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Family Traditions: Holiday Cookies 

Posted on December 12, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Home chefs share their seasonal favorites with The Sun’s Leslie Nicholson 

Baking cookies for the holidays encompasses so much more than just baking cookies. Thumbing through a recipe box can be emotional, like it was for me when I was searching for recipes from my mom and grandmas. I found notes and handwritten recipe cards that mean so much to me.

Like so many children, I got the chance to watch and learn how to bake and carry on the cookie baking traditions of my family. It seemed like those days of watching and learning (and eating their cookies, of course) would never end. I feel so lucky to be able to share this tradition with my children and cherish the memories, both past and present. Spending time baking with family and the act of sharing with others is something so special.

That bond is true in all cultures, as cookie recipes have been passed down through generations of bakers. We hope you enjoy trying some of these cookies recipes that represent Latino, Serbian, Italian, and Jewish holiday traditions. We so appreciate all who have made this possible. I have included some of my family favorites as well. Happy baking!

 

Frosted Ginger Cookies

Contributed by Heidi Cullen

“These cookies are several out of about 50 varieties I bake for Christmas. Every year we add one or two new ones to the list. We pack them all up right before Christmas and deliver them to people’s front doors. It is so heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces on Christmas Eve morning. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember.”

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup butter

1 egg

3 Tablespoons molasses

2 cups flour

1 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon each salt, ground clove and fresh ground nutmeg

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream sugar and butter, then mix in egg and molasses. Combine flour, baking soda, and spices, and then add to butter mixture.
  • Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break up into rounded tablespoons of dough and roll into balls, and roll in sugar. Arrange on a greased cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.
  • For glaze, combine powdered sugar with 1 Tablespoon water and stir until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and drizzle glaze over cookies. Takes 35 minutes to prep and bake and makes 40 cookies.

Hanukkah Chocolate Rugelach

Contributed by Samantha Chapin

“Rugelach means “little twists” in Yiddish. Every time I go into a Jewish deli, I can’t leave without getting a Chocolate Rugelach. They remind me of my Grandmother (Bubbie) whenever I make this recipe.”

For the cream cheese dough:

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, cold and cubed

2 sticks butter, cold and cubed (I use salted butter, but you can use unsalted)

2 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for rolling out the dough

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the chocolate filling:

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 cup sugar

6 ounces bittersweet (or semi-sweet mini chips) chocolate, cut into small pieces or shavings

4 Tablespoons butter, melted

1 large egg, whisked with 1 Tablespoon water

  • Make the dough by combining the cream cheese, butter, flour, and salt. Blend the ingredients together until the fat becomes evenly dispersed within the flour and it begins to form into a ball. (I use a stand mixer but you can use a food processor or by hand.)
  • Remove the dough from the mixer and form into a tight, slightly flattened ball, then place it back into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or up to one day.
  • Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 4 pieces. Place 3 pieces back into the refrigerator.
  • Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Set it aside.
  • Lightly flour your work surface then, using a rolling pin, roll it into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. (The dough will be very hard, so it’s best to first beat it down with a rolling pin to flatten it slightly. It will loosen up as it comes to room temperature.)
  • Immediately brush the rolled out dough with one-fourth of the melted butter and sprinkle it with one-fourth of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Sprinkle one-fourth of the chocolate onto the dough, pressing it lightly into the dough. Cut the dough into 12 wedges (triangles).
  •  Roll up each wedge, starting from the thickest end, until you form a crescent shape. Repeat the rolling, topping, and shaping process with the other three pieces of dough.
  • Place the rugelach on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate it for 30 minutes. (You can also freeze the rugelach at this point for later use.)
  • Brush the tops of the rugelach with the egg wash, then sprinkle them with additional cinnamon-sugar. In oven preheated to 350 F, bake the rugelach for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the rugelach to a cooling rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Serbian Star Cookies

Recipe contributed by Cathy Grgich

“These are a family favorite from my husband Mitch’s side of the family! My mother-in-law wrote this out for me many years ago. It was given to her by her sister-in-law way back when. They can be cut to any shape you wish. Sometimes I change it up by using sprinkles or a glaze instead of nuts. A simple, but delicious cookie!”

1 cup butter

4 egg yolks

½ cup sugar

3 cups flour

1 tsp. lemon juice

  • Mix butter, yolks, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour and lemon juice.
  • Roll dough ½” thick. Cut with cookie cutter. Brush with beaten egg whites. Sprinkle with nuts mixed with a little sugar. Bake at 375 F for 15-20 min. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Toffee Pieces

Contributed by Cathy Grgich

“This one has been a hit for all occasions forever in my family! You can see by the ‘page age’ going back 35 years how well-used this recipe is! Super quick and easy…and you won’t believe how delicious they are until you try them! Two years ago, I tried using a better quality healthy graham cracker from Whole Foods Market, and…OMG…even better! That’s what I’ll use now, ongoing.

“Here’s a hint: when making the toffee pieces, spread the syrup quickly, and get the chocolate chips on it fast so they melt easily/nicely on the hot syrup. (It cools quickly!) I chill the whole pan until the chocolate is firm, then cut/break it up. I also store them in the fridge, as we like them chilled, but no need to do so. Enjoy!”

12 graham cracker squares

¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup butter or margarine

¼ cup chopped nuts

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Place graham crackers into a buttered 13 x9 pan. In small saucepan, cook brown sugar and butter or margarine until bubbly. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in nuts. Pour syrup over crackers. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. When chocolate is soft, spread over top. Chill until set. Break into pieces. Makes 22-24 pieces.

 

Frosted Persimmon Bars

Contributed by Tracey Giles

 

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup veg. oil

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup persimmon pulp

1 cup chopped nuts

  • Mix first five ingredients together. Then separately combine sugar, eggs, oil, and pulp, in that order. Stir flour mixture into pulp mixture. Beat well. Add nuts. Pour into a 9 x13-inch, well-greased cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes in a 325-350 F oven.

Icing:

1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, softened

½ cup butter

1 teaspoon milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-pound box powdered sugar

  • Mix well. Ice after persimmon bars have been removed from oven and completely cooled. Cut into squares.
Kate and Meg Jernigan follow the family recipe for Pizzelles.

Pizzelles

Recipe contributed by Michelle Jernigan

“My aunts used to make hundreds of these. I have one of their old pizzelle irons. Oh, if it could tell stories! Pizzelle irons can be purchased online or at Sign of the Bear in Sonoma.”

3 large or 4 small egg, beaten

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup butter

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon anise extract

  • Mix ingredients together, pour small into pizzelle iron and close. Powdered sugar can be sprinkled on the cookies or you can enjoy them plain. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Mexican Buñuelos

Contributed by Maricarmen Reyes

“Buñuelos are a favorite holiday cookie in Mexico. They are often sold by street vendors and very popular to take to Christmas Eve parties.”

For the sauce:

3 ½ cups water

1 large piloncillo stick (about 12 oz.) (unrefined brown sugar, available at Mexican markets and Walmart)

1 stick cinnamon

6 guayabas chopped or cut in quarters (guavas)

½ teaspoon anise seed

¼ of an orange peel

For the Buñuelos:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 Tablespoon butter, melted and cooled

About ¾ cup warm water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

About 2 cups vegetable oil to fry the buñuelos

Sugar to sprinkle

  • Place the cup of water and the piloncillo in a medium-size saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until the piloncillo dissolves and it looks like liquid caramel.
  • Carefully add the rest of the water, cinnamon stick, guavas, anise seed, and orange peel and bring to a boil. Cook for about 6 minutes, stir and boil for 4 more minutes. Set aside to use as a topping for the buñuelos.
  • In a large bowl mix the flour, baking powder, 1 Tablespoon of sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt. Form a well in the center and add the egg, melted butter, and vanilla. Mix until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Slowly add the water a tablespoon at a time, mixing and kneading until you have a soft and smooth dough. This will take less than 5 minutes. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  • While the dough is resting, prepare your working area with a rolling pin, a large dish with paper towel or open paper bags, extra flour for rolling the circles, and a large frying pan, with the vegetable oil ready for the moment you start frying the buñuelos.
  • Divide the dough into 12 small balls and cover. On the floured working surface, roll out each ball to form a circle as thin as possible without breaking. The buñuelo should be thin, almost transparent.
  • Fry the buñuelos in very hot oil until they are golden and crispy. This step will take a few seconds. Place the buñuelos on a plate covered with paper towels to drain the excess oil.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature and sprinkle with sugar.

Chocolate Mint Bars

Contributed by Leslie Nicholson

“A family favorite that my Grandma made every year. One year my siblings and I ate so many of these while playing down in her basement (where she kept her cookies until she packed them up to give to family) that we did not receive any in our cookie tin that year.”

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter, melted

2 oz. square unsweetened chocolate, melted

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

½ cup sifted flour

½ cup chopped nuts, optional (walnuts are preferred)

  • Combine beaten eggs, sugar, and butter. Beat well. Blend in chocolate and flavoring. Stir in flour and nuts (if using). Pour into a greased 9×9 pan. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Cool.

Topping:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons butter

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

  • Blend together. Add a few drops of green food coloring. Spread over cooled cookies.

Icing:

1 oz. square unsweetened chocolate

1 Tablespoon butter

  • Melt together over very low heat in a double boiler. Pour and spread over green topping. Let stand until set and cut into 1-inch squares. Makes 16-20 cookie bars.
Finsk BROD
Contributed by Helle Griffiths
250 g flour (1 cup)
150 g butter (¾ cup)
50 g sugar (¼ cup)
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons chopped almonds
6 tablespoons coarse sugar
1 egg, beaten
  • Mix flour and sugar, chop up the butter and blend. Add egg yolk. Knead the dough by hand. Let stand cold for one hour. Roll the dough out quickly to form finger thick rolls. Cut into 4 cm (1 ½ inch pieces).
  • Dip pieces in beaten egg and then roll in chopped almonds and coarse sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 390 F until golden on a greased cookie sheet. Makes about 75 cookies.
 Frosted Ginger Cookies
Contributed by Heidi Cullen
“These cookies are several out of about 50 varieties I bake for Christmas. Every year we add one or two new ones to the list. We pack them all up right before Christmas and deliver them to people’s front doors. It is so heartwarming to see the smiles on people’s faces on Christmas Eve morning. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember.”
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 egg
3 Tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1 bs
1 1/2 ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Half teaspoon each salt, ground clove and fresh ground nutmeg
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream sugar and butter, then mix in egg and molasses. Combine flour, baking soda, and spices, and then add to butter mixture.
  • Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break up a rounded tablespoons of dough and roll into balls, and roll in sugar. Arrange on a greased cookie sheet and bake until golden brown about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.
  • For glaze, combine powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon water and stir until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and drizzle glaze over cookies.
  • Takes 35 minutes to prep and bake and makes 40 cookies.
Linzer Cookies
Contributed by Heidi Cullen
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon fine kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum
¼ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup seedless raspberry jam
Powdered sugar for dusting
  • Pulse flour, almonds, cinnamon and salt in a food processor until almonds are finally ground. Beat sugar and butter, add egg. Beat in vanilla. Add additional ingredients and beat until blended.
  • Divide them in half. Place each half between sheets of parchment or wax paper. Working with one piece at a time, flattened out into a disk. Rule out 1/8 inch thick. Chill until very firm- at least two hours.
  • Preheat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Remove top sheet of paper and cut out cookies using 2-inch star cookie cutter. Transfer to baking sheet, placing half inch apart, and chill again.
  • Using half inch star cookie cutter, cut out a star from the center of half a cookie. Working in batches, bake cookies until light brown, dry, and just firm to the touch, 11-13 minutes. Transfer to wire rack; let cool.
  • Bring jam and 1 teaspoon water to a boil in a small sauce pan and let cool slightly. Arrange cookies flat side up. Spoon 1 teaspoon cool jam in the center of each, doubling slightly to spread.
  • Makes about 20 sandwich cookies.


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