Sunday, December 22, 2013

Baking for Christmas

There are a few foods I make each and every year for Christmas. These food traditions are embedded so deep in me that I don’t feel the holiday is complete unless I have them on hand.

Some recipes have come and gone, others have been added, but these are my favorites:
I haven't made these YET, but Christmas is still three days away. This is a Google image.

Viennese Crescents
(This cookie is known by other names, among them, Mexican Wedding Cookies. I have been making these crunchy little nuggets for more years than I can remember. It’s very easy.)

Set the oven at 300 degrees.
Cream thoroughly
 1 cup butter (don’t use margarine!)
¼ cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground almonds (unbleached)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix well. Shape with fingers into crescents about 3 inches by 1 inch and ½ inch thick. (NOTE: To ensure consistency in size, I shape them into smallish balls, which is much easier than crescent shapes.) Roll in
Confectioners’ sugar

Place on cookie sheets. Bake 35 minutes (but watch them so they don't get too brown. Cool. Roll in sugar again. Makes about 36.
Note: If you substitute hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, decrease flour to 1-3/4 cups.
Store in a tin. Keeps well.

Pecan Tassies
Mini pecan pies

1 cup butter
6 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
Mix softened butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add flour in fourths; work into smooth dough. Chill Shape into 1-1/4 inch balls and press into small muffin pans to make shells.
1 box light brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Dash of salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans.
Slowly beat sugar into eggs. Mix in butter, salt and vanilla. Place ½ teaspoon nuts in each shell, add filling to about ½ full. Top with more nuts. Bake 25 minutes at 350 until set. Better made 1-2 days ahead. Put waxed paper between layers to store. Keeps well.

Sausage Balls
Delicious for breakfasts around Christmas time. Nothing could be easier:
1 lb. pork sausage (I use sage flavored)
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups Bisquick or self-rising flour
A shake of cayenne pepper if you prefer it hot, or use hot sausage for similar effect)
A few drops of water if needed for mixing
Mix all ingredients in food processor or by hand. Roll into balls. May be frozen before baking and removing from freezer as needed. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 and bake for about 30 minutes. Just watch them to prevent overbrowning. Line cookie sheet with parchment to prevent sticking.

These are not the "prettiest" Christmas cookies to be found, but they are oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth good!

Nurnberger Elisen Lebkuchen
(A variation of the traditional gingerbread-type lebkuchen. This recipe, which uses no flour, is from my mother-in-law and my husband’s favorite cookie. She gave me the recipe in grams and I haven’t bothered to translate into ounces, as I have a scale that weighs in  grams. I usually double or triple the recipe, as these don’t last long at our house. My mother-in-law always baked these on thin oblaten wafers but I find baking on parchment paper prevents sticking just as well.)
2 eggs
200 grams sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (I don’t always have this on hand so I simply add about ½ teaspoon vanilla to 3 tablespoons sugar for a similar effect)
Big dash ground cloves
1 t. cinnamon
½ shot rum
1-2 drops lemon extract
75 grams candied citron
125 grams almonds
¼ teaspoon baking powder
125 grams ground hazelnuts

Set oven at 350 degrees
Beat eggs and sugars until thick and creamy. Add spices.
Grind citron and nuts together
Mix egg mixture with nut mixture
Bake 25-30 minutes. Best when aged in sealed tin a few days. Half an apply may be added to retain moistness.
(Nuts are best ground with a manual grinder in order to obtain a consistency similar to flour. If ground in a food processor the result is not the same. Regarding the citron, I simply chop it finely so as to not gum up the grinder with stickiness.)
If you bake these, I suggest baking a test cookie before loading up an entire cookie sheet. Why? Because oven temperatures vary and you don’t want these to cook too fast and brown over before getting fully baked. I find my cookies turn out better at 325 degrees and adding about 10 minutes to the baking time.

A colorful sweet bread for Christmas, and I made it for many years. But it dries out so fast that I have discontinued the least for now. Credit: The Swiss Colony

I used to bake Christmas Stollen each year, but after so many years of it drying out too quickly, I prefer just making a yeast bread Danish pastry, or purchasing a Panettone.

A new one this year: Linzer Cookies

I have always wanted to make these cookies because of the way they look. I found one of the special cookie cutters this year, so this was my first attempt. I was not at all pleased with the difficulty involved, primarily because the dough stuck horribly inside the little design cut-out for the top cookie. I’m not bothering to post the recipe because I won’t be making these again! But they are quite good.

From the looks of my baking (and I have not featured everything here, as I also made chocolate truffles, haystacks, pumpkin cookies and peanut butter fudge) one might think we do lots of eating around here. The fact is that I give away many of these sweet treats.

Baking is a lot of trouble and takes much time. However, being in the kitchen is one of the ways I enjoy Christmas. Put on the music, light a pine or cinnamon scented candle and bake away!


  1. A beautiful selection of Christmas goodies, Sanda, and I have never made one of them! The Pecan Tassies look particularly interesting and I would like to try making them. Yes, the Linzer cookies are very pretty and perfect for Christmas but I can see how tedious it would be to make them. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Sanda, and enjoy Little Katie's first Christmas!

    1. Fortunately, now three days past Christmas, most of this baking is gone - most of it given away. To keep it around would be a great temptation!

  2. Oh heavens! Do you ever bake at Christmas! Mom and I used to stay up late the night before my office party to make Christmas cookies for everyone - I can remember decorated sugar cookies, chocolate crinkles and oatmeal and apple cookies. Everyone loved them. I never make a cookie without remembering those evenings. I've left cooking baking behind for the most part and now make spice cakes to give as gifts. Over the year I put fruit in the freezer if it's not quite nice enough to enjoy raw. Then I pull it out, peel and puree and make it into moist, fragrant cakes. I have a few of those yet to make - best put down this silly computer and get on with it!

    1. I'm sure that is a great memory for you - baking Christmas cookies with your mother. I hope you got your cakes made as planned.

  3. You've been busy. I make Mexican Wedding Cakes every year but my recipe is a bit different and the cookie is flattened with a fork. I also make Candy Cane cookies, and some good old Toll House Choc. Chip because those are DH's favorite. All those baked early and frozen. I bake lemon bars right before I need to deliver them as a gift - they don't keep so well.

    All this is making me hungry. Cookies for breakfast anyone?


    1. I do love a good cookie for breakfast, and think if you're going to eat sweets, it's best to do it early in the day. I love anything with lemon and imagine your bars are quite good.

  4. Wow,what goodies somebody is in for a beautiful gift,you must wirte a cook book.
    The only cake I have heard of is the stollen,I do have one for Christmas from the German shop as they orignated there +have no marzipan,as many others do.
    Years ago I made mince pies/Christmas pudding/cake + stilton cheese port
    for the men! Do you eat similar things on Christmas day?

    1. Mince pies are not so popular here. I once made one and they aren't my favorite. Some of the more traditional things we eat at Christmas are fruit cake, ham, cheese balls/logs (primarily of cheddar cheese). These preferences vary regionally here in the States. Stollen might be more popular in the Midwest, where many Germans settled, Panetone in NYC with its heavy Italian settlements. Then there's the Lane Cake,turkey and cranberry sauce and mounds of fresh oranges which everyone wants to have on hand at Christmas. And let's not forget the peppermint sticks!

  5. Dear Sanda,
    you certainly have been busy.
    I love stollen..but i have to go to lisbon to buy it.
    your fruit cake looks very much like our "kings day cake" for the epiphany..except its round.
    This year is now a quiet one. i am going to my second son's house.the one who got married to dear Sasha in August.. so they are doing all the work this year.. i have just been asked to help with stuffing for the turkey.
    I ampacking and will be off in the morning.
    wishing you a happy Christmas.
    thank you for the recipies. i will look back on them when i return.
    God bless.. and thank you for following me.. val x x x x x

    1. Val, I hope you had a nice visit with your son and his new wife at Christmas. I am sure they had wonderful food prepared for the feast. I suppose it's now time for all of us to get back on track with ordinary eating patterns. And thank YOU for following my blog.

  6. You really must like spending time in the kitchen. Everything shown, looks delicious.
    Somehow, I can imagine they taste good.
    You are very skillful working inside and outside. I bow.

    1. I have been known to call myself "a jack of all trades and master of none." Imagine what I might have accomplished in life had I been true to only one calling.

      I do enjoy the baking chore. But not all the time; only when I want to.

  7. Ooh, sausage balls. They are one of my favorites and I see that we use almost the same recipe. Men really love these. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    1. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas, and that you had sausage balls as well! They are so good; I could eat them every day. I've seen a recipe for sausage rolls, made with puff pastry, which I want to try out soon.

  8. Hello Sanda
    The Viennese crescent rolls look fabulous and from the ingredients are not too high in calories.. (I said the dreaded word)
    Hope your Christmas is going well and wishing you good health, happiness in 2014

    1. Hi Helen, the Viennese crescents literally melt in your mouth due to all that butter (which is the only bad ingredient I suppose) but butter is what makes food taste so good IMO. Time to get back on yogurt for me! Enjoy what remains of the holiday season.


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