Even in a year full of changes and accommodations, the time-honored ritual of Christmas cookie baking can still be festive. And with so many virtual travel opportunities, such as virtual country tours, now available, this is a great time to combine tasty treats with armchair travel to the country of your choice. Enjoy a cultural experience together while these international favorites are in the oven. Both recipes are family-friendly, can be made ahead and stored, and will provide a variety of color, beauty and temptation on the holiday cookie buffet.
Kolach, kolacky, kolache -- many Central European countries make a version of this flaky cookie with a cream cheese dough and jam filling, even a doughnut-shaped, meat-filled version. This recipe from the A Muse in My Kitchen food blog also includes a walnut filling. For ease and enjoyment, make and refrigerate the cream cheese dough in advance, and have a selection of sweet, colorful jams and preserves on hand.
8 ounces cream cheese, cold
1 cup (1/2 pound, 2 sticks) cold butter
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Variety of jams and preserves
OPTIONAL WALNUT FILLING:
2 cups ground walnuts
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup hot water
Make sure the cream cheese and butter are cold. First, sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Cut the cream cheese and butter into chunks, and add the chunks to the flour. Knead by hand until ingredients are evenly distributed and the dough can be formed into a compact ball. Divide the ball into two balls and cover with plastic wrap to chill overnight or until very cold.
When ready to bake, take one dough ball at a time out of the refrigerator and roll it to 1/8-inch thickness using as little flour as possible. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares and place a dollop of jam in the center of each square.
To assemble each cookie, fold one corner of the square to the center of the filling. Fold the opposite corner to the center, overlapping enough for the corners to touch. Pinch the dough to seal.
Place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper so they are easy to remove. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 to 18 minutes or until light brown. Cool on wire racks and then dust with powdered sugar.
To make walnut-filled kolachy, combine the filling ingredients and mix well, and simply substitute the filling for jam. Finish the same as the jam-filled cookies.
*Italian Sprinkle Cookies
What is a holiday sweets platter without colorful sprinkles? This light, lemony, not-too-sweet Italian favorite, also called Anginetti, is featured in Taste of Home magazine online. Gluten-Free Anginetti Cookies can be found on the Gluten-Free Baking website.
ITALIAN SPRINKLE COOKIES
6 large eggs, room temperature
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup shortening
3 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
3 3/4 cups confectioners/powdered sugar
1/2 cup warm whole milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and let eggs and shortening come to room temperature.
Beat the eggs with a heavy-duty mixer on high speed until light and foamy, about 5 minutes, and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, confectioners' sugar and baking powder. Gradually beat in shortening and extracts on low speed until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Gradually add the beaten eggs to form a stiff dough.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 12 to 14 minutes. The bottoms should brown slightly, but the tops should not brown.
While the cookies are baking, make the glaze. In a small bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar, milk and extracts until smooth. As soon as the cookies are removed from the oven, quickly dip a few at a time into the glaze. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and place on wire racks to drain. Immediately top with sprinkles. Let them dry for 24 hours before storing in airtight containers.
Holidays will forever be made sweeter with these cookies wrapped in cellophane and tied with cheery ribbons for friends, left on a plate with a glass of milk by children of all ages and stacked on platters for snacking when the spirit moves -- and no one is looking! Enjoy them one cheerful bite at a time.