Cookies From Around the World
Pfeffernüsse. This traditional German Christmas cookie is best known for its aromatic spices and a dusting or glaze of confectioners’ sugar. The actual translation of pfeffernüsse is “pepper nut”—a clue to a couple of its ingredients. To make pfeffernüsse, combine 1½ cups butter and 1¼ cups brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Then beat in ¾ cup molasses and ½ cup water. In a separate bowl, combine and mix dry ingredients and spices as follows: 6 cups cake flour; ½ tsp baking soda; ½ tsp each salt, ground cloves, and ground allspice; 1¼ tsp ground cinnamon; ¼ tsp each ground nutmeg and ground mace; 1 tsp anise extract, and ⅛ tsp each black pepper and ground cardamom. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, beating well. Then stir in 2 cups of finely chopped pecans. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll chilled dough into 1-inch balls and bake at 375° for 10–12 minutes. For the glaze, combine 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 3 Tbsp milk, and ¼ tsp vanilla extract. Have an additional bowl of confectioners’ sugar ready. When the cookies come out of the oven, cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then dip tops into the glaze, and then into the powdered sugar. These cookies keep great in an airtight container for a couple weeks, and their flavor intensifies during storage!
Kolaczki. Pronounced “kol-ah-ch-key,” these cookies are a Polish Christmas tradition. Made with flaky dough and filled with different sweet jams and fruit fillings, they’re easy to make, and most recipes yield quite a lot of cookies (4–5 dozen). In a stand mixer, beat together 8 oz softened cream cheese and 3 sticks (12 oz) of softened butter until creamed. Slowly beat in 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, until well mixed. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll the chilled dough out to ¼-inch thickness on a surface dusted with equal parts granulated and confectioners’ sugar. Cut into 2-inch squares, fill on the diagonal with your favorite fruit filling (raspberry and apricot are traditional), and then overlap opposite ends in the center to cover the filling. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar when cooled. These don’t keep as long before getting a little soggy because of the filling, so make them closer to when you want to serve them.
Venetian Layered Cookies. These beautiful cookies are an Italian tradition. They have colored layers separated by a thin layer of jam and are topped with chocolate. Oil three 9x13-inch baking pans with butter or cooking spray, then line with waxed paper. Separate 4 large eggs, putting the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Combine 8 oz almond paste, 1½ cups softened butter, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp almond extract, and the egg yolks, and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 cups all-purpose flour and ¼ tsp salt. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form, then fold into the almond mixture. Divide dough into three 1½-cup portions; color one portion with red food coloring and one with green coloring, stirring until evenly colored. Spread each portion of dough into a separate 9x13-inch pan and bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool thoroughly. Stack the cooled layers in a 9x13-inch pan, starting with green on the bottom, then yellow, then red, spreading a thin layer of apricot jam between each layer. Do not put jam on top of the red layer. Place second 9x13-inch pan on top of cakes and weigh down with bags of sugar or flour. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, melt 1 pound of semisweet chocolate over a double boiler. Spread over cake and allow to cool, then cut into 1-inch squares.