It’s cookie time

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

December is cookie time! Cookies are integral to holiday parties. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah Kwanzaa, cookies are part of the festivities.

No one knows how or why cookies became associated with Christmas festivities. But by the year 1500, most European homes baked large quantities of cookies in preparation for the winter holidays. Every European country has its own favorite festive holiday cookie, with a unique flavor and shape.

Many modern holiday treats date back to the Middle Ages, when traders brought spices and other novel foods from the far east. Cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were some of the sweet Oriental spices that made their way into holiday baking. By 1500, many types of cookies with national variations were popular around Europe.

Holiday cookie creations include shortbread, molasses, ginger and cardamom treats. Sugar cookies in various shapes, like stars, bells and Christmas trees frosted in bright holiday colors are popular.

Hanukkah is well underway by the time this goes to press. For the holiday, Rugelach is one of the most common cookies. These buttery, flaky filled cookies are made in a crescent shape and filled with jam or nuts.

For Kwanzaa, Benne cookies are a sesame treat. Benne is the Bantu word for sesame; the Bantu believe eating these sesame cookies bring good luck. The seeds were smuggled here by African slaves who planted them on islands off the North Carolina coast and throughout the American south. By the time of the American Revolution, the seeds and their oil had earned a place among the white slave owners as well.

Cookies are a sweet treat. No one thinks of them as being healthy. But there are ways of making them healthier: using whole grains, adding fruit and nuts, using natural sweeteners, and lowering the amount of sugar you use.

When making cookies that require rolling out the dough, split the dough in half and keep the other half refrigerated. Chilled dough is easier to work with, and too much handling can make cookies tough.

Choose baking sheets wisely. Heavy, shiny cookie sheets without sides allow you to slide the cookies off easily. Dark sheets absorb more heat, so cookies may brown too much on the bottom.

Parchment paper is great for baking cookies. It promotes even browning and eliminates the need to grease cookie sheets. Soft-style tub butter or spreads contain too little fat and don’t give good results when greasing.

Cookies are a family affair. Everyone likes them. Mothers bake cookies with the kids; Grandmothers invite the grandchildren for a day of cookie baking. Involving the kids in making cookies is quality family time. And cookies are fun to eat!

Whether you’re baking for yourself, your family, co-workers, guests, or for gifts, traditional cookies make pleasant memories, good eating, and holiday cheer.

Rugelach

Ingredients:

2/3 cup milk

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 Tablespoon yeast

3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading

2 sticks butter

1 egg

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

Jam of your choice, for filling

Directions:

Heat milk until warm but not boiling. Add sugar and yeast, and stir until bubbly. Set aside.

In a food processor with the metal blade, pulse together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Add the egg, oil and yeast mixture and mix on medium until the dough forms a ball around the blade. Turn out onto a floured board. Divide in three parts and roll each into a circle. Cut each circle into 8 pie-shaped wedges.

Place a teaspoon of jam on the wide end and roll up, croissant fashion. Brush with melted butter and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.

Maple Oatmeal Crisps

Ingredients:

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons soft butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 egg

1 1/2 cup rolled oats (the long cooking kind are best)

2 Tablespoons chia seeds, optional

1/3 cup raisins or nuts, or some of each, optional

Directions:

Combine first 4 ingredients in small bowl. Set aside.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar with hand mixer. Beat in maple syrup and egg.

Stir in dry ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Stir in oats, chia seeds and raisins.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pick up small pieces of dough — golf ball size for large cookies, thimble sized for small cookies — with a teaspoon or your fingers and arrange on the parchment paper about 1 inch apart.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven about 15 minutes for crispy cookies, less for chewier cookies. If you like them soft and chewy take them out when the center is still soft. For a crispy cookie the centers should be set and edges nicely brown.

Cool about five minutes before attempting to remove. Serve and enjoy!

Makes two to three dozen cookies.

Notes:

1. If you want to make these gluten-free, use rice, buckwheat or other non-gluten flour. You can also make a whole-grain version with whole wheat flour.

2. If you want to save part of the dough for later use, shape into a log, wrap it in wax or parchment paper and place in the freezer. When ready to bake, slice the dough and bake at 350 degrees for an extra 2 minutes (15 to 18 minutes).

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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