One of my favorite Christmas dessert cookies are Italian toto cookies. Not only are they delicious, they are super easy to make too. If you love chocolate, you’ll most certainly love these cookies!
These cookies are different and unique with the special spices that add wonderful festive flavors. I promise, this recipe will be enjoyed by your guests at Christmas or whenever you choose to bake them.
I’m so excited to share this special family recipe with you!
Italian Toto Cookies
I first experienced toto cookies many years ago from my in-laws who are also Italian. I knew right away that I needed to learn how to make them for myself.
I’ve modified the original toto cookie recipe in a few minor ways such as using butter instead of Crisco. Plus the original recipe was for a huge batch and so I’ve adjusted quantities for a smaller batch – making about 54 cookies.
These special Italian toto cookies are small to medium balls, and are made with cocoa and other delicious spices. They are then dipped in a thin icing that has a hint of whiskey.
I’ll be stepping you through this recipe step-by-step so you can have full confidence making them.
Toto Cookie Texture
Unlike my Italian pecan butterball recipe, totos are more of a dense cake-like texture, involving milk, baking powder, flour, eggs, and cocoa, plus some other spices and ingredients which I detail out below.
The dough will be dense and slightly sticky, and the end result is texture somewhere between a cake batter and a cookie.
So please don’t keep adding flour; you need this cookie dough to be sticky.
These delicious Italian chocolate cookies are simple to make, but since you dip the toto cookies into an icing, you need to give them a good 24-48 hours for that icing to really set.
Toto Cookies with Whiskey
There are variations of the toto cookie out there, and some may not use whiskey, and instead opt for rum. This is perfectly fine.
The whiskey is only in the icing, so it can be easily omitted if you prefer yours without any alcohol. However, the amount of whiskey is only 1 tsp.
It’s just enough alcohol to give the icing a slight hint of the whiskey. I’ve only had toto cookies with icing personally in our Italian get togethers during the holidays, but you can certainly avoid the icing all together.
I fell in love with these cookies with the whiskey flavor even though I’m not a whiskey drinker. This version has been my favorite version choice ever since.
In my opinion, the icing truly is the “icing on the cake”.
Here are some whiskey alternatives:
- orange extract
- use plain icing without any flavoring at all
Here are the ingredients for what you’ll need to make our toto cookies. I’ve broken them out for the cookie itself, and then the icing.
The list may seem longer than my usual recipes, but this recipe uses specific spices that many of us probably have already.
- baking powder
- ground clove
- chopped walnuts
- butter, softened
- eggs (1 whole egg and 1 egg white)
- vanilla extract
Cookie icing ingredients
- confectioners sugar
- milk (or water)
- whiskey (you’ll only need 1 tsp so no need to buy a big bottle at all!)
How to Make Toto Cookies
As I mentioned above, these toto cookies are very easy to make. Follow these steps and you’ll be all set. Specific measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.
In a large mixing bowl mix all the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, clove, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt).
Notice the clove and cinnamon – this is why some people call these toto spice cookies.
Cut the butter into small cubes and allow the butter to soften. This will help it blend easier. Place in a separate large mixing bowl.
Add to the same bowl with the butter, the remaining wet ingredients – eggs, milk, and vanilla. Mix using a mixer or handheld mixer until well incorporated, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Do not worry if the milk doesn’t mix well with the butter, or if the butter causes the mixture to be a little lumpy as you can see in my image. As long as the butter mixture is very soft, you will be fine.
Next add the butter and milk mixture into the flour and mix well. I use a handheld mixer, but you can use any kind you are comfortable with. Although remember that the toto dough will be dense and a little sticky – and that is what you want.
Fold in the walnuts using a spatula. The dough will be dense and stiff so it is best to do this without a mixer to avoid over-mixing.
Using your hands form into small balls about 1 inch in diameter and place on non-greased cookie sheets. This takes me about 15 minutes. Do not make them too big because they will rise and spread out a little.
For easier clean up, you can place parchment paper on the cookie sheets.
Bake the cookies in the oven at 350F for 15 to 17 minutes.
When done, remove the baked toto cookies from the oven and cool on cooling racks. Let the cookies cool for at least 3-4 hours (ideally 24 hours) before icing them, which I explain next.
Icing the Cookies
Once the Italian chocolate toto cookies are cooled, we can create the icing.
Start by creating the icing which is standard icing. In a medium bowl, mix the confectioners sugar with milk (or water), plus the whiskey, until lumps are removed. see my section below about alternatives to whiskey.
Line cookie sheets with wax paper and place cooling racks on top. This will catch the icing as it drips, making clean up super easy.
Dip each cookie into the icing so they are half covered in the icing. You can dip them all the way if you want as well. I like mine half dipped so they can be held easier, and I think they look nicer too.
This is a thin layer of icing, not thick. We don’t want the icing to overpower the totos. The measurements I use for my icing are fairly standard, however, add more confectioners sugar if it is too thin, or reduce the amount of milk or water used.
It will take time for the icing to fully harden, so let them dry for about 1-2 days before storing away. If you’re concerned that the milk-based icing will go bad due to the milk, there is no need for alarm. According to Culinary Hill, the small amount of milk is stabilized by the confectioners sugar.
How to Store Toto Cookies
So here’s the best part of this recipe, you can store your toto cookies in the freezer – even after dipping in the icing! This is a huge time saver if you’re trying to plan ahead.
Simply make sure the cookies are fully cooled and that the icing is very hard. Then store in an air tight container with parchment paper between the layers.
Freeze for up to 3 months. (Yep – three months!).
Allow 24-48 hours to thaw in the fridge before serving.
You can also freeze just the chocolate balls without the icing and then add the icing a few days before serving if you prefer.
These cookies are best served at room temperature.
You can also check out my post about additional Christmas cookies you can make ahead of time.
How to Serve Chocolate Italian ToTo Cookies
You can serve Italian chocolate toto cookies on a platter or you can place them inside individual muffin/cupcake wrappers to make it easier for guests to pick them up and place on a dessert plate without having to use their fingers.
The cookie will not crumble as easily as the white powdered Italian butterball cookies, however guests may prefer to eat them using a fork which can break up the cookie.
If you want to offer your guest some Italian cookies specifically for dipping, make sure to also check out my almond biscotti recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Toto cookies are an Italian cookie that include chocolate and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and even pepper. There are different recipe variations, but most include an icing with some flavoring such as whiskey or orange extract.
Sometimes toto cookies are referred to as Italian spice cookies due to the clove and cinnamon spices.
Toto cookies are a traditional Italian dessert cookie, often served during Christmas and the holidays.
Other Similar Cookie Recipes
Here are some other delicious Italian cookies and desserts for the holidays you can try.
Enjoy these Italian anginetti cookies for the holidays or special occasions.
These Italian almond biscotti are delicious! Just remember to remind guests they are for dunking in coffee.
Prefer soft cakes? Try my lemon ricotta pie, it’s light and refreshing!
I hope you enjoy my toto cookies as much as we do here. Please let me know in the comments below how you enjoyed them and any changes you may have made.
Let’s jump right into the recipe!
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 cup sugar or 1 tsp stevia + 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- 1/2 tsp ground clove
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- 3 tbsp milk (or water)
- 1 tsp whiskey rum or even brandy can be used, or orange extract
- In a large mixing bowl mix the dry ingredients3 cups flour, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1/2 tsp ground clove, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, pinch salt
- In a separate large bowl, using a mixer, blend butter, eggs, milk, vanilla until well incorporated ensuring the butter is soft. A few small lumps are okay.1/2 cup milk, 3/4 cup butter, 1 whole egg, 1 egg white, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Add the butter and milk mixture into the flour mixture until blended. Do not over-mix.1 cup chopped walnuts
- Gently fold in the chopped walnuts with a spatula.
- Using your hands, form into 1 inch dough balls; this takes about 15 minutes.
- Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 15 to 17 minutes. They will be soft to the touch. Test with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean.
- When done, remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on cooling racks for 3-4 hours, ideally overnight.
- In a medium bowl, use a whisk or mixer to blend the confectioners sugar with milk (or water) and whiskey until all lumps are removed. About 2 minutes on low to med. speed.2 cups confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp milk (or water), 1 tsp whiskey
- Add more sugar if you want it a thicker consistency.
- Dip half of each cooled cookie into the icing and allow to dry for 24-48 hours on cooling racks or wax paper.
- Store in an air tight container when icing is hard.
- These cookies will flatten on the bottom, so they do not retain their “ball” shape. This is normal for toto cookies.
- Rum or brandy can be substituted for the whiskey, but the flavor will be different.
- You can substitute orange extract instead of any alcohol.
- Store in an air tight container
- Can be frozen for 3 months and then thawed in the fridge for 24-48 hours before using. Serve at room temperature.