One of our greatest gifts this Christmas was having the privilege of hosting my mom during the flurry and excitement of the holiday festivities. She brought the spirit of Christmas from rural Minnesota to our home here in the San Francisco Bay Area the moment she walked through our front door. We attended several concerts and holiday music events from venues as grand as San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral to small and intimate local churches bursting at the seams with holiday spirit, peace and goodwill to all who passed through their portals. In addition to attending these uplifting events that filled sanctuaries both great and small with the soul-stirring refrains and symphonic majesty of organ pipes, rich brass ensembles and joyful choir anthems we enjoyed a cornucopia of delectable treats so closely associated each year with Christmas, namely cookies! Making, baking and decorating Christmas cookies was a tradition in our house while I was a youngster who happily believed in all things Santa… and, after all these years, I guess I still do! I had, however, not baked Christmas cookies for many years and Mom’s being here with us in our home this holiday season stirred back to life in our kitchen the traditions of Christmases past. As a result, we baked a number of Christmas cookies that were favorites from my youth… and created a few new ones as well, the spirit of old St. Nick dancing merrily through the halls of our home, giving rise to culinary inspiration!
A few days before Christmas itself we hosted a Christmas Tea the table of which was resplendently laden not only with cookies but also a magnificent Kugelhopf. To wash down the array of sweets we poured a hefty warmed pot of English breakfast tea into antique china cups and served a wickedly rich coffee punch in delicate cups trimmed in white ivy. The table was absolutely gorgeous decked out in its best Christmas finery… and the day was made complete by the spirited laughter of friends who joined us for our festive holiday celebration of life!
Cranberry Shortbread Bars
Frosted Sugar Cookies
Russian Tea Cakes
Of these cookies a Christmas favorite that came out of my Gandma Neve’s kitchen was her Russian Tea Cakes. How they came to have that moniker I will probably never know. I do know, however, that they were wonderfully light and not sugary sweet. They were also a cookie that challenged one to refrain from eating a second… or a third, a challenge I have lost every Christmas, this one included!
Russian Tea Cakes
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle cream together until light and fluffy:
1 C unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 C confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
With mixer running at a low setting gradually add:
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
Mix well. Stir in:
1 C walnuts, finely chopped
Baker’s Note: Pecans make this a delicious cookie as well and can be used as a substitute for the walnuts.
Refrigerate the dough for 1 -2 hours, or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and roll the tea cakes into 1-inch balls, spacing them evenly on a baking sheet:
Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. The cookies should be set but still pale in color:
While still warm, roll the cookies in confectioner’s sugar:
Place on wire racks to cool. Prior to serving dust generously with additional powdered sugar shaken through a fine sieve.
Whisk in the bowl of a mixer:
2 tsp baker’s sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Mix well and add alternately:
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C eggnog
While whisking add:
2 T Jamaican rum (we suggest Myers’s)
The mixture should be the consistency of heavy cream upon completion of whisking. Refrigerate the batter for two hours, if possible, as this resting period will deliver a crispier finished rosette. In a heavy deep cast iron skillet, heat to 360 degrees:
2″ – 3″ peanut oil
Baker’s Note: A deep frying thermometer is strongly recommended to maintain a consistent temperature while frying the rosettes. Oil that is too hot will cause the rosettes to get too dark and oil that is too cool will cause the rosettes to be oily and soggy.
When the peanut oil is hot submerge the rosette iron to quickly heat it:
Pour the refrigerated batter into a shallow square pan or flat bottomed bowl to facilitate dipping the rosette iron into the batter:
Carefully dip the heated iron into the batter, being mindful to cover only the sides and bottom of the iron with batter. Quickly submerge the batter-covered iron in the hot oil and allow the rosettes to fry until golden brown… this will only take a fraction of a minute so watch them closely!
Allow the rosettes to drain on paper towels. As they drain and cool they will crisp:
If they have a tendency to stick to the iron use the tip of a paring knife to coax them off the iron. For service dust the rosettes generously with powdered sugar.
This cookie creation is technically not a palmier since palmiers are made with puff pastry. It does, however, look like a palmier and contains a lot of rich sweet creamery butter mixed in with the flour as opposed to layers of butter rolled in. These beautiful crisp cookies are deserving of a fancy French name, so palmiers they shall forever be in our kitchen!
In a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle place:
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 C cold unsalted butter
Mix until crumbly. Stir in:
1/2 C finely minced dried cherries
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C creme fraiche
Mix until well blended. Shape dough into a 2-inch thick square:
Wrap in film and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight. Place refrigerated dough on a work surface covered with film and divide into four pieces. In preparation for rolling the palmiers cut a 5-inch X 12-inch rectangle of heavy cardboard to use a a template, marking the center of the 12-inch side to use as a guide for rolling each palmier as a scroll. Have Turbinado sugar available for use during the rolling process:
Sprinkle 2 – 3 tablespoons of Turbinado sugar onto a work surface.
Baker’s Note: I recommend covering a Rohlpat with film. The film sticks to the mat and makes rolling these butter rich cookies a snap!
Place one of the squares of dough on the work surface to cover it with Turbinado sugar then flip it over. Place the remaining squares of dough back in the fridge to keep them cold.
Cover block of dough with a layer of film and roll out to slightly larger that a 5-inch X 12-inch rectangle, using the cardboard template as your guide:
Gently trim the edges of the dough with a sharp knife:
Baker’s Note: Because this dough is so thin and contains so much butter it can start being difficult to work with very quickly. There is, however, an easy solution! Slip the cardboard template under the bottom layer of film and pull the rolled dough onto it. Slip this into the freezer for only a couple of minutes and you will, once again, have a firm dough that is easily workable!
Using the center-marked template as a guide, tightly roll the palmiers into a scroll:
Wrap each scroll in film and chill for an additional hour to facilitate ease of slicing. When sufficiently chilled, unwrap and cut each scroll into 1/2-inch pieces:
Dip each palmier into Turbinado sugar to coat:
Arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet, spacing the palmiers approximately 2-inches apart:
Even Mom was not exempt from keeping her fingers out of the flour, colored sugars, edible glitter, royal icing and dragees during the course of the day…!
Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until golden… watch closely so they do not burn! Turn palmiers over with a small spatula and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. They will crisp as they cool. Enjoy these, as well as all of the great Christmas cookies, with a relaxing cup of tea in front of a blazing holiday fire… Bon Appetit!
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