These showstopping Italian cookies with honey walnut filling are exceptionally tasty, offering a subtle complexity typical of Italian desserts. Unique both in flavor and form, these cookies are great for special occasions and holidays. They are reminiscent of shortbread with a nutty filling, making them an excellent accompaniment to tea and coffee.

Italian cookies with a honey walnut filling inside shortbread cookie

Although the walnut filling is the star of this cookie, citrus and vanillina play an important role in creating a flavor profile typical of sweets in Italy. While these flavors are not seen together frequently in comparable American recipes, they imbue a special taste to desserts, providing an extra layer of interest to any basic recipe. Citrus adds a bright zesty note, while vanillina’s aromatic quality rounds out the walnut and honey in these delicious cookies.

In previous recipes I’ve written about the joys of baking with vanillina, a pure vanilla powder used often in Italy (if you want to read more about it you can find information in this recipe). I can’t stress enough what a difference using vanillina makes in baking, especially if you’re attempting to recreate Italian desserts. Although you can substitute with vanilla extract, it really doesn’t have the same effect. These days vanillina can be found in many specialty stores that sell Italian and Mediterranean foods. I really insist that its worth the extra effort to ensure you use pure vanillina rather than its artificial form.

This recipe is taken directly from an Italian one, with a few changes, and can be found here. I only used tangerine zest even though the original recipe also calls for lemon zest, but I didn’t have any lemons around. If you decide to try it with lemon zest as well just add the zest of one lemon to the filling and one to the dough.

Detail of Italian cookies with honey walnut filling inside a shortbread cookie

Italian Cookies with Honey Walnut Filling

For the cookie dough:
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 packets vanillina (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of a tangerine
  • 3 eggs
For the filling:
  • 2 cups walnuts, shelled and chopped
  • zest of tangerine
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
    powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

To begin making the cookie dough cut together the flour and butter (or use a hand mixer) to create a sand like consistency. Add the sugar, baking powder, salt, vanillina and tangerine zest to the mixture. Mix all the ingredients together by hand, or if using a mixer on a low setting. Add the eggs and continue mixing until well incorporated, forming a smooth dough consistency. If your mixture appears too dry you can add a splash of water until the dough sticks together. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Let it chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, or for no more than 1 hour in the freezer.

When the dough is almost done chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Begin making the filling by putting the chopped walnuts, tangerine zest, honey and sugar in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into two equal sized portions. Roll each portion into a rectangle approximately 2mm in thickness on top of a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper. Spread half of the honey walnut filling in the middle of the dough, avoiding the edges. Fold the dough over on top of the filling, closing all of the edges well so the filling doesn’t escape during baking. Move the cookie dough loaf onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat the process with the second half of the dough and filling. Place both cookie loaves in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the tops turn golden in color.

Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack. Once cool, move to a cutting board and slice the loaves horizontally, making each cookie about a centimeter in width. Dust with powdered sugar.