When I was a child, one of the Christmas treats I enjoyed were cookies made by my Italian aunts. My favorites were the cookies we called caggiunitts. I never saw these anywhere else, and when I was older I became curious about how they were made. My aunt Edith told me that the dough was made with wine and olive oil, rolled out like pasta and cut as for ravioli, while the center included ceci (garbanzo) beans, chocolate, candied fruit, chopped nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. In addition, the filling could include a variety of other ingredients, depending on the preferences of the cook.
Through the years, I searched in vain for a recipe in various cookbooks. In one book on regional Italian cooking, I found a recipe for what were referred to as Abruzzi Christmas cookies. However, while the dough was made with olive oil and white wine, the filling consisted primarily of almonds and grape jelly. I felt I was getting close, especially since my grandfather was born in the Abruzzo region, but not close enough to try a recipe that seemed to lack the subtlety — and the chocolate — of what I remembered. Then, this year, as I did a search on “Italian cookies,” looking for another type of cookie entirely, I saw a reference to caggionetti. With further searching, I found several recipes which I was able to triangulate upon to make the cookies of my childhood. I also learned that caggionetti are indeed from the Abruzzo region of Italy, and local variations abound. The final version of my recipe uses baking powder in the dough to make it light and crisp, while the filling uses both cocoa powder and melted semi-sweet chocolate, and includes additional ingredients such as espresso powder, orange oil, and cloves.