Food, Glorious Food:
Keep your candy canes and fruitcake. For me, Christmas cookies are a perennial diet-breaker. Nothing tastes better than a great cookie, and a great Christmas cookie reigns supreme over all pastry.
This delicious holiday tradition goes all the way back to the Middle Ages when culinary ingredients such as ginger, cinnamon, and almonds first appeared in Europe.
Certainly I will always be grateful to the first Dutch settlers for introducing Christmas cookies to America when they arrived in the early 17th century. So Dank U...and pass the Dutch almond cookies please. Meanwhile if you're in the mood for a little holiday baking, Meg and I offer up a few of our own Christmas cookie recipes.
THUMB PRINT COOKIES
½ cup butter ¼ cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk ½ tsp vanilla
1 cup flour ¼ tsp salt
jam, jelly or marmalade (choose your favorite; mine are strawberry and blackberry)
1. Mix sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and butter.
2. Add flour and salt.
3. Roll batter into little balls. Press with thumb to make indentation.
4. Spoon jelly in the center.
5. Bake at 375 degrees for 5-8 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Makes 2 ½ dozen.
(These are one of my favorite cookies of all time, despite almost getting beaten up over them. When I was a child, my mother would bake what seemed like hundreds of different kinds of cookies for the holidays. She was very particular about storing the thumb print cookies correctly since she didn’t want the jam filling to stick to the other cookies in the container.
Unfortunately when I was about 11 years old, I had friends over and we decided to break into her cookie stash. That would not have been a problem except that one friend knocked over the container of thumb print cookies. Like Humpty Dumpty, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get the jam cookies completely unstuck from each other. When my mother discovered the container of broken, jumbled thumb print cookies, she literally came after me with a frying pan. Luckily my dad stopped her from clubbing her firstborn to death. To my amazement this has never lessened my great love – and appetite -- for thumb print cookies. Sharon Pisacreta)
SNOWBALLS (RUSSIAN TEACAKES)
1 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar 1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt 2 ¼ cups flour
confectioners sugar ¾ cup chopped pecans
1. Cream together until smooth:
1-cup butter (OR ½ cup butter and ½ cup margarine) and 1/3 cup sugar
2. Add 1 tsp. vanilla, a dash of salt ( ¼ tsp.) and then stir in 2 ¼ cups
3. Fold in ¾ cup chopped pecans.
4. Chill dough. Roll into 1” balls.
5. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
*Immediately* place balls in 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, 2-3 balls at a time, to coat. Let cool. Roll again in more confectioners’ sugar. Store in a tight container.
(These are also called "Russian Teacakes" and melt in your mouth. They look beautiful on a Christmas cookie tray, but they would be delicious on cold winter days with a hot cup of tea. Sit, sip and munch while watching the snow. Meg Mims)
CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES
2 ½ cups sifted flour 1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp baking powder 2 tsp almond extract
¼ tsp salt 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, divided 1 tbsp water
¾ cup sugar 36 blanched almonds
2/3 cup oil
1. Sift together flour, baking powder & salt.
2. Beat 1 egg well, then slowly beat in sugar.
3. Blend oil, orange juice, almond extract & vanilla.
Gradually beat into sugar mixture until well blended.
4. Beat in half the flour mixture until well blended, then mix in remaining flour mixture.
Dough will be stiff.
5. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on greased baking sheet.
Flatten center of each cookie with thumb.
6. Beat remaining egg slightly.
7. Combine with water & brush generously over tops of cookies.
8. Press an almond into center of each cookie; brush again with egg mixture.
9. Bake at 375 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until golden.
Check cookie bottoms to avoid burning. Makes 3 dozen.
(Found this recipe in a daily newspaper many years ago and thought Chinese almond cookies would be a nice variation on the typical Christmas cookie. These are quite tasty, the almond ingredients giving it a wonderful flavor. Cooking time depends on individual ovens; some ovens cooking faster than others. Try not to overcook. I prefer to take cookies out of the oven slightly undercooked, leave them on the baking sheet for a minute or two, then remove. I am not a fan of hard crunchy cookies. Sharon Pisacreta)
1 cup light brown sugar,
1 cup Crisco shortening 1 cup butter
1 box yellow cake mix ½ cup flour
4 eggs 4 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond 8 oz. of candied fruit
2 cups of chopped pecans or walnuts
1. Cream 1 cup light brown sugar plus 1 cup EACH of Crisco shortening and butter (not margarine).
2. Add 1 box of yellow cake mix plus ½ cup flour, 4 eggs, 4 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond.
3. Add 8 oz. of candied fruit, plus 1-2 cups of either chopped pecans or walnuts.
4. Chill dough for several hours or overnight.
5. Drop onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. REST for two minutes before removing. Bake for only 10 minutes if you don’t use parchment.
(This recipe makes a LOT, so you might need more than one baking session. And whether you love or hate fruitcake, these cookies are far superior for the holidays. They’re colorful and delicious with milk. Santa will be very pleased! Meg Mims)
½ cup sugar 2 eggs
2 tbsp milk 2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp vanilla ¼ tsp baking soda
½ cup butter or margarine
½ tsp salt
Glaze: Confectioners Sugar, Milk
Slowly add milk to confectioner’s sugar into the consistency is smooth and thin enough to use a glaze over the cookies.
1. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda and salt together.
2. Cream the butter and sugar.
3. Blend in the egg, milk, and vanilla to the butter & sugar.
4. Add the dry ingredients.
5. Chill the dough in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
6. Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured board.
7. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
8. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 for 8-10 minutes.
9. When cool, spread glaze over cookies, then sprinkle with colored sugar.
Makes 2 ½ dozen.
(These are classic cookies that just about everyone bakes during the holidays, and it’s a toss up as to whether I can eat more of these or the thumb print cookies. Regardless, if these are baked well, I always eat waaaay too many of them. If you gave me a choice between a plate of fresh baked Christmas sugar cookies or a 5 star gourmet meal, I’d choose the cookies. I AM the original Cookie Monster. Sharon Pisacreta)
2 sticks margarine, softened
6 oz. of cream cheese, softened
2 cups flour
Cut pastry ingredients together or mix with clean hands until pastry ball is formed. Chill before rolling out. Pat into bottom and sides of pastry tart pans.
2 cups chopped pecans
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
Melt butter. Add sugar, egg, vanilla to melted butter and mix.
Fold in pecans.
Fill pastry tarts only half-full, bake at 400 degrees for 12-13 minutes. Makes 6 dozen.
(Eating a piece of pecan pie can be too rich and calorie-heavy. Instead, make these little tarts and the guilt will vanish! They’re adorable on a doily lined plate. Meg Mims)
3 cups all-purpose flour ¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract 2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable shortening (margarine)
Cinnamon sugar: 3 tbsp granulated sugar & 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a large bowl, cream the shortening and sugar.
4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.
5. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in shallow dish.
6. Pinch off 1 inch pieces of dough and roll into balls.
7. Roll in the cinnamon sugar and place in 1 ½ inches apart on baking sheets.
8. Bake for 8-9 minutes, until lightly colored.
9. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes 5-6 dozen.
(It is my learned opinion that cinnamon would make even straw taste yummy. Thankfully there is no straw in this recipe, only lots of sinfully sweet sugar and sensational cinnamon. How's that for alliteration? Anyway, you just can't go wrong with cinnamon, no matter the time of year. And these are quick and easy to put together. Sharon Pisacreta)
Dec '10 - Jan '11