A treasured tradition in our crazy-for-Christmas culture involves a sack of flour, sticks of butter, cups of sugar and a story that fastens one generation to the next.
We’re talking Christmas cookies.
Nothing says happy holidays like a tray of home-baked goodness in an abundance of flavors, shapes and sizes. Few cooks, however, have the time or baking power to turn out the variety the season demands.
This year, get the same results with less effort by organizing a cookie exchange.
Here’s how it works: Gather a group of cooks. Each bakes a hefty batch of family favorites, and all gather to trade, guests taking one or two cookies from each tray. The give-and-take lets each person leave with several dozen assorted cookies, a tray filled with generations of baking tradition.
When organizing a cookie exchange, keep these tips in mind:
• Insist on home-baked cookies.
• Select a time, day and location for the exchange, whether it’s the office cafeteria, church basement or a neighbor’s living room.
• Include explicit instructions in the invitation, such as the minimum number to bring. Instruct participants to bring their cookies on large trays to make swapping easy.
• Ban participants from tasting the goodies. Save all cookies for swapping. Curb temptation by serving a light meal or snacks during the exchange.
• Encourage participants to share the story behind the cookie. For many, the scent of fresh cookies triggers memories of holidays past. Holiday cookies can be loaded with as much family lore as sugar.
If heaps of cookies are on your holiday to-do list, let these cookie-exchange recipes inspire you to organize one with family, friends or co-workers. The Arizona Republic asked readers to send in their favorite holiday-cookie recipe and the cookie’s holiday message. Dozens did, and we selected five entries for their diversity of flavors and stories. Here they are:
Dorothy Croker, 89, of Phoenix has been baking Persimmon Cookies since the tree in her California backyard began producing the orange fruit 42 years ago. The fresh fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut and other flavorful ingredients create a nearly perfect baking harmony. “It’s my holiday tradition and something I look forward to baking all year round,” says Croker. “It’s not Christmas without these cookies.”
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup persimmon pulp (use only persimmons that are soft to the touch)
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 cup coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. In a separate bowl, dissolve baking soda in persimmon pulp. Add pulp to creamed mixture. Add beaten egg and all dry ingredients. Mix well. Add nuts, raisins and coconut and mix. Drop by teaspoons on greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until light brown. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
CREAM CHEESE NUT HORNS
Dolores Fedorka of Scottsdale, Ariz., learned to make Cream Cheese Nut Horns from her mother-in-law, who learned from her mother. That was 52 years ago, and Fedorka still makes the cookies every year. “There’s something comforting about making the same cookies year after year,” she says. “I’ve even taught my granddaughter how to bake them, so now the tradition spans at least four generations, if not more. We’re not quite sure when it started, but pretty sure it will continue.”
1 pound cream cheese
1 pound butter
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
6 cups all-purpose flour
Granulated sugar for dusting
1 pound walnuts or pecans, ground in a meat grinder or food processor
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sugar to taste
1/4 cup milk or cream
Cream together cream cheese, butter and yolks in a large mixing bowl. Stir in flour until dough is firm and consistent. Divide dough into 16 balls. Cover well and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. When ready to make cookies, remove from refrigerator. Dust a large cutting board with sugar. Roll each ball into a flat sheet the size of a piecrust. Cut each sheet into 6 to 8 sections.
To make filling, add nuts, vanilla, sugar and cream to a mixing bowl. Stir well. The filling should have the consistency of paste. Place a teaspoon of filling along the wide section of each triangular piece. Use your fingers to gently roll each triangular piece into a cylinder. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 8 dozen cookies.
WILLIE’S UNBAKED CHOW MEIN COOKIES, LIKE RUDY LIKES THEM
Jana Bommersbach will honor her father, who died last spring at age 85, by making his favorite cookies for her annual Santa party. The treats combine chocolate and butterscotch chips with crispy chow mein noodles and salted peanuts.
“My dad, Rudy, knew his cookies. And my mother, Willie, loved to make them for him,” says Bommersbach, an Edgar Award-nominated Phoenix author whose latest book, “Bones in the Desert,” was published in October. “They’re not only delicious, but easy and fun to make.”
12 ounces chocolate chips
12 ounces butterscotch chips
1 and one-half cups chow mein noodles
12 ounces salted peanuts
In a double boiler, melt chocolate and butterscotch chips. Place chow mein noodles and peanuts in a large mixing bowl. Pour melted chip mixture over the noodles and nuts. Mix together well. Scoop out by teaspoons and drop on waxed paper. Makes about 50 to 60 mini cookies.
CABALLERO CHOCOLATE CHILI COOKIES
Kathy Schneider decided a few years ago to start, rather than follow, a family tradition. She wanted a cookie that reflected the Southwest, and her Caballero Chocolate Chili Cookies do just that. Schneider, who along with husband Fred owns SS Financial Services in Scottsdale, plans to spread her chili-spiked holiday treats as far as possible this year.
“Cookies are very important to my holidays. I love to bake, and cookies are a way to say thank you for being in my life,” she says. “These cookies will brighten the holiday for my family and friends.”
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine first seven ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix thoroughly and set aside. In another mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until fluffy. Gradually stir in the flour mixture. Put dough on waxed paper. Shape and roll the dough into an elongated jelly roll. Wrap tightly in waxed paper and chill.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut slices thin and place about 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Makes 2 dozen.
Lizbeth Hayden of Scottsdale laughs a little while baking her family’s favorite Christmas cookie. That’s because the cookie their late mother called Nut Smugglers is really rugelach, a Jewish pastry. Hayden’s family learned of the cookie’s true identity only after her youngest sister enrolled in a fashion institute in New York City. Hayden’s sister baked the family treat for close friends, who revealed the cookie’s origins. The fraud, however, never stopped Hayden and her sisters from baking the cookies. “And we still call them Nut Smugglers. The cookies are the family glue,” she says.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sour cream
1 egg yolk
1/2 pound butter
Add first five ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Stir or beat until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Divide and cut dough into three even pieces. Roll out each ball on a large cutting board. Set aside.
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup walnut pieces
Mix sugar, cinnamon and walnut pieces together in a bowl. Top each dough disc evenly with nut-sugar mixture. Cut each dough disc into 16 pieces. Roll into crescent-shaped cookies. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 4 dozen cookies.