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In December, the first sign of approaching Christmas at our house, well before the wreath goes up on the front door, is the steady buildup of holiday cookie tins.
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I start my cookie baking early, making two indispensables (Toll House and peanut butter), a selection of other favorites, and usually at least one new or uncommon variety. This year I added kourambiedes, reginas, and – for the uncommon one – Ischler törtchen. These delectable tartlets look like miniature Linzer tortes. I used to make them many years ago, from a recipe in The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire volume of the Time Life Foods of the World series. But they’d slipped out of my repertoire. Time to reinstate them!
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Back in the day, I remember thinking it was a fairly complex recipe to make, but now that I’m an old hand at cookie baking, it seems quite easy. Here’s how it goes:

Cream butter and sugar; add ground almonds, flour, and cinnamon; mix until a dough forms.
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Roll the chilled dough thin and cut rounds, adding a small central hole to half of them. (Not having a tiny cookie cutter for the central hole, I used the small end of a pastry bag tip.)
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Bake in a moderate oven until lightly browned.
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Spread each solid round with jam (traditionally raspberry, but I had some black fig jam from Sicily that I wanted to try) and top it with one of the pierced rounds.
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Line them up so confectioner’s sugar can be shaked generously over them.
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Delectable they certainly were. The black fig jam was fine, though I have to say the classic raspberry filling is indeed the ideal flavor match for the almonds. These tartlets don’t keep as well as my regular Christmas cookie varieties, so we’ll have to eat them fairly quickly. Not a hardship!

Of course, neither do we want to ignore those other Christmas cookies, all so very good in their own ways. Santa always seems to like them too.
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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bite!

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In our house it wouldn’t be Christmas without homemade cookies. But in a daring break from tradition this year, I made all the cookies from recipes I’ve never tried before. Happily, they all came out well, according to my chief cookie taster, Tom. (If they hadn’t, I’d certainly have found coal in my stocking on Christmas morning.)

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Molasses Cookies

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These are from Lee Bailey’s cookbook Country Desserts. They aren’t much like what I expected from the book’s picture, which shows large, flat, soft-looking cookies – which are the kind of molasses cookies I’m familiar with. These are firmer and crunchy; a little like gingersnaps. Definitely molasses in the flavor, though, with spicy undertones of allspice, cinnamon, and black pepper; also a light outer sprinkle of granulated sugar, in which each cookie was rolled before baking.

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Hazelnut-Brown Sugar Cookies

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I love anything with hazelnuts. For this recipe, also from the Bailey book, Tom bought me a shrink-wrapped pack of roasted hazelnuts from Italy’s Piedmont region, where the prized local variety is IGP-certified. (The acronym means “protected geographical indication” and connotes quality, much as the AOC and DOC laws do for wine.) The recipe is simple and standard – cream butter and sugar, mix in egg, vanilla, flour, baking soda, and chopped nuts. The cookies are pretty homely looking (they are in the book’s photo too), but with the excellent hazelnuts they’re rich, crisp, and delicious.

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Fruitcake Cookies

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These unusual cookies are once again from the Bailey book. Unlike the other two, they’re a refrigerator cookie, which is to say a soft dough that’s rolled into logs, chilled or frozen, and cut in slices for baking. They do taste a little like a good fruitcake, being made with figs, raisins, glacéed cherries, walnuts, cloves, and honey. The recipe was for 150 cookies – far more than I wanted, so I decided to make one-quarter of the amount. That sent me into my usual unmathematical agonies – e.g., how much is ¼ of ⅓ of 1 cup? Everything came out fine, however. And they’re attractive, as well as tasty little cookies.

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I was planning to stop my cookie making with three varieties, but the Yuletide devil got into me and sent me browsing through the Cookies & Crackers volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. There I found a recipe I couldn’t resist. It combined two flavors I’ve always used for my Christmas cookies but didn’t have any of in this year’s first three kinds. Therefore, I also made:

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies

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These are sort of a cross between Toll House and peanut butter cookies. They start with a standard peanut-butter dough mixture, but then you stir in semisweet chocolate bits and – not walnuts, but – salted cocktail peanuts. Quite a combination. To my taste they’d be better with less sugar than the recipe calls for, so the exuberant contrast of buttery, nutty, chocolaty and salty flavors would be more prominent. They’re addictive, though – in that insidious way that sugar has. Thank goodness Christmas, with its double-O designation for self-indulgence, comes only once a year.

Merry Christmas Cookies to one and all!

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