Holidays = Desserts = Happiness
Meyer Lemon CurdI like to make this throughout the year, whenever I have access to Meyer Lemons. We’re spoiled in Southern California; we have access to really great fresh, local produce, lots of varieties, etc… Meyers are usually available to us in November through May, though the seasons can fluctuate wildly. However, if you’re into canning, as you should be, then you can make this any time of the year and have them handy for gifts.
Brown Sugar-pecan ShortbreadIt's not traditional shortbread, but I've never heard any complaints. I stumbled across this recipe several years back, and it's quickly become one of my go-to cookies at the holidays. It's easy to make, fairly bulletproof, and like I said... no complaints.
Ischl TartletsNo clue where the name came from (most likely Austrian), but this is an old family recipe. Makes a very elegant AND flavorful cookie. It's a multi-staged recipe. The technique isn't difficult, but it requires a bit of effort in terms of cutting all the cookies. The second batch of cookies made from the leftover dough will likely be not as tender as the first batch, but I've never heard anyone complain. And if you think you might have trouble getting the cookies off the tray and onto brown paper or a cooling rack, use parchment - this way you can slide the cookies off the hot tray to cool so they won't overcook from the residual heat.
Meringue CookiesAn excellent way to use up leftover egg whites. These cookies are delicate but extremely flavorful and have a nice, bright appearance. If you've never worked with whipped egg whites before, please see the notes below for some pointers.
PizzellesPizzelles are Christmas. They always have been in my family. They are a traditional Italian recipe - not quite a pastry, not quite a waffle - crispy and mellow with a nice aromatic anise flavor. A recent Pantry discussion led me to post my recipe. A word of note: making pizzelles require a special pizzelle iron. If you have one and you're going to try this recipe, be sure to look at my notes at the end for some clarification.
Earl Grey Chocolate trufflesThese are a surprisingly elegant and complex twist on a standard chocolate truffle, which is arguably a fairly perfect confection in its own right. Earl Grey tea is great here, because it's got hints of citrus that work well with high-quality chocolate.
Peanut Butter BuckeyesThis is my Aunt Bobbi's recipe - far superior to the original version I used to use, not so much for what it adds but for what it leaves out. No add-ons, no trying to make it fancy. It's just pure peanut-buttery goodness. This is the type of confection that's great to have in your repertoire because it's not a cookie, it's not a candy - it's somewhere in between. AND - you may very well be able to whip up a batch right now using what you already have in your pantry.
Church WindowsEasiest recipe ever. Kinda white trash, I’m not gonna lie. But delicious, delicious white trash. This is one of those recipes that seems to have been in my family since the dawn of time, but no one really knows where it came from. Why are they called Church Windows? Once sliced, you have a cross-cut of multi-colored spaces in a dark chocolate “frame” – they look like stained glass windows. It's another confection that adds a little pop of color to a cookie tray that will otherwise mostly be shades of brown.
Gingerbread TrufflesI stumbled across a recipe in Bon Appetit several years back, clipped it, stuck it in a pile, and promptly forgot about it. It got shuffled to the top of a "recipes to try" stack a couple Christmases ago, and IMMEDIATELY earned a place in my go-to repertoire. These things are just straight up fan-friggin’-tastic. They really are like a gingerbread cookie in chocolate bon-bon form. Christmas in a ball. Don’t bother with that final dusting of cocoa powder for this one. Let’s not fancy these up at all.
Peppermint MarshmallowsThis is another newcomer to the DeMartino pantheon of holiday treats. It was only a couple of years' back that I discovered the glory of homemade marshmallows. They aren't simple, but once you get the hang of it, they're not hard, either. And when you show up at a friend's house with a box of these, it's tough to resist the bright, cool aroma of peppermint once you take the lid off. It's like the opposite of Pandora's Box.
Slice CookiesOne of the few true family heirloom recipes. You won't find a simpler cookie than this one - Mix ingredients. Cook. Done. There’s no fussing here – they’re meant to be simple, just a lightly sweet, very aromatic break. Good with milk. Great with tea. Outstanding with coffee. You may be tempted to jazz these up with some whole nuts or raisins or chocolate chips or something. Don’t. These are the cookies that you find yourself going back to again and again, once you’ve had your fill of all those gooey, over-the-top desserts.
Spiced Candied PecansI found this recipe in a cookbook by David Lebovitz and made this one Christmas for my dad. I’ve now taken to making these most Christmases for my dad, who loves nuts. I also give them as gifts to friends and co-workers. I’ll make a triple batch – I like to think that all that stirring is a good workout, which has then burned off enough calories for me to indulge. It’s not true, but I like to think it. You can pick up small food-grade cellophane gift baggies, fill with these nuts, and then tie them closed with ribbon – they make nice party favors or little individual gifts for people you know.
Finger KlatchensThis is one of the oldies - this recipe's been around longer than I have. But it's stood the test of time. It's a simple sugar cookie with a bright pop of color and flavor right in the middle.
Cherry Cheesecake BarsI have absolutely no idea where this recipe came from. I think my mother clipped it off the back of a cream cheese package twenty-some-odd years ago, something like that. Doesn’t matter – it’s decadent. When making up cookie plates, this falls into the “over the top” category. Since many of the cookies that I make for Christmas are delicate or subtle, it’s nice to have something that’s just a giant punch of flavor.
Double-Dip Nut FingersThis is one that my dad's a champion for - he naturally gravitates towards anything that involves nuts. This is yet another simple cookie that is a refreshing break from the "Double Chocolate Blueberry Cheesecake with Cookie Crust and S'mores Topping" desserts that often crowd the holiday treats table. Keep it simple, you'll never go wrong.
Chocolate Walnut SensationsI didn't make up the name. It most likely came from the marketing department of some chocolate company, which is most likely where this recipe came from - its origins are fuzzy. Doesn't matter - I don't care if it was thrown together by some ad guy that was just trying to sell a few more bags of chocolate chips. A good recipe is a good recipe. And this one's good - hearty and chewy, with big chocolate and nut flavor.
Chocolate Layer BarsI love almond extract. I love it even more when combined with chocolate. And it really goes all out when it involves a sweet crumb topping. I'm always amazed at how such a small dose of almond extract can produce such big flavor, but I'm not complaining.
Some of the recipes here are my Italian family heirlooms - simple cookies that squeeze every bit of goodness out of citrus and nuts. Others are more recent additions that I've found over the years and have earned a place on my holiday table. Some are easy as can be, others require a little more time to make. Some of them are elegantly understated, while a few are completely decadent. They are all refreshing changes from the glut of store-bought sugar cookies and candy canes that show up in December. Make a couple for your cookie tray this year and surprise your friends with a little variety. It's the spice of life, they say. And it's most definitely the flavor of Christmas.