Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Cookies & Treats

Not being Christian is a small hurdle to overcome when holiday sweets are at stake. I love that Christmas time brings about mass cookie making around the country. Family recipes, regional specialties and old time favorites emerge. Many years ago when I first met my husband we visited his mother's family in upstate NY; tins of cookies filled the house, old Swedish favorites, with lots of butter, nuts and cardamom, and much like my first evening spent in Brazil many years before, where I was handed a bowl of thick dulce de leche caramel and a spoon, my heart was overcome with sweetness and I was in love. 

This year for a holiday party I decided to make my all time favorite cookie, which conveniently happens to be of the Jewish variety, and one I haven't made for years. This recipe for rugelach (the cookie pictured above) comes from the first bakery I worked in in Brooklyn in the mid '90s: Margaret Palca Bakes. We made cookies and cakes in a tiny kitchen and shop on the ground floor of her family brownstone in Carol Gardens. The treats were sold at places like Dean and Delucca, and the rugelach were by far the most buttery, chewiest, most wonderful rugelach I had ever had. Her secret is using powdered sugar in the dough, along with the usual cream cheese. I hope she doesn't mind me posting the recipe here, all these years later!!

I put chocolate in some of these (see below), but I think they were better with only the jelly and nuts for the filling!

adapted from Margaret Palca Bakes
makes 80 cookies

14 tablespoons butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup Jam or jelly  of your choice (apricot or raspberry are the classics)
1 1/2 cups walnuts or pecans finely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

  1. Line 3 baking pans with parchment paper or butter very well. Cream butter and cream cheese till very fluffy, add sugar and flour until well combined. 
  2. Split into 5 rounds*, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight. Lightly flour one dough round at a time and Roll out between two sheets of wax paper, about 10 or 12 inches in diameter. 
  3. Mix nuts, cinnamon and sugar together. Blend jam in a food processor or melt and cool it to make it easy to brush onto the soft dough. 
  4. Working with one round at a time, brush with a thin layer of jam, and sprinkle with crushed nuts mixture. Cut round into 16 wedges (like a tiny pizza), roll them up from the outside edge inwards and place on baking sheet. 
  5. Bake at 350 till very golden. I didn't time these, but I think about 18 minutes or so... Must cool completely to come off of parchment paper.
* You can make 2 or 3 rounds in a batch and keep the rest in the freezer for later if you like. 

Here are some other great holiday treats from years past:

Cardamom bread - this recipe could be made even more delicious by adding a layer of almond paste to the center before braiding. 

Cocoa Walnut Raw Truffles - a delicious, beautiful and healthy sweet, just nuts, cocoa and dates. Again, you could alter this recipe by adding some spices like cinnamon, clove or cardamom, citrus zest, or by switching the type of nuts for a wide variety of fabulous truffles. 

Honeycomb Candy - an all around amazing sweet. 

Do you have any fabulous cookie recipes or family favorite holiday treats? Please share!!

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