by Julia Powers.
For many home cooks, the old adage that food is love rings especially true during the holiday season. Despite the busy schedules and lengthy to-do lists that are often a hallmark of the holidays, many families celebrate the season by preparing dishes that have been lovingly passed down from generation to generation. Through a magical alchemy of sugar, flour, eggs, family lore and tradition, families celebrate by making time-honored delicacies which grace their tables but once a year. Several eSS&SC readers generously shared the stories behind the foods that are an integral part of their holiday celebrations. Join us as we learn why these delicious traditions are so meaningful to them.
Labor of Love: Meet Dorian Greenbaum
Dorian Greenbaum is a reader who celebrates the season by cooking together with her family. And, since her baking projects take anywhere from a few hours to two days to complete, she happily welcomes the help of her daughter and granddaughters. Dorian has been making Venetians, a 3-layer cake-cookie hybrid, since the 1970s, featuring an almond flavored dough sandwiched together with sieved apricot jam and topped with semi-sweet chocolate.
These cookies require multiple steps and, as Dorian says with just a touch of irony, “they are a total pain, and my family adores them!” Starwiches, another family favorite, are star-shaped cookies with currant jelly sandwiched between two layers of almond-flavored dough that is dusted with pearl sugar just before baking. Dorian’s final piece de resistance is the Christmas Wreath, which she first saw in McCall’s magazine. She first braids rich dough with almond filling into the shape of a wreath. On Christmas morning, Dorian rises early to proof the dough and, after baking, drizzles the wreath with powdered sugar glaze and decorates it with candied red and green cherries. Commenting on her labor-intensive confections, Dorian laughs. “I didn’t mean for it to happen. I was just making cookies. But as these things tend to do, at least with me, I got a little bit obsessed.”
No matter how busy or how tired they are, home cooks know that the food they so lovingly prepare is integral to building family memories. Reader, Laura Raposa observes, “It’s what you do to please your loved ones. Disappointing anyone—especially the kids—isn’t an option. These little pleasures make us happy, and we like to make memories for the children.”
Food and the love, memories, and fellowship it conveys, is central to many families’ holiday celebrations. Whether your holiday is enriched with long-standing food traditions or you want to start some new holiday food traditions of your own, hit the kitchen and celebrate the season with gusto!
- ¾ cup almonds
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 12 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 egg whites
- ½ cup sparkling sugar
- 1 cup red currant jelly (Dorian makes her own!)
If almonds still have their brown skins on, bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, then drop the almonds in and simmer 1 minute. Drain and pop each almond out of its skin. Pulverize until fine as dust in a food processor; add ⅓ cup of the sugar and grind a bit more.
Cream the butter with a mixer; add the remaining sugar, almond mixture, salt and extracts, and mix until pale. Work in the flour until cohesive. Divide dough into quarters, and roll each blob out to a 1/8th-inch thickness between squares of wax paper (about an 11-inch circle). Stack and chill for an hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Find a 3-inch star-shaped cutter and a ½-inch star or circle. Working quickly while the dough is cool and firm, haul one sheet of dough out of the fridge and place on the counter. Pull off the top piece of wax paper, then replace it loosely and flip the whole thing over. Zip off that other sheet of paper and cut large stars.
Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet, ½ inch apart, and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until bottoms are pale golden. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to rack to cool thoroughly. Meanwhile, repeat with another dough slab, cutting out the same number of large stars, but then removing their centers with the small cutter. Brush these top-cookies with lightly beaten egg white, and sprinkle with sparkling sugar, tamping it into place. Continue thus, aiming for an even number of sparkly perforated tops and pale golden bottoms. (Mash together, wrap and chill the interstellar trimmings; then reroll and cut for more cookies.)
To assemble, simmer the jelly, stirring, in a small saucepan for 2 minutes, then allow to cool until just warm. Spoon ½ teaspoon jelly onto the centers of the totally cooled cookie bottoms, and gently ease the tops into place. Top up jelly as needed. Store, layered with wax paper in an airtight canister, up to 3 days.
Makes about 60 cookies.
Julia Powers bakes a few holiday treats from her childhood, with her mom’s holly cookies being the hands-down family favorite. These cookies, a throwback to the 1970s, combine butter, green-tinted melted marshmallows, cornflakes, and red-hot candies—nothing fancy, but oh so good!
Article condensed and reprinted from the 2018 holiday edition of edible South Shore & South Shore. Read the full article here.