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.
The 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!
But, 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.
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.