Sunday, December 13, 2009

PERFECT BUTTERY CUT-OUT COOKIES FOR CHRISTMAS & HANUKKAH

TIS THE SEASON TO BE DOUBLY JOLLY!


Tis the season to be jolly, according to one well-known holiday song. And it certainly is what with the swags of gaily-colored lights and the glittery garlands strung up and down the streets, the holiday music piped into shops and city squares adding a festive rhythm to your already bouncy step. Candy shop windows have become wonderlands of silver and gold, boxes tied up in plump velvet bows and crystal dishes filled with every chocolate delight. Toyshops greet you with fluffy cotton snowmen and jolly Santas prancing through the snow laden with gifts for all. Friends chattering non-stop about holiday meal preparations, the pies and the cookies, the turkeys and hams, the family flying in from the four corners of the earth to celebrate together amid laughter and seasonal joy.


But if you don’t celebrate Christmas? I know how easy it is to get swept up in the festivities, the bright lights and the wonderful culinary traditions. “I don’t celebrate Christmas” is often greeted with quizzical, confused looks and “Why not?” follows the initial surprise. Christmas for many is simply a universal celebration, a cornucopia of food and traditional delicacies, colorful lights and a bounty of gifts to those who choose to forget or are happy to ignore the religious significance of this holiday. But when raising children a religion other than Christianity one is well aware of this point. And the point can get even more delicate when the children are the product of two different religions, two different cultures. I have always taken care of how we approach this most jolly of seasons, gently trying hard to counterbalance the excitement brought home from school as my boys watched all the merrymaking enviously from afar.

I have tried to raise my children in a Jewish home, yet they have celebrated the odd Christmas whenever they spent their winter holidays with their French grandparents: chopping down, dragging home and then decorating the tree, pulling out tiny figurines and setting up the crèche in front of the fireplace, hanging stockings and receiving Christmas gifts directly from the hands of Jolly Old St Nick (le Père Noël or better known as Tonton Claude under all that cotton fluff of a beard and the red felt cap!), and eating their fare share of Bûche de Noël and marrons glacés. I must admit that we even had a small Christmas tree in our apartment once or twice, a wreath on the front door: maybe to honor their heritage and their grandparents, maybe so they wouldn’t feel left out. We tromped out to the market where we purchased a sack full of whole walnuts in their shells and then to the grocery store where we picked up a plastic tube of empty escargot shells, the seductive swirls so elegant and just perfect for the tree. We went home, stopping along the way for a spray can or two of sparkly gold paint and, once home, plate of cookies never far from small hands, they spray painted all the walnuts and shells gold then strung them and wrapped them round and round the tree. Added to that were a selected few handmade ornaments, gifts from friends or made with love by the boys.

Christmas at Chezy

Clem in front of our tree with homemade ornaments

Yet the real excitement and joy seeped into our house at Hanukkah time. I still have a shoe box filled with tiny cutouts of Assyrian warriors on elephants or standing, legs firmly planted to the ground, helmets on and swords in hand alongside the shabbily-equipped Maccabees with their large blue Star of David emblazoned across their white tunics. Of course the boys also carefully drew and cut out the Holy Temple, the sacred place of Jewish worship that was destroyed by the Assyrians in their attempt to wipe out the Jews, the holy Eternal Light threatened with extinction during the war and destruction. The story of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, swirls around the miracle of the magical duration of the tiny bit of oil remaining in the holy lamp which lasted not the expected one but eight full days until fresh oil could be prepared. Thus was born the tradition of lighting the candles for 8 consecutive nights and the eating of foods fried in oil.


The stories told, the candles lit, the blessings recited and the gifts passed around. Then a joyous holiday meal of fried potato latkes eaten with tangy, fruity homemade applesauce or breaded and fried fish tenders, anything fried will do. But we also love the Christmas goodies to round out the meal, the cakes and the pies and the cookies. I adore giving edible gifts, cranberry-orange breads and pumpkin treats, tiny chocolate truffles nestled in fluted paper cups adorned with red and green poinsettas, and cookies. And how much fun are holiday cookies? I love baking, but I especially love baking during this holiday season. I pull out my wonderful collection of Christmas and Hanukkah cutters, the Santa, the tree and the bell mingle gaily with the star, the menorah and the dreidl as I knead, roll and press the cutters into the most perfect of all buttery cookie dough. Christmas cookies frosted or glazed or all lit up with colorful, bright sugar crystals, most disappearing the first time Simon’s friends visit. And Hanukkah cookies drizzled with melted white chocolate and sprinkled with blue are set out next to the Menorah to be enjoyed while opening the gifts. And this year I decided to use the Lemon Mascarpone Goat Cheese Cream I made for my holiday macarons as the basis for fluffy white snow and build a Cookie Christmas Tree. Beautifully ruffled cookie cutters create the layers, a kiss of bright green pistachio nuts and the fir tree appears. The cookies are layered with luscious lemony snow then sprinkled with a little bit of gold sugar crystals and some gorgeous pink praline, a gift from Pam, for the final festive touch.


HOLIDAY CUT OUT BUTTER COOKIES
Always tender, never crumbly or dry and less cloyingly sweet than your other butter cookie recipes.

2 sticks (1/2 lb, 225 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
2 large eggs
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbs Amaretto (optional)
½ tsp vanilla – use 1 tsp if omitting the Amaretto
3 ½ cups (525 g) flour


In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition just to incorporate.

Beat in the salt, the Amaretto and vanilla and then about a third of the flour until smooth. Gradually beat in as much of the remaining flour as possible using the electric beater, then stir in the rest with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. If you haven’t stirred in all of the flour you can knead in the rest quite easily. Once you have a smooth, homogeneous dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Working with about half the dough at a time, roll it out to a thickness of not less than 1/8-inch (no less than .3 cm), being careful that the dough is very evenly rolled out. Carefully cut out shapes with your cookie cutters. Gently transfer to a cookie sheet (I use unlined, ungreased cookie sheets with no problem at all). If you want the fir tree effect, just gently lift the cookies one by one, brush around the edges with a beaten egg, then dip in crushed pistachio nuts before placing on the cookie sheets. I also brushed my Hanukkah cookies very lightly with egg wash and doused them with colored sprinkles.


Bake for about 10 minutes. They will be set and appear cooked but they will NOT brown. You’ll know they are done because they will slide right off the cookie sheet when just nudged with a spatula.


Allow to cool. You can now frost them or drizzle with melted chocolate as I have done.


MASCARPONE-GOAT CHEESE LEMON CREAM
This is adapted from a recipe I found on Meeta’s blog What’s for Lunch Honey? And can easily be doubled.

7 oz (200 g) mascarpone cheese, drained
1 oz (30 g) fresh, tangy goat cheese, drained
2 Tbs (30 g) superfine sugar
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp Limoncello

¾ - 1 cup (about 200 ml) heavy whipping cream
Edible decorations (colored sugar, chopped nuts, etc)


To make the Lemon Mascarpone Cream, place the mascarpone, the goat cheese, the sugar, zest, cinnamon and Limoncello in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Chill.


Have the Lemon Cream, the whipping cream as well as the glass bowl and beaters for beating the whipped cream very well chilled before making the “snow”.

When ready to make the Cookies and Cream Christmas Tree, beat the heavy cream in the chilled bowl with the chilled beaters until very thick. Using the same beaters, beat the Lemon Mascarpone Cream briefly (in a large bowl) just to loosen it and make it smooth and creamy after chilling in the fridge. Add the whipped cream to the Lemon Mascarpone Cream and beat briefly to blend and thicken.


To create the Cookies and Cream Christmas Tree:

Simply pile up the various-sized ruffled cookies which had been trimmed in chopped green pistachio nuts from largest to smallest, placing a large dollop of snow/lemon cream carefully in the center of each cookie round before placing another cookie on top trying to keep the green pistachio bits visible. Decorate by sprinkling the snow with colored sugar decorations.


48 comments:

shayma said...

oh my god, jamie, what a masterpiece. it is so beautiful. your children must have inhaled this. youre so precise and creative. happy hannukah to you and yours. x

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I love your cookie tower for Christmas, you must have a lot of different size cutters to get that to work?

And the Hannukah cookies look really pretty too, I like that they are pale biscuits, I always seem to burn mine - probably I spend a couple of minutes shooing my son away from the cooker door after the beeper goes!

Deeba PAB said...

Oh Jamie Jamie...why do you torture me so. I LOVE that cookie tree & want to nibble some off my screen. Worse, no limencello here, and that's really getting my goat ( and goat cheese...LOL)! I love the less cloyingly sweet bit ... must try them soon. Made a fresh fig tart & choc ginger cherry cookies today... love this season, like I love your post!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Happy Hannukah! What pretty cookies! the cookie tower is amazing!

Cheers,

Rosa

La Table De Nana said...

Your tower and photos are always so heart warming.. sometimes funny:) You have a wonderful blog..I have told you..I am here to say that and Happy Hannukah to you..You've had a lot going on this year..Thank you for sharing so much..

Best wishes.

♥♥♥Ria♥♥♥ said...

O! Jamie! This post of yours is a REAL torchure! I so badly want to climb up the cookie tree and eat the topmost cookie :)

Mary said...

What a lovely post, Jamie. Many straddle the two holidays and you have done so with uncommon grace and sensitivity. Your cookie tree is beautiful but it doesn't hold a candle to you. Blessings...Mary

Srivalli said...

How delightful Jamie, loved reading the post and looking at the pictures..

Janet Rudolph said...

Loved your post. It's hard to meld traditions, but you've done a great job. Of course, I love your recipes.. and your stories. Definitely, both from the heart.

Cathy said...

Your holiday cookie tree is so festive and would be a real show stopper on any holiday table. You seem to have blended Christmas and Hanukkah so very well and brought traditions of both into your home. Wonderful photos, Jamie.

Hilda said...

What a great cookie tree! Can you believe I don't think I've ever seen a cookie tree like that before? I haven't been doing much holiday baking, maybe because I'm not much in the holiday mood at all right now, but your tree is cheering me up. =)

tspegar said...

what pretty little cookies! i love this recipe and i think i will try it out this week!

Nicisme said...

That's beautiful Jamie! Happy Hanukka to you and your family.

Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) said...

How very creative! I love the idea! All those flavours sound divine. Happy Hannukah!

Loulou said...

Love your cookies and really enjoyed reading this post.
Happy Chanukah!

catty said...

What can I say except that you are a talented, TALENTED woman. The tree is just amazing!

Jenn said...

One of the reason I love this season is the endless amounts of sugary buttery cookies that will be made. ;-D

Happy Hannukah!!

Nora said...

What a beautiful, delicious idea! Love the colour of the pistachio nuts - really spectacular. A beautiful way to celebrate pretty much any festival, I'd say!!

Half Baked said...

Well that picture of your cookies is making me jolly!! I love that lemon cream...sounds divine! lovely post:)

Heavenly Housewife said...

Wow, check out that tree. you have been making some crazy cool deserts daaaaaaahling.
*kisses* HH

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Love the tower.....and all the green...Blessed Hannukah

Katy ~ said...

I am in awe and dumbfounded. Beautiful cookie tree!

Barbara Bakes said...

You have wonderful traditions! Happy Hannukah! Have a wonderful hoiday season. The cookies looks so pretty and delicious!

Sari said...

Oh I love your cookies christmas tree! Great shots btw! :) And the mascarpone-goat cheese lemon cream sound scrumptious. I have to try that one.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your cookie tower is awesome. Your children are darling, your photos are wonderful...what can I say. Christmas and Hannukah are two holidays that make for an interesting blend. Looks like you've found the key.
Sam

Chow and Chatter said...

happy Hannukah great cookies now I know why you said you don't celebrate Christmas LOL

sarah said...

When I was a kid going to public school in New York we used be handed Santa Claus and Reindeer coloring pages, I didn't think anything of it and I don't remember feeling left out. In Israel the celebrations are more segregated- in Nazareth you'll feel Christmas, in the Arab towns the Eids...
But the feeling of festivities is the same for all I think.
Happy Holidays, Hag Sameach! (and those are the prettiest cookies!)

Julia @Mélanger said...

I love your little tower of cookies. So lovely. I used to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. That was the ultimate! :)

Lien said...

What a wonderful cookie tree. Lovely story about Christmas and Hannukah in your family. Traditions are a nice thing. Happy Hannukah to you and your family!

Junglefrog said...

That christmas tree is just fantastic Jamie!! Your kids must have loved it..:)

Jamie said...

Thanks to all and a very Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate it!

@Junglefrog: Simone, I ate it all myself. Boys not really in holiday spirit.

Happy cook said...

Looks so so beautiful. You can make a center piece from that.

Madame Sucre said...

Love em so much!! Happy Hannukah Jamie !

Natashya Kitchen Puppies said...

Delicious! I say celebrate every holiday you can!
When we lived in the city it was in a mostly Ismaili community - so Christmas and Eid got mushed together. For years my pale little children expected Eid presents!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

I LOVE these cookies and yours look so chic and festive!

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

The Christmas tree is adorable! And the lemon cream simply divine! I bet that would be wonderful on lots of things - like Gingerbread, mmmmmm.

5 Star Foodie said...

Happy Hanukkah! The cookies are gorgeous and the Christmas tree tower is so cute. Now we celebrate Hanukkah, but growing up in former Soviet Union we celebrated New Year with a "New Year" tree :)

Barbara said...

Your tree is absolutely adorable! And so was this post. Many of us celebrate both holidays.

Rambling Tart said...

This is fantastic :-) Utterly delightful :-) I've been craving not-too-sweet cookies and these fit the bill beautifully!

Sippity Sup said...

We are a one of each household here too. GREG

TKW said...

You are a holiday baking machine! Wow!

oneordinaryday said...

Baking is a perfect tradition, no matter what you celebrate. Love how festive the cookies look with all that sugar.

Jeanne said...

Food - the uniting factor that crosses all religious lines :) That tree is totalyl inspired - you continue to blow (non-baker) me away, Jamie!

Jeanne said...

And the Grinch who stole Hannukah - ROTFLMAO!!

Sharon said...

Love te star and the tower what a gastronomic delight. You are an inspiration, thank you.

asiangrrl said...

That true is a masterpiece, Jamie. I love the Hanukkah cookies, too.

P.S. That card about the dreidel was very funny.

June said...

I just stumbled upon your blog, and I love it. Your commentary is poetic, and I can't wait to try your recipes. Could I subscribe to your blog with just my email address? Thanks.

junecutie
witchypants@gmail.com

June said...

I just stumbled upon your blog, and I love it. Your commentary is poetic, and I can't wait to try your recipes. Could I subscribe to your blog with just my email address? Thanks.

junecutie
witchypants@gmail.com

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