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In the Kitchen with .. Christmas Cookies
updated: Dec 12, 2009, 7:10 AM
By Leah Etling
I was lucky to grow up in a family with a strong baking tradition, particularly on my mother's side. We always had fresh homemade cookies all year long, but at holiday time, the effort really ramped up. Between my grandmother, mother, and aunts, our traditional Danish Christmas Eve celebration had an impressive highlight - the cookie plate.
This year I asked my mom to bake Christmas cookies with me. We introduced a new recipe for gingerbread that was a smashing success. But we also made three standby recipes, for sprits, peppernodder and teacakes, to keep the feeling of tradition going strong.
Here are the recipes, starting with our Danish peppernodder. Kids at school used to tell me these cookies looked like dog food. But then they'd beg me to share, so I didn't take their teasing too seriously.
Peppenodder (Danish pepper nuts)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cardamom (original recipe has ¼ teaspoon white pepper)
4 1/2 - 5 cups flour
Mix butter and sugar, add beaten egg and vanilla. Add cardamom and flour. If you are using an industrial strength mixer, you should be able to complete the mixing process with the machine. Otherwise you may need to get your hands dirty and mix the dough with your fingers. Add the flour gradually, and you will be able to tell when the consistency right. Roll into ½ inch thick rolls, and cut off ½ inch pieces. (They shouldn't be any bigger than your fingernail.) Bake on non-stick baking sheet at 325 degrees until starting to brown.
The cardamom gives the cookies a delightfully nutty flavor.
Sandies (Russian tea cakes)
1 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup powdered sugar
Beat butter on medium high for 30 seconds (in industrial mixer or with hand mixer)
Add sugar. Beat until combined. Beat in 1 tablespoon water and vanilla. Beat in as much flour as possible with mixer. Stir in remaining flour and pecans. Shape into 1'' round balls with fingers. Place 1'' apart on cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes. Cool. Gently shake cookies in plastic bag that contains powdered sugar. Makes 3 dozen.
Peppakakor (Gingerbread cookies)
This was our new recipe this year, from the Vete-Katten bakery in Stockholm, Sweden, courtesy of Saveur.com. It has lots of spices and really produces an excellent light, delicious gingerbread. My dad thought the flavor was reminiscent of some family favorite cookies from a Moravian bakery in Old Salem, the historic part of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
3 ¾ cups flour
3 tsp. ground cloves
3 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 ½ tsp ground ginger
1 ¼ tsp baking soda
11 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup golden syrup or dark corn syrup
½ heavy cream
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp lemon juice
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Whisk the flour, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and baking soda, set aside. In large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup using mixer at medium speed, mixture should be pale and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the reserved spice/flour mixture and the heavy cream in 3 alternating beaches, beginning and ending with the spice mixture, until the dough just combines. Transfer dough to a work surface, divide in half, and shape each half into a flat disc, about 6 by 6 inches. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees, Unwrap 1 disk of dough and place on a floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough to a 1/8'' thickness. Cut cookies using cutters, place 2'' apart on baking sheets. (Recipe suggests parchment lined, but that's not absolutely necessary.) Reroll dough and continue cutting until used up. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (this step can also be skipped). Bake for 20 minutes. Cool.
If you want to ice the cookies, whisk the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and egg white until smooth. Create a piping device by putting the icing into a sealable plastic bag and cutting off one small edge.
Recipe from a 1960's cookbook published in Solvang called, "For Danish Appetites"
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
>½ teaspoon each vanilla and almond extract
Mix butter and sugar, add egg yolks and beat well. Mix in other ingredients. Put into pasta machine (if available, or use a cookie press). The cookie press can make assorted shapes; the pasta machine approach will be flat, cut cookies in 2 inch rectangles. Bake at 300 degress, 8-12 minutes.
Here is our cookie plate ... without the peppernodder. Those got eaten up really fast, and my lucky brother got the rest shipped to him in LA.
Please share some of your family favorite holiday cookies in the comments section.
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