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Pizza maker turns to Christmas cookies

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December 16, 2009 - Ortonville- Got Christmas cookies? Joe D'Anna does. D'Anna creates thousands of pizzas all year long as the co-owner of Papa Bella's

Pizza, but once a year in December, the pizza maker turns into cookie baker— creating on average about 2,500-2,800 cookies in about four hours with his family.

This year's cookie extravaganza happened last Sunday as D'Anna, his mom, Wilma, sister Denise, brothers Mike and Dean, brother-in-law Dave, and Denise's friend Tina made 1,800 cookies at the pizzeria located at 425 Mill St.

"Not everyone could come, so we didn't make as many," he said. "We split the cookies between five families. In the past, we've split them between eight and 10 families."

D'Anna and members of his family have carried on this annual Christmas tradition at his pizza shop for the past decade and a half.

"My Mom used to trash her kitchen, my sister would trash her kitchen to make cookies," D'Anna said. "About 15 years ago, I said, 'Why? Come out to the pizzeria and we'll make cookies.'"

The pizzeria provides about 75-feet of tabletop work ing space, a 60-quart dough mixer, and four commercial-sized ovens. The family members chip in to purchase all necessary ingredients to make four variety of cookies— chocolate chip, peanut butter, Italian almond, and Italian white— a cut-out cookie with lemon flavor.

This year, the shopping list included about 38 pounds of flour, 16 to18 pounds of sugar, 6 pounds of butter-flavored Crisco, 4 pounds of regular Crisco, 3 pounds of chocolate chips, and 6 or 7 dozen eggs.

"There is no low-cal information on these cookies," laughs D'Anna. The total cost was about $130, but split five ways, was $27 per family. D'Anna calls it a bargain, noting that his family, including wife Karen and sons Dominic, 7, and Joseph, 2, gets 300 cookies for that price.

The work is made easier by many hands helping. The family sets up a production line, determining how many batches to make at once and how much of each ingredient is required, then mixing it, putting dough on the baking sheets, and taking them out of the oven and putting them out to cool. Icing also needs to be made for the Italian cookies. D'Anna oversees the baking.

"Not all the cookies make it out in good shape," he said. "This year I didn't burn any. One year, one of the girls made an entire batch of cut-out cookies and put salt in instead of sugar. We didn't notice until I took a bite. It was the last year that girl came— she was embarrassed. I said, 'Crap happens.'"

D'Anna believes the pizzeria smells better when they bake cookies than when they make pizza. People will drop by and ask him what he's doing. He tells them how many cookies they are making and they ask him if he's nuts.

"I tell them no, we're just having fun making cookies," D'Anna said. "It's just fun, you get to spend time with family, get icing all up and down your sleeves and icing on your nose."

The cookies don't last long. "You think you have 300 cookies, but you send a dozen or two to school for teachers or kids, make a few dozen for the neighbors, give them away as gifts, and then of course we've got to eat some, too," D'Anna said. "You go through more in the house with a 7- and 2 year-old, too. They have not lasted until Christmas in the past.... We freeze some and stick them in the back of the freezer and save a few for Santa Christmas Eve."

Italian Almond Cookie (100-year-old D'Anna family recipe)


1 cup shortening

1 1/4 cup white sugar

6 eggs

2 Tbsp. baking powder

2 Tbsp. almond flavor

1/4 cup milk

6 cups flour


milk, confectioner's sugar, and almond flavor to desired taste Cream together sugar, shortening, eggs and almond flavor; add baking powder and mix well; add flour and milk alternately until cookie dough is stiff enough to handle; dough will ball up in mixer and pull away from the sides. Roll out dough in rope about the diameter of a dime. Curl into a pinwheel shape. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until lightly brown on the bottom and lighter on the top. Remove cookies from sheet and ice while still hot. Let cool, then store in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware bowl.

Cookies will taste best after one to three days if they last that long.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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