Each August, Mary DiSomma breaks out her KitchenAid and starts baking cookies for the holiday season. She needs a long runway to make a whopping 7,000 cookies—50 varieties in all—that she and her husband will put in tins and hand out as gifts to eagerly awaiting family and friends come December.
DiSomma’s cookie making has as much to do with preserving family traditions and honoring memories as it does with flour and sugar. She discovered her love of baking at a young age, learning her craft from her Italian-American family members, specifically her mother and grandmother. The cookie recipes she uses have been in her family for generations and are the centerpiece of her cookbook, “A Gift of Cookies: Recipes to Share with Family & Friends” available through her website and Amazon.
The 304-page, hardbound book is not only chock full of tried-and-true recipes for baking experts as well as novices, it is interwoven with stories that put the recipes into a deeper context of the importance of holding on to traditions. “My mother hosted every holiday, making everything from scratch,” says DiSomma. “She taught me the value of holding onto traditional recipes. For most of us, there is a history associated with certain recipes tied to love and family memories.”
DiSomma, a former podiatrist, began working on her cookbook three years ago when pandemic first hit. “My daughter had been asking me to get all our family recipes together so she wouldn’t lose them,” says DiSomma. “My practice was closed, so I used that time to organize all my recipes and bind them into simple books which I handed out to my family.” The response was so profuse that DiSomma knew she needed to create a printed cookbook that captured the magic of her vast collection of cookie recipes.
She also incorporated a charitable component: 100 percent of sales from each cookbook goes to two Oak Park-based children’s charities: the Hephzibah Children’s Association and the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society.
Tips from DiSomma on the Holiday Baking Season
While the holidays are DiSomma’s number one baking season, as they are for many of us, “if you are new to baking, go with a drop cookie,” says DiSomma. “They are very simple; you start with creaming the butter and sugar, mix in dry ingredients just until they are incorporated (don’t overmix) and spoon them onto a baking sheet. Follow the directions and you won’t go wrong.”
She also recommends using the best quality ingredients you can find, from the basics of butter, flour and eggs all the way to special flavor enhancers. “I’m a big fan of vanilla; it really elevates your baked goods,” she says. “I searched high and low for a quality vanilla that was more intensely concentrated and couldn’t find one, so I ended up creating my own cognac-based vanilla which I also offer on my site.”
Lastly, DiSomma advises investing in certain kitchen accessories to make the baking process easier. While her favorite kitchen tool, hands-down, is her Kitchen-Aid, DiSomma also loves her microplane zester, mini food chopper and rolling pin.
Her favorite holiday cookie to make and give? “The cuccidati, which is an Italian fig cookie. I use a recipe I inherited from my grandmother, and if I could only make one type of cookie, that would be it,” says DiSomma.
For more on DiSomma, her cookbook and recipes, please visit marydisomma.com.