Beyond the Chocolate Chip

This Holiday Season, Consider Adding Some Diversity to Your Cookie Concoctions

By Adrienne Lawrence | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 12.08.13 – Dining, Food & Drink, Recipes

For Loretta Gaines’ family, a favorite is southern molasses crumbles, a cookie that must come with a glass of milk, she says.
Crescent-shaped amigdalota cookies, lightly coated with an egg wash and almonds, is popular in Greek kitchens.
Bonnie Swanson says her favorite cookie is a Jewish treat that looks like a small biscotti and is perfect with coffee.

Sure, this holiday season you can make a mountain of chocolate chip cookies, as well as stacks of other traditional-and-sugary dessert munchies. But the cookie world is a big place, encompassing most of the globe, and what better time to diversify your baked snacks than during the holidays?

You might not know that cookies started around the 14th century when bakers didn’t have a way to gauge oven temperatures. Ingredients were expensive, so they needed to make sure the oven wasn’t too hot or cold before they put an entire cake in. Thus, they placed a small circle of batter on a metal sheet and slid it into the oven for a few minutes. When they pulled it out, they could tell if the oven was ready for cake. And voila! We have the cookie—at least that’s what culinary art students are told when studying to become a chef.

For the most part, cookie recipes are relatively similar. Each starts with three basic ingredients: flour, sugar and fat, such as butter, oil or shortening. From there, the cultural differences start to define cookies through added ingredients such as spices, berries or nuts, and preparation methods.

Bonnie Swanson, event sales manager at Musket Ridge Golf Course, describes her favorite cookie, mandel bread, a Jewish sweet that looks like a small biscotti and is perfect when paired with coffee. Do you like chocolate chips best, or what about cranberries with nuts? No problem, Swanson’s mom customized mandel bread for each family member’s birthday; while the recipe stayed the same, she would just add some chocolate or dried fruit and nuts. The cookies were so well-received that she didn’t need to give her adult children anything other than the cookies as a gift. “She made them with love,” Swanson says.

Loretta Gaines, reporter and anchor for WFMD-AM News in Frederick, agrees. “When you’re sharing your food with someone, they’re family,” she says. And family is the key ingredient for Gaines. She made sure to pass on her family recipes to her daughter, such as a favorite cookie recipe for southern molasses crumbles. “It’s a gooey cookie, but you can make them like a snap,” Gaines says. There is one critical ingredient after baking, too. “You gotta have milk with it,” she says.

The cookies were so well-received that she didn’t need to give her adult children anything other than the cookies as a gift. “She made them with love,” Swanson says.

Since Gaines taught her daughter the recipe, she spends less time in the kitchen during the holidays. “Now I get to sit back and sip a martini while she cooks,” Gaines says. But it wasn’t all great in the beginning. When Gaines’ daughter, Alexis Pettiford, first learned to cook, she had her own ideas of what would taste best. “She’d say, ‘Mom, let me do it my way.’” She would put in ½ cup of sugar instead of the 1 cup listed on the recipe, resulting in cookies no one wanted to eat.

Pettiford soon learned and, in fact, has become such a good cook that her brothers look forward to the times when she comes home and makes family meals, using all the family recipes, just as her mother hoped since those recipes are an important part of their heritage.

Kim Dow, owner and creative director of Kalico Designs, makes most of her cookies each year just before the Frederick Greek Festival hosted by Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church on 7th Street. Her mother organizes and runs the festival and Dow helps feed the crowds.

While she grew up eating her grandmother’s cookies, she didn’t make very many until she started helping with the festival. She’s learned that the cookies all have similar ingredients and that the main difference is in the way each is prepared. Koulourakias are butter cookies that are twisted; paximadias are Greek biscotti; kourabiedes are butter cookies covered with powdered sugar, similar to an Italian wedding cookie; and amigdalotas (Dow’s favorite) are almond cookies, shaped like a crescent and lightly coated with an egg wash and almonds.

“You can taste the love because it’s time-consuming,” Dow says, describing how shaping each Greek cookie lengthens the baking process. “People will come [to the festival], specifically, to have that cookie and we usually sell out,” she says about her grandmother’s recipe for amigdalota. Dow tweaks it just a little. “I always add more almond extract because I like it.”

Juliet Kaufman, owner and cook for Juliet’s Italian Market & Cafe in Downtown, completely agrees. Her recipes are more like suggestions and she’ll vary ingredients. Her customers never know the difference when she does, sometimes buying all of her homemade cookies before lunch.

Her family’s favorite was actually a fluke. Her husband said he wanted something that didn’t have chocolate in it and Kaufman used her chocolate chip cookie recipe, but added dried cranberries and almonds instead. It’s become one of her best-selling cookies and when it was time to share her recipe, she started reciting it from memory. While the recipe listed at the end of this story is her best guess, you may want to taste as you go along to make sure everything works well together.

Another popular cookie is the rugelach, a Jewish cookie made with cream cheese, chocolate chips, marmalade, flour and butter. “Everybody has their favorite and will come in obsessively to get more,” Kaufman says, chuckling. If you want to make sure she has your favorite, she suggests calling in the morning and she’ll let you know what she’s making for the day and you could put in a special order for some time that week. In all, she makes about nine types of cookies regularly, plus other sweet treats.

Kaufman has even received surprising responses from customers just after taking a bite, “One lady said she wants to marry me.” But don’t go in asking for a Filipino cookie (Kaufman is from the Philippines), as far as she knows, there aren’t any. So no matter what you call it, or what culture you hail from, it’s still a cookie and in some ways, brings us to common ground.

Cookie Recipes

Amigdalota

Ingredients:
1 pound sweet butter
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
5 cups flour
2 teaspoon almond extract (add more to taste)
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 egg whites, beaten
1 pound slivered almonds

Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar, egg yolks and almond flavoring, continue to beat until mixed well. Sift flour and baking powder together and add to butter mixture a little at a time to make a soft dough. Knead a few more times until smooth. Pinch off small pieces of dough and roll into pencil-like strips, about 3-4 inches long. Shape into a crescent. Dip each crescent into beaten egg whites and then roll in slivered almonds. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Southern Molasses Crumbles

Ingredients:
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg beaten
¼ cup dark baking molasses
2¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon sugar

Cream together shortening, brown sugar, egg and molasses. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, add to the cream mixture. Mix well and then refrigerate for one hour. Shape mix into balls the size of walnuts and roll in sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet. (Do not flatten cookies.) Bake at 350 degrees for eight to nine minutes. Makes about three dozen.

Mandel Bread

Ingredients:
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup salad oil or shortening
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups flour, more if needed
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon almond extract pinch salt nuts, raisins or chocolate chips

Beat eggs and add sugar, oil, flour, baking powder, almond extract and nuts. Mix thoroughly and divide into small sections on a well-floured board. Roll into two-inch strips, place on floured cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until light brown. Remove from oven and cut into pieces (should look like miniature biscotti), sprinkle on both sides with cinnamon and sugar. Place back in oven and bake about 10 minutes or until slightly dry.

Almond Cranberry Cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 pound of butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour or more
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups shaved almonds
2 cups dried cranberries

Cream butter and sugar, and mix in eggs. Mix in flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and add extra flour as needed. Mix cranberries and almonds together and then add to cookie batter. With an ice cream scoop, put batter on cookie sheet and flatten with the palm of your hand. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly brown.