I grew up in a family that loved traditions during the holidays. We routinely went to see the Nutcracker around Christmas time. We would stay up late and eat shrimp cocktail on New Year’s Eve! This was a real treat – we never ate shrimp any other time of year. I don’t define myself as a person that keeps with tradition. Whenever I would give my father grief about why we do the same thing every year he would start quoting from “Fiddler on the Roof” and singing “Tradition!” One year, when I was hosting Thanksgiving dinner, I thought it would be fun to have Mexican food. Wow – that rocked the family tradition boat and I made turkey the very next year.
I think people hold onto traditions for comfort and for sanity during the ever present change that engulfs us. Life is full of change and nothing changed my world like getting divorced last year after a 13 year relationship. Since 1997, my mother-in-law and I have had the tradition of baking Christmas Cookies together. Until last year I didn’t realize how important this tradition was to me. Technically she may not be my mother-in-law any more but she is still a mother to me and to celebrate our 14th year of this tradition, I wanted to share our family recipes and pictures with you. Every year we make the same three recipes; Spritz cookies, Molasses Sugar Cookies and Italian Sesame Candy.
We like to throw new things in the mix too and this year we also made sugar plums, salted caramel candies (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/pecan-and-salted-caramel-candies-recipe) and thumbprint cookies (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/lemon-raspberry-thumbprints-recipe).
originally called Spritzgebäck, spritzen meaning “squirt”
1 c. unsalted butter (2 sticks)
¾ c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
Food coloring if desired (we use red and green)
2 c. sifted all purpose flour
½ c. white whole wheat flour (this flour seems to help the dough squeeze through the press better)
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Cream together the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer and then add the egg, vanilla and food coloring. Whisk together the dry ingredients and then add to the wet mixture.
Press the dough through a cookie press directly onto the cookie sheets and top with various colored sugars or sprinkles.
Over the years, we have tried many presses and this one is the best for making these cookies. http://www.kitchenworksinc.com/itemDetail/30067/STAINLESS-ITALIAN-COOKIE-PRESS
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes. If you have a convection setting on your oven, this works well with these cookies.
Molasses Sugar Cookies
This recipe card was written with Sharon’s grandmother’s hand so it is certainly a priceless recipe handed down through the generations…
¾ c. butter
1 c. sugar
¼ c. molasses
2 t. baking soda
1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. white whole wheat flour
½ t. cloves
½ t. ginger
½ t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
Cream the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Then add the molasses and egg. Mix all of the dry ingredients together and add to the wet ingredients beating until incorporated.
Chill dough at least an hour but overnight works well too.
Roll into 1” balls and then roll in sugar. Place on a greased or non stick cookie sheets 2 inches apart.
Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 to 10 minutes. I prefer them under baked and a little chewy.
Italian Sesame Candy (Giggiulena)
When my mother-in-law was a young girl in Connecticut her parents had an Italian neighbor that made this every year. This candy is popular in Sicily (originally made by Arabs living in Sicily who called it Cubbaita) where it is made fresh and sold during street festivals.
1 lb. almonds, roasted and halved or split
1 lb. sesame seeds, unhulled
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. honey
¼ c. flax seed, pumpkin seeds and/or hemp seeds
Heat the honey on medium high heat in a large pot. Add the sugar and bring to a rolling boil. Add seeds and nuts and mix well, turning off heat.
Wet a large cutting board and rolling pin with water. As mixture starts to cool and set, roll out to about ¼ inch thick.
Top with sprinkles, cut quickly and set pieces on wax paper to dry. After 30 to 40 minutes flip candy to dry on the other side.
It is best to wrap this candy in waxed paper or plastic wrap before placing in a tin with the other treats.
These were perfect just as the recipes states to make them. We did use raspberry preserves instead of jam so the raspberry seeds were a nice touch.
We have all heard of sugar plums referenced as fairies in “The Nutcracker” or mentioned in “Twas the night Before Christmas”, the poem by Clement C. Moore. We got this recipe from Sharon’s sister and it is delightful. Sugar plums are any combination of dried fruits, date and nuts and rolled in sugar. This recipe is easy and tasty.
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ c. sugar, divided
1 c. dates, chopped
1 c. shredded coconut
1 c. walnuts, chopped
1 t. vanilla
Blend the eggs and one cup of sugar together and add the vanilla. Stir in the dates, walnuts and coconut. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish and pour in the mixture.
Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, stirring once every 10 minutes during baking. Remove from the oven and let it cool until the mixture can be handled (about an hour otherwise it’s too sticky). Roll into walnut-size balls. Roll the balls in the remaining sugar. Yields 36.
Salted Caramel Candies
Beware! Don’t use the wrapped squares of caramel you get at the grocery store. I did and they are too firm and take too long to soften in the oven and by the time they seem soft once they are assembled and cooled, the caramel is too hard. I would recommend getting the KAF caramel, it is supposed to stay softer.
I also don’t recommend accidentally grabbing the organic raw pecans out of the bulk bin at Whole Foods, they were $17.99/lb. Ouch!
To another great year. Sure things change. Two women sharing their joy for the holidays through baking stays the same! Happy Holidays!