Each holiday season, as we reach out to family, friends, and even acquaintances, many of us want to share that joy of the season. For those of us that cook, it easily translates in sharing baked goods. This can manifest in a grandchild’s favorite chocolate chip cookies, cookies to share among a group of friends, a plate covered with wrap and a sprig of green for an elderly neighbor, or even a couple of cookies tried with a red ribbon for members of your book club. The choices are endless.
Jo, my sister-in-law, has developed this to an art form, baking various ethnic Christmas breads, and shipping them early in December. You need not try to replicate the original Dickens’ plum pudding, many baked gifts are not complicated, and you can even tailor them to individuals that need such gifts to be either sugar or gluten free. Here is a collection of recipes, some of which are very quick and easy.
Chop enough pecans in a Cuisinart to make 1 1/2 cups chopped nuts and set aside in a small bowl.
Beat 1 cup (1/2 lb) room temperature unsalted butter with 3/4 cups sugar. Separate 2 eggs, beat the yolks into the butter mix and set the whites aside in a small bowl. Next, thoroughly stir into the batter 1 tsp almond flavoring, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 cups flour.
Beat the egg whites to blend. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, roll them in egg whites to coat, then in the chopped nuts, and place them on parchment lined cookie sheets 1 inch apart. Press your thumb in the center of each ball to make an indent. Bake the cookies in a 325-degree oven for 18-20 minutes.
Cool completely and spoon about 1/2 tsp thick raspberry jam into indent of each cookie. Best to leave cookies out on a rack for a day, to let the jam harden a bit.
Latvian Christmas cookies
This is my mother’s recipe which she baked each Christmas until her 93rd year.
Beat 1 cup (1/2 lb) unsalted butter to light with an electric mixer, then beat in 1 cup sugar. Beat in 4 egg yolks one at a time and 1 tsp vanilla. Save the whites for the meringue cookies (recipe below). Using a wooden spoon, thoroughly stir in scant 3 cups flour mixed with 2/3 tsp baking powder. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
Roll out portions of the dough 1/4-inch thick, cut out forms with cookie cutters or moons and half moons with a glass. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and baste with a glaze of 2 egg yolks beaten with 1 tbsp water (save the egg whites with the others, 6 are enough for an angel food cake if you don’t want to make meringues). Bake at 375 degrees for 12-13 minutes until golden. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes before removing with a spatula.
Meringue kisses or divinity
These glamorous members of the cookie family are delicate and add interesting variety to a cookie tray. They are completely gluten free.
Lay smooth brown paper (large paper bag cut open works well) on baking sheets and preheat oven to 250 degrees. Do not grease the paper. Turn three room temperature egg whites in a 2-quart bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff enough to form peaks curved at the tip. Add 1 cup sugar in 6 portions and beat until blended after each portion. Then beat in 1 tsp white vinegar and 1 tsp vanilla (or 2 tsp fresh lemon juice for a different flavor) until meringue stands in stiff peaks. Drop heaped teaspoon full meringue on the prepared cookie sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until pale cream color. Turn off the oven, open the oven door and let everything cool. Remove from paper on a rack. Outside will be crisp and fragile. Store in a tight container.
Lacy Manchego crisps
For someone on a sugar- and gluten-free diet, you cannot beat these fragile delicious crisps, since you can make them with a bit of rice flour instead of wheat flour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Grate 6 oz. (2 ¼ cups) of Manchego cheese on a box grater rough setting. Toss gently with 2 tbsp rice flour (or 1 1/2 tbsp wheat flour). Spoon level tbsp in mounds 4 inches apart and spread lightly in ovals. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden. Cool crisps completely on baking sheets and remove with metal spatula. These are fragile and delicious.
Happy baking and sharing to all!
(I. Winicov Harrington, of Waldoboro, is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)