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By Dotti Hydue, Contributor and Editing Consultant.

Christmas cookies and tins from 2011. On the plate, from top center, Chocolate Molasses Cookies, Cocoa Snowflakes, Almond Crescents, Rum Balls, Cranberry Orange Refrigerator Cookies, more Cocoa Snowflakes, Russian Tea Cakes, more Rum Balls, and tinted Refrigerator Cookies.

’TIS THE SEASON for making lists and checking them twice. How many lists do you have? I have a Christmas card list, a Christmas gift list, several grocery lists, and my favorite, my Christmas cookie list. When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, my mom, two sisters, and I would spend the weeks before Christmas preparing for all the sweets my mom would make. We would spend hours after dinner shelling nuts and making sure we had all the ingredients necessary for each recipe. As Christmas Day drew closer, our house was perfumed by the heavenly fragrances of the special cookies and breads that mom made only for Christmas. She would store them in jewel-toned tins on the attic stairs where the cold air from the unheated attic kept the rich, buttery treats fresh.

My grandmother’s 1961 Christmas cookie list, in her own hand.

 

I still make some of those traditional cookies that were passed down to my mom by her mother, a native of what is now Slovenia. Some of the cookies can be tedious and time consuming to make–chop the nuts, mix the dough, wait for it to chill, shape into balls or crescents, roll in powdered sugar not once but twice. Ah, but the results are so worth the effort. My favorite has always been Russian Tea Cakes, aka Snowballs or Mexican Wedding Cakes, delicate little balls of butter, walnuts, and powdered sugar. My sisters liked Almond Crescents and Thumbprint or Scandinavian Cookies, while my dad and uncles favored the Chocolate Rum (or Bourbon) Balls. Joining these classics on the attic stairs were tins of Starlight Sugar Crisps, Cherry Bits, chewy Molasses Cookies, and Sugar Cookies cut into seasonal shapes and sprinkled with brightly-colored coarse sugar. You could also find a fruit cake in the familiar gold and blue tin of the now-defunct Hostess Company. Since I don’t have any cool attic steps on which to store my cookies, I end up stashing them in coolers with blue ice packs.

A plate of traditional Christmas cookies, from left: Russian Tea Cakes, Rum Balls, and Almond Crescents. Also pictures are my mother’s handwritten recipes, a choir boy decoration made by my dad, a Hostess fruitcake tin used to store cookies, and a Christmas candle from many years ago.

Over the years I have tried different recipes but keep coming back to the cookies that evoke so many pleasant memories of past Christmases spent with my parents, grandparents, sisters, aunts and uncles. Do you have special cookie recipes that you make just for Christmas? Share you favorite cookie recipes and memories with us along with a photo if you have one. Here are a couple recipes that just might become your favorite, too.

RUSSIAN TEA CAKES (aka Snowballs)
I usually divide the dough into two logs and, after chilling, bake just one of them. The other will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two until needed. Since this recipe contains no eggs or leavening, you can easily double it or cut it in half if you wish.
(makes about 4 dozen cookies)

1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 and a 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely ground walnuts or pecans
Powdered sugar, sifted

Mix together thoroughly the butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and vanilla.
Sift the flour and salt together and stir into the butter mixture. Mix in the nuts.
Roll dough into logs and refrigerate, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 2 hours or overnight (or longer).
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll bits of dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until just set but not brown.
Remove to wire rack. While still warm roll in sifted powdered sugar. Let cool and roll in powdered sugar again. Store in airtight tins in a cool place.

 

Christmas cookies and tins from 2011. On the plate, from top center, Chocolate Molasses Cookies, Cocoa Snowflakes, Almond Crescents, Rum Balls, Cranberry Orange Refrigerator Cookies, more Cocoa Snowflakes, Russian Tea Cakes, more Rum Balls, and tinted Refrigerator Cookies.

CHERRY BITS
(makes about 5 dozen small cookies)

1 cup margarine or butter, room temperature
1 egg, well beaten
1 and a 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 and a 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 11-oz jar maraschino cherries, drained and chopped, juice reserved
Powdered sugar and almond extract for glaze

In large bowl of an electric mixer, combine margarine, egg, powdered sugar, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat until well blended and smooth. Sift together flour and baking powder and gradually beat into margarine mixture. Fold in chopped cherries. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Roll chilled dough into small balls about the size of a large marble. Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 6 to 8 minutes; do not let brown. Cool on wire rack or wax paper.
In a small bowl, moisten some powdered sugar with just enough reserved cherry juice to form a thick glaze. Add one drop of almond extract. Glaze tops of cooled cookies. Store in airtight tins in a cool place.

 

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