size, then the baking temperature…. Essentially I recreated the whole recipe until finally I reached that texture and flavor I remembered. Are you ready to reap the benefits of all my baking tests?
MARGHERITINE DI STRESA (Little Daisies from Stresa)
yields about 28 small-ish cookies
- 150 gr. butter (at room temperature)
- 120 gr. flour (sieved)
- 80 gr. potato starch (sieved)
- 70 gr. powder sugar (sieved) + extra for dusting
- 3 boiled (for 8 minutes) egg yolks, passed through a small-sized fine-mesh sieve
- 1 & 1/2 teasp. pure vanilla extract
- finely grated peel of 1/2 lemon (if med/large lemon, or a whole one if small)
- 1/4 teasp. Kosher salt (or 1/8 teasp. if using fine sea salt)
- Blend the flour and potato starch and pass them through a fine sieve. Set aside.
- Cream the butter and powder sugar until well blended and no white bits of unblended butter remain. You can do this with an electric mixer such as KitchenAid on med-low speed, for about 3-4 minutes. Or you can do like I do: wear a latex glove and use your hand. Either way, always make sure to scrape off every bit from your hand or mixer spatula back into the bowl as you work.
- Add the salt, lemon peel and vanilla and blend. From this stage I use a wooden spoon.
- Add the boiled egg yolks by passing them through a fine sieve (see notes below).
- Add the flour/potato starch in 2-3 times, blending only just until no streaks of flour/starch remain. Don’t over mix. Now collect the (slightly sticky) dough with your hands and gently press into a flattened ball or thick disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes.
- Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and gently roll out to a thickness of about 9-10mm. In countries that use inches, you can use a rolling-pin that leaves a 1/4″ gap plus a 1/8 rubber spacer band and that will get you close enough. The parchment will prevent you from using too much flour sprinkling, if any, thus avoiding adding more flour to the cookies.
- Carefully cut out the cookies, quickly rework and roll out the remaining dough and cut out more until you have used it all up (see notes below). Place them on rimmed half-sheet baking pans lined with parchment, leaving about 1 to 2 inches (3-5 cm) space between them. You will need 2 baking pans for all of them. Then cover them well with plastic wrap (or fitted pan lids if you have them) and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.
- When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 338F/170C. Bake the cookies for about 14-18 minutes (see notes below). The cookies will not change in color, except for a little light gold tone on the bottom. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking pan for about 5 minutes, then, using a spatula, carefully transfer to a rack till cooled completely. Dust with powder sugar and enjoy.
The finished cookie will be tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Yes, you can double up the recipe. And yes, they can be frozen for up to a month, though if you plan to, wait to coat with powder sugar until you are ready to eat them.
About the egg yolks: the eggs are to be boiled for 8 minutes. In order to save the whites for another use (like making meringue), some people prefer to boil just the yolks. You would do that by gently placing the yolks into also gently simmering water.
I have never done that, as I just go ahead and cook extra eggs and then make an egg salad using also the extra egg whites once I have removed the yolks I need for the cookies.
You can boil the eggs and shell them then keep them in the refrigerator 2-3 days before use if you need to.
I recommend using a small-sized fine sieve (about 3 inches/7-8cm max in diameter) because some of the egg yolk will inevitably remain trapped in the mesh of the sieve, no matter how well you scrape it. It’s a pain, I know, but the larger the sieve, the larger the area in which egg yolk will remain trapped, thus the less yolk will end up in your cookies. Trust me, I have tested this and it does make a difference. I also use the pestle from my mortar to push the egg yolk through.
Rolling the dough & cutting the cookies: during warmer weather, it is a good idea to roll out the dough, then transfer it to a baking sheet and place it in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes before cutting the cookies, to avoid soft-dough warping, which result in shapeless cookies.
Once the cookies are cut and placed on the parchment-lined baking sheet, they go back in the fridge to chill as per regular instructions; that won’t change. We just add one extra little pre-cut time in the freezer to allow for how fast the dough softens in the warmer months.
Cookie cutters: I have been using a flower-shaped cookie cutter that is 5 cm/ 2″ at the widest petal points. You can also go one size up, if you prefer, but remember to tweak the baking time a little. Also remember that, though the cookies will not spread, they will gently expand when baking, kind of like you do when you take a deep breath.
If you prefer, you can also use a simple round cookie cutter, and even cut a hole in the center. I prefer no hole in the center for tenderness reasons while baking, but some patisseries in Italy will use that shape. The margheritine made by the patisserie I favor are circular with a “thumbprint” indentation in the middle. I have felt no need to recreate the indentation, but you can if you like.
Oven & baking: Kind of like people, ovens are the same but different: some run hot, some run cool. So know your oven, as you may need to tweak the temperature up or down depending on your oven’s whims. A calibrated oven thermometer is a good thing to keep in your oven, as it will give you a more appropriate reading. This is valid not just for cookie baking but all baking.
For example, the oven at my current residence runs a bit cool, so I always have to tweak up the temperature a little, as well as the baking time. For these particular cookies I have been baking at 345F for 20 minutes, watching them like a hawk.
The first time you bake them, I suggest you watch the cookies. Start setting your timer for 14 minutes and add minutes as needed until you see they are no longer glossy on top and they are just right. The bottom will have a slightly golden tone which you should be able to see from the lower rim of the cookie. Cookies are small and delicate, so you need to be extra careful to find that baking balance. You don’t want to underbake, but you definitely do not want to overbake them.
Grams vs. other measurements values: Unless the amount is so small that teaspoons and tablespoons are the best option, grams are the most precise measurement value for the precise art that baking is. These days, inexpensive digital measuring scales make this easy as they switch between grams and ounces at the touch of a button.
I have always given grams as well as other measurements in the recipes I have shared so far, but know that, from this moment on, all future baking recipes will only feature grams, besides teaspoons/tablespoons where necessary. With cups there is too much room for inconsistency.
I hope you will enjoy these cookies as much as I do. They are divine in their simplicity. As it is, I am heading downstairs before I finish this article to take out some butter from the refrigerator just so I can make another batch. Oh, and I had better boil some eggs, too.
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