Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas Cookies from Around the World

If you're anything like me, you have a list of types of Christmas cookies that you HAVE to make every year. My personal list includes chocolate pixies, sugar cookies, candy cane cookies, church windows, and acorns. But every now and then I like to shake it up by adding a new kind of cookie to my holiday cookie plates. If you're in the mood to branch out this season, here are some recipes for some more unusual kinds of Christmas cookies from around the world.

Seven Layer Cookies (from Smitten Kitchen)
These colorful Italian cookies take a long time to make (the layers need to chill overnight), but they'll definitely add a nice pop of color and fruit flavor to your cookie collection.

4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 13x9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
Beat whites at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
Beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.
Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set (do not overbake).
Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Reline pan with buttered wax paper as before. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
When all layers are cool, invert green onto a large parchment or wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax or parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat but keep warm.
Trim edges of assembled layers. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm (about 15 minutes). Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Cut lengthwise into 4 strips, then cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies. (For easier cutting, freeze cake first and then cut while frozen.)
Finnish Pinwheels (from Taste of Home)
These beautiful cookies are almost pastry rather than cookies, with lots of butter and and a bit of cream to give them a wonderfully rich flavor. 
1/2 pound pitted plums, chopped
1/2 pound pitted dates, chopped
1 cup water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a saucepan, combine all filling ingredients except butter and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Cool.
In a bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter. Blend in egg, cream, and vanilla. Form into two balls. 
Place one ball at a time on a floured board and roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch squares. Lay on ungreased baking sheet and make 1-inch slits at each corner. Please 1/2-tsp of filling on each cookie and bring up every other corner to form pinwheel, pressing lightly in center to seal. Bake at 325 for 12 minutes or until points are light golden brown. 
Linzer Cookies (from Taste of Home)
Technically, Linzer cookies are Austrian, but when I worked for a Czech boss, my favorite part of Christmas was when his wife would send in big plates of homemade Linzer cookies. If you want to add a bit more color, you can use other types of preserves, like apricot, strawberry, or orange marmalade, as well as raspberry. 
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs, separated
2-1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds (optional)
1 cup seedless raspberry (or other flavor) preserves
Cream butter, gradually adding 2/3 cup sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and salt and add gradually. Shape dough into a ball; cover and refrigerate until firm, 30-45 minutes.
Roll dough to 1/8-thickness on a board dusted with confectioners' sugar. Cut into circles with a floured round 2-1/2-inch cookie cutter (or a drinking glass). Using a floured 1-inch cookie cutter (round, star, heart, etc.), cut out centers of half the cookies. 
Beat egg whites until frothy. Mix almonds and remaining sugar. Brush cookies with egg whites and almond mixture (or plain sugar if not using nuts). Place all cookies on greased baking sheets, 1 inch apart, and bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. 
When completely cooled, spread 2 tsp preserves on each solid cookie and top with window cookies, almond/sugar side up.

Eggnog Kringla (from Peaceful Cooking)
This Norwegian recipe forms the cookies by rolling the dough into a rope and tying it into a knot, then sprinkling with powdered sugar and nutmeg.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup butter
1-1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup eggnog
powdered sugar
ground nutmeg
In large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg, and set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream butter, then add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and mix well. Add the flour mixture and the eggnog alternately to the sugar/butter mix. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Dough may still be sticky but it is a soft dough.

Preheat oven to 350F. Take out half the dough at a time (leaving rest in the fridge). On a lightly floured surface, take one tablespoon of the dough and roll into a rope shape (about 1/2 inch thick and 8 inches long) On an ungreased cookie sheet, form the rope into a pretzel shape or a knot. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove cookies and cool on wire rack. While still warm, sprinkle tops with powdered sugar and nutmeg.

Pennsylvania Dutch Cookies (from Food52)
These simple cookies provide a fresh hint of lemon to cut all the sweetness of Christmas treats, and the icing can be topped with colored sprinkles before it dries for an extra festive touch. 

3-1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups vegetable shortening
2-1/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
1-1/2 cups currants (or raisins)

For the Icing:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 Tbsp water

  • Combine the flour and salt.
In a large bowl, cream the vegetable shortening and sugar. Beat in the eggs, then lemon juice and zest. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Fold in the currants. Cover and chill for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Drop the dough by spoonfuls 1 1/2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly colored. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Put the powdered sugar in a small bowl. Beat in the water and continue beating until the icing reaches the desired consistency. If the icing is too thick, add more water; if it is too thin, add more powdered sugar. Drizzle the icing over the tops of the cooled cookies using a fork.

Maltese Lemon Cookies (from Food52)
These traditional Christmas cookies from Malta also use lemon to cut their sweetness, but all the butter makes them very rich, so be sure to use a small cookie cutter.

1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 egg
sprinkles for topping

Combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest until fluffy. Add the egg and continue mixing until well combined. Add the dry flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until combined. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, form a thick disc, wrap tightly, and freeze for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the dough is hard.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line 2 (or more) baking sheets with parchment paper.

Once the dough is hard, break off 1/4 of the dough and keep the remaining dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the kitchen counter and cover generously with flour. Lay the dough on top, dust with flour and cover with a second layer of plastic wrap. Roll the dough out thinly with a rolling pin. add more flour if needed. 

Dip cookie cutters in flour and cut out cookies. Carefully transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets, laying them with a bit of space in between, and decorate them generously with sprinkles. Continue with the remaining dough.

Bake for 6-7 minutes or until golden. Let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack. 

French Peppermint Meningues (from Joy the Baker)
The grown-up answer to the candy cane, these elegant mints melt in your mouth and bring you back to your childhood with their hint-of-minty goodness.
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp mint extract
Red gel-paste food coloring (must be gel)

Preheat oven to 175 degrees (not a typo!). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper; secure with masking tape. Fit a pastry bag with a small star tip and set aside.

Put egg whites and sugar in ta mixing bowl and set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir gently until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch (2 to 3 minutes). Remove form water bath and mix with electric mixer (use whisk attachment, if you have one) on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Mix in mint extract.

Using a new small paintbrush, paint 2 or 3 stripes of red food coloring inside the pastry bag. Fill bag with 1 to 2 cups meringue. Pipe small (3/4-inch-high) star shapes onto prepared baking sheets. Refill bag as necessary, adding food coloring each time.

Bake cookies until crisp but not brown, about 1 hour 40 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.

Chrusciki (Polish Angel Wings) (from
These fried treats are light and crispy, a nice change of texture from most holiday cookies. And kids will love to help twist the dough into "angel wings"!

5 Tbsp cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2-1/4 cups flour, plus extra as needed
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar

oil, for frying

  • Beat eggs until thick. Add salt slowly while stirring. Add sugar and vanilla, beat well. Add cream and flour, alternating until blended, adding more flour as needed. Turn onto a floured board. Cover with a cloth for 10 minutes, then knead until dough blisters. Roll very thin and cut into 1 inch by 4 inch rectangles. Cut a gash in the middle of the rectangle and pull one end through so it looks like a twist.
  • Fry in 375 degree oil until golden brown. Drain on a rack for 3 minutes then roll in powdered sugar.

Polvorones (from All Recipes)
This sweet cinnamon cookie from Mexico is surely a second cousin to the snickerdoodle, getting its flavor mainly from butter with just the right hints of cinnamon and vanilla. 

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1-1/2 tsps cinnamon, divided
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets.

In a medium bowl, cream together 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and butter until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Combine flour, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon; stir into the creamed mixture to form a stiff dough. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Mix together 1 cup confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon; roll balls in cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. Cool cookies on wire racks.

Christmas Chocolate Biscuits (from Nigella Lawson, American conversions courtesy of
No list of Christmas cookies would be complete without at least one decadently chocolate recipe, and these glazed chocolate-on-chocolate cookies from Britain fit the bill nicely. 

For the cookie base:
2-1/4 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

For the glaze:
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tsp vanilla
sprinkles or colored sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Sift cocoa powder into the mixture and beat well. Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder, and add to mixture. 
  3. Form 1 tbsp sized balls. Place on cookie sheet at least 2" apart, pressing down into fat discs (dough will be sticky). 
  4. Bake 15 minutes. The tops will develop a cracked appearance. Cool 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until completely cooled. 
  5. For the glaze, combine cocoa powder with confectioners' sugar, boiling water and vanilla in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat and whisk until smooth. Cool 10 minutes.
  6. Drizzle 1 tbsp of glaze on each cookie, spreading lightly with the back of the spoon, then sprinkle with sprinkles or colored sugar. Work with 6 cookies at a time so the glaze doesn't dry out before applying the sprinkles.

Happy baking!

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