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Dessert Great Memories

Granola Cluster Cookies –Even Your Healthy Friends Will Love Them!

December 18, 2017

Each winter my mother and I sported a light coat of flour from December first to the 25th. My mom flew into a baking frenzy and I was recruited to grease pans, sprinkle sugar on hot fried twists of lemony dough, and run up and down between our upstairs and downstairs kitchens like lightning for whatever mom needed  because she always said, “Honey, you gatta da fresh a legs.”

Once I remember her saying, “Honey go getta me da ting dat goes inna da ting I use to beat uppa da stuffa.” And I brought her back exactly what she needed – the beaters for her mixer.  My dad looked at us incredulously and said, “How the hell did you know what she meant?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know, I just knew.” My mother smiled knowing we had a baking shorthand that transcended the English language.

This year I’m trying to get it all done before I go back to Pennsylvania and I’m relying on  legs that are not quite as fresh as they were 50 years ago to get me through.

I love bringing cookies to work and to friends for the holidays.  Just being in my kitchen, baking in the evening when it’s dark outside reminds me of those childhood Decembers when condensed water in the corners of windows turned into tiny ice crystals. I’d stand at the big picture window  in the dining room, looking out on the frozen backyard and knew I was lucky to be warm and cozy, baking with my mom.

I miss her more this time of year than any other because she was like the spirit of Christmas present — large, laughing, joyful, always giving, and ready to sample every treat that came her way. Everyone, from neighbors, to friends, to the nuns at school, even the mailman, got a sample of Mama Tunno’s cookies.

Keeping that tradition alive makes me feel like our floured fingertips touch every December. And I swear, I am going to bake her banana cookies this year, and give you the recipe because they are awesome dipped in a hot cup of coffee. It’s a dough wrapped cookie filled with a mixture of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon, that is awesome.

Each year I also swear I’ll expand my repertoire, then never do it.  (Apparently, I do a lot of swearing this time of year.) But, I actually did try two new cookie recipes this baking season. One was a success, the other was just meh. The success was a fantastic, sweet treat even your health conscious friends will love, called the Granola Cluster Cookie.  My daughter found it on the Bon Appetit website, which she and I both love. Their cooks  are really laid back and fun. You just want to hang out with them.

edited granola cluster.JPGThe Granola Cluster Cookie is made of pecans, almonds, pepitas, coconut and some oats, and it’s held together with egg whites beaten with sugar. I truly couldn’t stop eating them — they’re that good. And I just made another batch with hazelnuts instead of pepitas and they were even better!

But when they tell you to bake them on parchment, they aren’t kidding. They really stick to  the pan and removing them results in some broken cookies, so definitely use parchment, or wax paper in a pinch. And wait until they’re cooled to remove them or you’ll have cookie casualties.

The meh one was the Swig Sugar Cookie.  Apparently, they’re so good people stand in long lines for them in St. George Utah, but the recipe I found on a blog was not worth the effort. They were too sweet, without the balance of salt. I’d read that the sour cream in the icing made them different, but to me, it didn’t and I added a lot more sour cream to see if I could salvage it. I saw a different recipe,  on a Food blog called, The Recipe Critic, and it looked more promising with more salt and sour cream in it, but I have no more time or money to waste on recipes, so for now, I’m sticking with Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies as my undisputed favorite sugar cookie.

So, if you’re still looking for a great holiday cookie, I’m posting the recipe for the Bon Appetit Granola Cluster Cookies. This should satisfy your health conscious friends, who want a cookie they can eat with little to no guilt. And they’re really easy to make!

Russian Teacakes.JPGBut, what’s life without a decadent, sweet treat every now and then? So, I’m also posting one  of my, oldie but goodie, favorite Christmas cookie recipes — Russian Teacakes.

My mom called them Butterballs because they’re so buttery they just melt in your mouth.  She loved these cookies at first taste, but she didn’t have a recipe to replicate them, so she tried inventing a recipe. It didn’t work out well, and my brother Bernie, nicknamed Mom’s attempt “Cannon Balls.”  Mom laughed it off, but gave up on improvisation.  Years later, my sister-in-law- Patty, gave me a great recipe she had in one of her Polish cookbooks, and I’ve been making them for years. I always lightly toast the pecans before I add them, they’re much better that way.

And, even though I’m usually worried about what I eat, at Christmas, I go with mom’s slogan, “Oh honey, you gatta try dis, ittsa so good!” You only get one life, enjoy it a little. We can all go back on the diet in January.

Granola Cluster Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans

1 cup sliced almonds (I didn’t have any, so I chopped whole almonds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, (pepitas) or hazelnuts — they are awesome!

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. virgin coconut or extra virgin olive oil , melted (I used coconut)

2 large egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let it cool.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture and fold to coat evenly.

Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly. (This recipe made two batches for me — about 24 cookies). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Wait until the cookies are cooled before trying to move them, they are fragile and will fall apart if they aren’t cool enough.

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter (not unsalted)

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I use lightly toasted pecans, but walnuts work too)

Additional 2 cups confectioners sugar to roll cookies in.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Blend flour, and salt and stir into mixture. Mix in nuts, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (If I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it gets really hard, so I zap it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and it’s easier to work with.) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll them in confectioners sugar. Let cookies cool and roll them in sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    Nice and yum recipe. 🙂

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Wait until you try it! It’s really good and really easy! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Reply
    Jane Deutschmann
    December 18, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    We would take the train from St. Louis to your home in New Brighton for Christmas. What amazing memories we were lucky to have from those days. Thank you Fran for keeping them alive for us. I don’t remember the banana cookies but I’m sure I ate them along with all the mountains of food Aunt Mary would make. Will never forget Bernie and Bob playing the accordions as we all sat around the the table…..eating into the night!
    Your the Best…, cousin Jane and the Duke

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      I love that you guys used to make the trip and am amazed that we all cohabitated in that little house! I remember those trips very fondly…you guys all seemed so grown up to me at the time, but now we’re all the same age, funny how that happens! Have a wonderful Christmas with your beautiful family Jane and a fantastic time at the wedding!

  • Reply
    Mary J. Tunno
    December 18, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Hey girl, when you decide to make the banana cookies, I’m there!!! LOVE those!!!!!!! See you & your “a little less than fresh legs” when you arrive in PA.:-)

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      We could make them at your house! How’s that sound? I’ll buy some pastry dough and all we have to make is the filling…wanna?

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    sound and look wonderful. no doubt more delicious than both combined!! especially if you’ve made them! xox

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      Well, you will have to let me know your thoughts since you just got to taste them. They are my new favorite cookie!

  • Reply
    Monica Muehsam
    December 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Baking cookies during the holidays is such a great way to keep family memories alive, Fran- does your daughter enjoy baking too? I just tried a family recipe yesterday, Date Nut Pinwheels, and my mom was amazed that I made them without throwing the dough into the living room! It was my grandmother’s recipe and I hope I have the patience to continue the tradition until I can hand it down to Emma. Marry Christmas to you and your family!!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Hey Monica, I think you will have to share that recipe with me. I would love to try it, it sounds wonderful. I’ve been meaning to make some biscotti with dates and walnuts or hazelnuts…that sounds so good to me! If you remember, I’d love to try the Pinwheels! Have a wonderful Christmas with the family!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Fran I’m embarrassed to say that I NEVER cook or bake BUT those granola clusters make me want to give it a go! They look and sound delicious!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      Karen, if ever there were cookies to make for a beginner, these are the ones! You have to try them because they are not just delicious, but really simple to make! Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 7:52 am

    The granola cookies look yummy. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Oh Cathryn, you have to try them, they are delicious! Nice and crunchy with just the right amount of baking to make them a light toasty golden color. Thanks for reading and taking the time to post!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Oh, you are making me so hungry as I sip my coffee this morning! The memories add to what makes it all taste so good. I spent my time in the kitchen this week making a giant batch of my grandmother’s sauce to put into jars and give to some of my loved ones. “A little taste of Christmas past.” We are so lucky to have the memories we do, and it is an honor to be able to create our own traditions out of them in our lives. It’s like opening a time portal and bringing past and present together for a little while. Love to you and your family, Fran. Happy Holidays xoxo

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:17 pm

      We are SO lucky. I wouldn’t trade the memories for all the $$ in the world. My baking does take me right back. Have a wonderful Christmas Nicol. I have no doubt you will, no matter how you spend it.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 6:58 am

    I always have leftover nuts from making Stollen and Zimtsterne cookies–I’ll have to try those granola clusters! And like you, Fran, I miss my mom so much during the baking frenzy in December.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 21, 2017 at 5:15 pm

      I know. Maybe you and I will have to get together one of these days and bake! Thanks so much for always reading and taking the time to write. Have a wonderful holiday!

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