cookietreatscover

Cakes of all shapes and sizes (including cookies) have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger, almonds and dried fruits were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages and they were incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes.

Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds and festive holiday decorations to America. Dutch New Year’s cookies were also sometimes molded into fancy shapes. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas. Sugar cookie recipes descended from English traditions.

By the 1500s, Christmas cookies had caught on all over Europe. German families baked up pans of Lebkuchen and buttery Spritz cookies. Pepparkakor, spicy ginger and black-pepper cookies were favorites in Sweden and the Norwegians made krumkake,  thin lemon and cardamom-scented wafers. The earliest Christmas cookie recipes in America can be attributed to the Dutch in the early 1600s.

In the article  “America’s Best Holiday Cookies,” from McCall’s magazine, December 1994, comes this bit of  food history:

The flood of cheap imported wares from Germany between 1871 and 1906 inundated the markets with cooking utensils, such as cookie cutters. Unlike homemade counterparts from the local tinsmith, these tools depicted highly stylized images, often depicting subjects designed specifically to hang on the Christmas tree. Likewise, recipes appeared in popular cookbooks to better match the demands of such utensils. With the advent of inexpensive tin cutters, new emphasis was placed on shape, where in the past, many homemade cookies simply had been square or round. Bells, Christmas trees, camels, cutters with zigzag edges, Santa Clauses and turkeys created a new tradition.

Very early recipe:

“To three pound of flour, sprinkle a teacup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one teaspoonful of pearlash [a rising agent] in a teacup of milk, knead all together well, roll three-quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.” —American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 2nd edition [Albany:1796] (p. 46).

[NOTE: this book is considered by most food historians to be the first American cookbook.]

cookietreats5

Spumoni Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup shelled pistachios
  • Green food coloring
  • 1/3 cup red candied cherries
  • Red food coloring

Directions

Line a 9-inch by 5-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, letting wrap extend on all sides. On waxed paper, combine flour, baking soda and salt.

In large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat butter and sugar 4 minutes or until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add egg and almond extract and beat until well blended. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture just until blended, occasionally scraping bowl.

Transfer 1 rounded cup plain dough to a medium bowl; with spoon, stir in pistachios and enough green food coloring to tint dough bright green.

In another bowl, place 1 rounded cup plain dough; stir in cherries and enough red food coloring to tint dough bright red.

Evenly pat pistachio dough into the bottom of the prepared pan; freeze 10 minutes.

Pat plain dough on top of pistachio layer; freeze 10 minutes. Pat cherry dough on top. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, until the dough is firm enough to slice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove dough from the pan. With a serrated knife, cut dough crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice crosswise into 3 cookies.

Place cookies, 2 inches apart, on ungreased, large cookie sheets.

Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes or until firm and golden brown at the edges. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet on a wire rack 2 minutes. With a wide spatula, carefully transfer cookies to rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Store cookies in tightly covered container at room temperature up to 2 weeks, or in freezer up to 3 months.

cookietreats1

Apricot Crumb Bars

2 dozen

Ingredients

Cookie Crust

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Topping

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup apricot jam

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray 13 by 9 inch metal baking pan with nonstick baking spray; line pan with foil, then spray foil.

With mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, brown sugar and salt until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low-speed, beat in flour until just combined.

Transfer to prepared pan. With lightly floured hands, spread into an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes.

For the topping:

Combine in a medium bowl: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons softened butter and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; pinch with fingers until clumps form.

Take crust out of the oven and spread crust with the apricot jam. Sprinkle with the topping. Bake 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks.

Once cool, cut into 2-inch squares.

cookietreats2

Pistachio Thins

4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup pistachios

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray an 18 by 12 inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick baking spray; line pan with foil, then spray foil.

With mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low-speed, beat in flour until just combined.

Transfer to prepared pan. With lightly floured hands, spread and press into an even, thin layer.

Sprinkle with pistachios and press the nuts into the dough. With a pizza cutter or very sharp knife, cut dough lengthwise into 3-inch-wide rectangles, then crosswise to form 3-inch squares. Cut squares diagonally into triangles.

Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on wire racks. Gently break triangles to separate.

cookietreats3

Hazelnut Bars

3 dozen

Cookie Crust

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Topping

  • 1/2 cup hazelnut chocolate spread (Nutella)
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 13 by 9 inch metal baking pan with nonstick baking spray; line pan with foil, then spray foil.

With mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, brown sugar and salt until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low-speed, beat in flour until just combined.

Transfer to prepared pan. With lightly floured hands, spread into even layer.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until deep golden brown around edges. Cool completely on wire rack.

Spread crust with hazelnut chocolate spread. Sprinkle with hazelnuts; press to adhere. Using the foil, remove from the pan. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

cookietreats4

Italian Angelette Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons  butter
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup colored candy decorations

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease large cookie sheet.

In large bowl with mixer at low-speed, beat granulated sugar and butter until blended. Increase speed to high, beat 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

At low-speed, beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beat in vanilla or lemon extract until mixed. Beat in flour, baking powder and salt just until blended.

With heavily floured hands, shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Place balls, 2 inches apart, on cookie sheet. Bake cookies 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.

In small bowl, whisk confectioners’ sugar and 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons water until blended.

Dip the top of each cooled cookie into the glaze. (Whisk more water into the glaze if it becomes too thick.)

Place cookies on wire rack set over waxed paper to catch any drips. Sprinkle with candy decorations. Allow glaze to set, about 20 minutes. Store cookies in a tightly covered container, with waxed paper between layers for up to 2 weeks.

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