Italian Braided Cookies

Some of the fondest memories of my upbringing in southern Italy revolve around food, specifically, around mom’s baking. As a stay-at-home mom, her favorite pastime was baking, and as her family, we were more than happy to oblige with tasting her treats! Frequently, we weren’t done eating one batch of something, and a new batch would be prepared. Such was the sacrifice for the rest of us!!   

Merenda, or snack-time, at school was always a treat, not surprisingly so, it was my favorite part of the school day! Our home was across the street from our elementary school, literally steps away, and there were times where I could swear I was smelling my mom’s baked goods! Ok, it was likely my imagination, but more often than not, when I got home, there would be a fresh batch of some type of cookies ready to be devoured! 

Some of my favorites include her S cookies, and these braided lemon cookies. While the shape changed occasionally, my preferred way is this braid. They are a simple treat, delicate really, and utilize everyday ingredients. We frequently baked cookies that called for olive oil instead of butter, since olive oil is the fat of choice in southern Italy. But strong EVOO is far too strong for these, so when we moved here from Italy, we started using vegetable oil. It works just as well, is cheaper and doesn’t leave a savory flavor the way some oils can when baking. 

This makes a large batch, so they are ideal for those gatherings requiring you to bring some treats. Italians have a lot of these gatherings, so these are frequently seen on dessert tables at Italian parties such as Communions and Baptisms. They are also wonderful for Christmas and Easter. Or just to have on hand for coffee and tea time! This recipe makes about 45 cookies, depending on the size you make them. As you can see, mines are a bit on the large size, so I get about 40 cookies for each batch. 

These are easy to decorate with some simple icing and decorative sprinkles. Be sure to add these to your upcoming Easter dessert table! Here, I made them with lemon, but you can easily substitute orange instead. 

I love a little mound of lemon zest! I use a microplane to grate it, it’s easy and efficient! 
Sift the dry ingredients and add the lemon zest and set them aside. We will come back to these in a few minutes. 
Beat the eggs for several minutes until lightly and frothy, then add the sugar and mix well until combined. Add the rest of the wet ingredients, then slowly add the dry mix.
Invert the dough on a floured surface, this dough will be very sticky, so dust your hands as you work with it. 
Create ropes about 5 inches long and braid into twists. Place on baking sheet that has been prepped with parchment paper. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, until they are golden at the bottom.  Smaller cookies will take a few minutes less.
While the cookies are baking, prep a sugar glaze using confectioners sugar, milk and lemon extract.
Ready to be iced and decorated! These are a bit on the large size, you can certainly go smaller and reduce the baking time by a few minutes. 
I like to simply dunk them in the icing, you could also use a spoon, but this is so much easier and faster! Love that golden color on the bottom, they’re perfect! 
Drying off before plating. Make sure they are completely dry so they don’t stick to each other on the serving dish. 

Mom’s Italian Braided Cookies
Recipe for 40 large cookies 

4 cups all-purpose flour 
4 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of  salt
zest of 2 large lemons
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar 
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk (whole, 1% or skim)
juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons) 

Glaze (amounts are approximate, adjust as needed) 
2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons lemon extracts


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside. 
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set them aside. Add the zest and mix. 
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs until light and frothy, (about 2 minutes).
  4. Add the sugar and continue whisking until well combined. With the mixer on low, add the oil, milk, and lemon juice. Mix well.
  5. Slowly add the flour mixture until well combined, do not over mix. The dough will be soft. Invert the dough on a floured surface and construct a round mound of dough. 
  6. Cut pieces of dough with a knife, amount should be about 2 tablespoons of dough. Roll each piece of dough into a 4 – 5 inch strand. Shape into a 2-strand braid and place on baking sheets. Work quickly and efficiently as dough will be soft. 
  7. Bake for 15-16 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Remove them from the baking sheets and allow cooling before glazing. (I just slide the parchment off the baking sheet and cool them on my counter.)

To make the glaze, mix all of the glaze ingredients well until they are smooth. If the glaze is too thin, add a few additional tablespoons of sugar, likewise, if it’s too thick, add a few teaspoons of milk until you have the right consistency. Ice cookies by dunking them in the glaze and allow excess to drip. Add decorative sprinkles, as desired. 


  • Taste very doughy😕 extremely hard to roll into rope in order to braid…what is my problem? Also instead of lemon how much vanilla would I have use to have a good flavor.

    • Hi Margo, it sounds like perhaps you had too much flour? They should not be doughy so likely too much flour was adding, especially if you had a hard time rolling them, perhaps you added extra flour to help with the rolling? A few teaspoons of vanilla would be needed. Alternatively, and for more vanilla flavor, you could use a few teaspoons of vanilla bean paste, which has a stronger flavor than the extract. You can find that at shops like TJ Maxx and Home Goods.

  • Ciao, Francesca, I think I saw this in one of your articles before, but I do love these cookies! Thank you for printing. Once I started baking and used my mom’s recipe, I noticed that vegetable oil is used instead of butter or margarine. That’s not like most cookies, but they have a wonderful soft texture. Please keep these delicious recipes coming!

    • Ciao Mary! Many old-fashioned Italian baking recipes from southern Italy use vegetable oil because, well, it was cheaper than butter! Butter was a “fancy” ingredient for the northerns. Now, of course, everyone can afford and use real butter, but the old recipes keep their older ingredients. 🙂 Buona Pasqua my friend.

  • I make these for our weddings and other special occasions , I use anise instead. I get soooo many compliments.
    (I flour my hands )

  • My Nonna always kept cookies shaped like pretzels, they were anise flavored but unlike other recipes they were extremely hard and crunchy. They were excellent for dunking. When I helped her make them I would twist them into ropes and other shapes.

  • Could not roll the dough out too sticky and followed recipe to a T.

    • Hi Jean, I’m sorry the recipe didn’t work out for you. Perhaps the eggs were too large? You can always try adding a wee bit more flour to stiffen up the dough a bit.

  • Just a question. What is the difference between lemon oil and lemon extract and when do I use the lemon oil? It seems to have a stronger taste.

    • Lemon oil is definitely a lot more concentrated, so you need less of it, but you can use them interchangeably in cooking, just reduce the amount used.

  • I absolutely love this recipe! It’s my go to every time I’m craving a good Italian cookie! To be honest though, I did need to add 1/2 cup more flour! Chefs kiss*

  • Thank you Francesca for this recipe my great aunt would make and I didn’t have her recipe. I think she may have used anise in place of lemon… Could that work?

    • I made a snail-like circle and using the back of a knife, made slight cuts, without actually cutting the dough, just pressing it.


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