Lifestyle

A sharing of holiday traditions - From one neighbor to another - What"s Cooking

By Eileen Mintz

When I made my Hanukkah rugelach this year -- the cream cheese dough pastry filled with nuts, raspberry jam and apricots -- I invited my youngest grandson, Ryan Mintz, to share the holiday baking with me.

A few doors down from me, Islander Joan Arnold began a holiday tradition of her own: She invited her granddaughters Courtney Best, 14, and Carly Best, 10, to bake Christmas cookies and create holiday candy.

For the Best sisters of Bellevue it was an afternoon of pure delight and wonderful lessons.

Recipes were spread across the counter, ingredients were measured and laughter ensued.

``I haven't worked with a rolling pin,'' said Courtney as her grandmother handed over the device.

Then Arnold showed Courtney and Carly the technique of rolling out dough to the right thinness.

Arnold also gave tips, such as starting from the middle and working around the circle. She picked up the dough and turned it a quarter turn, then rolled again, letting the girls press out dough, too. It wasn't long before each girl was comfortable with the rolling pin.

``Courtney has been talking about making mint meltaways for over a year,'' said Arnold. So on this day Arnold let the girls give candy-making a try.

They hammered away at the peppermints in a plastic bag, then added in the broken candies to the heated white Nestle morsels and dropped the concoction onto baking sheets.

``Let's not forget to dip them in chocolate,'' said Arnold as she read aloud their recipe.

Watching the girls learn from their grandmother, I knew that this holiday baking and cooking would become a favorite generational activity at the Arnold house. It was a bonding between grandparent and grandchildren and a making of holiday memories to last a lifetime, or at least until next year!

Something else came out of the kitchen at the Arnold home. The grandmother, my neighbor for 30 years, and her granddaughters had some leftover butter cookie dough.

At my home -- in our first time doing Hanukkah cookies together -- Ryan, 3, pressed his little palm on top of the dough, which we shaped into Star of David cookies. We talked and laughed about how precise he was in following directions as his dad, my son Robert, watched.

What a lovely blending of traditions of two households.

Below are some of our best recipes.

THE BEST BUTTER COOKIES

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

2 cups (4 sticks) of butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture; mix well. Divide dough in fourths.

Roll out one-fourth of dough at a time on lightly-floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Keep remaining dough refrigerated. Cut into desired shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned.

MINT MELTAWAYS

Makes about 22 candies

1 5-oz. bag of starlight mint candies (22)

1 12-oz. bag of Nestle white morsels (chips)

2 TBS. vegetable shortening

red food coloring

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (melted in microwave)

1 TBS. butter, melted

Crush the starlight mint candies by putting the unwrapped candies into a heavy-duty plastic food bag and hitting them with a hammer until crushed.

Melt the white morsels with the shortening on medium high heat for one minute in a microwave oven. Stir in the crushed candies. Add in a drop or two of the red food coloring.

Drop by tablespoon and put 3 inches apart onto waxed or parchment-lined baking sheets. Smooth and press down on the top to make into patties. Refrigerate for a half hour to harden.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave oven with butter or shortening.

Dip one end of the peppermint patties into the chocolate. Place on waxed paper and let stand at room temperature until set.

BETSY EASON'S SANDBAKKELS

Joan Arnold told me that she and Mercer Islander Betsy Eason have been making Sandbakkels (sand sugar cookies) together every December for more than 30 years. Betsy's family recipe is a traditional Norwegian holiday cookie that is perfect for two dear friends to make together. It's a labor of love. They alternate kitchens. They mark it on the calendar to remember which house they baked in the previous year.

1 lb. butter, unsalted

2 cups sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. almond extract

1/2 cup slivered almonds

2 eggs (room temperature)

2 dozen small fluted tins

In a stand-up mixer, cream softened butter and add in sugar gradually. Add 2 beaten eggs. Add flour gradually until blended together. Mix in almond extract and almonds. Put a small amount of dough into the small fluted tins and push lightly up the sides. Place tins on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, switching sheets from bottom to top shelf after 5 minutes. Bake to a light brown.

Cut a brown paper bag open and lay it flat on kitchen counter. Take tongs and turn tins upside down and bang out carefully. Recipe should make 10 dozen. (Purchase tins at a cooking store or a Norwegian store in Ballard). TIP: If using 2 1/2-inch sandbakkel molds press 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoonfuls of dough evenly into each tart mold. Can be served without any filling or you can add in whipped cream or berries.

LISA DUPAR'S PISTACHIO ALMOND BISCOTTI

Lisa is the chef of Pomegranate in Redmond and Lisa Dupar's Catering. What I loved about this cookie was that it was light green and perfect for the holidays. Next time I will add cranraisins for red touches to the green cookie.

1/2 cup whole almonds cut coarsely

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

4 tsp. Grand Marnier (or orange juice)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

drop of green food coloring

2 TBS. pistachios, ground finely

2 cups plus 2 TBS. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Toast almonds lightly in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5 minutes. Cool. In a stand-up mixer, cream butter until fluffy and add sugar. Beat in eggs until the mixture is smooth. Beat in liquor, extract, a drop of green food coloring and finely ground pistachios.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir this into the mixture just until blended in.Stir in chopped almonds.

On a parchment paper-covered cookie tray make 2 longs sausage rolls for large biscotti or on 2 cookie trays make 4 small rolls. Set rolls at least two inches apart and bake in a 325 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool rolls by taking off hot cookie trays. Wait about 15 minutes and then slice them diagonally and place back onto the trays to toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove and cool.

HINT: Another presentation is to dip an end into warmly-melted chocolate chips with 1 TBS. of margarine blended in.Then chop some pistachios and sprinkle on top of warm chocolate-covered biscotti.

HANUKKAH RASPBERRY APRICOT RUGELACH

The secret to making this cookie perfect is to not overload the raspberry jam filling. Makes 48 to 60 pieces depending on how big you want your cookie. I prefer small ones so I make 5 patties of dough and cut them into 12 pieces.

DOUGH

1 cup softened butter

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/8 tsp. salt

2 cups flour

In a stand-up mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and continue to beat until well blended. Beat in vanilla, salt and flour. Take out and divide into 4 or 5 sections. Make into even patties and wrap in plastic and chill overnight. If you want smaller pieces make into 5 patties.

FILLING

1 cup chopped walnuts or toasted pecans

1 cup chopped dried apricots (one 6-oz package)

1/4 cup plus 2 TBS. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

raspberry jam or preserves

Process nuts until coarsely chopped, then set aside. Process dried apricots until the become small pieces. Stir nuts and apricots together with brown sugar, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Line cookie sheets with parchment and spray on Pam or other nonstick coating spray.

TOPPING

2 TBS. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix together. May need to make more if you run out of topping.

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and add a little flour. Take out patties for 10 minutes to take off the chill of the refrigerator. Put one patty on top of parchment paper and cover with another layer of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out into a 9-inch circle. Spread a tablespoon or less of raspberry jam. Sprinkle with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup filling, pressing lightly into the patty. Cut into 12 wedges. Roll up like a crescent roll, starting at the larger end. Put on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix topping ingredients. Brush with a little coating of vegetable oil and sprinkle on a little bit of topping. Bake 20 to 30 minutes until a light golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer immediately to wire racks and cool.

PONTI'S CHOCOLATE MACAROONS

A delightful little classic French cookie from pastry chef Alex Shroff of Ponti Seafood Grill.

Makes about 30 cookies.

1 1/3 cups almond flour (finely ground in food processor whole almonds to make almond meal or flour)

2 cups plus 2 TBS. powdered sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup egg whites (use 3 to 4 large eggs)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until they form a stiff peak. Gently fold egg whites into the dry ingredients. Once they have been folded into the batter , it can be spooned onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets or piped with a piping bag. I tend to spoon as I don't do piping! The baking time varies from 8 to 12 minutes depending on the size you make. Take them out at 10 minutes.

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