Special Christmas cookies come in many shapes, sizes and flavours, and for the most part are certainly not original to Canada. Many recipes have come down family lines from ancestors who immigrated to Canada generations ago.
I’ve read countless stories of families fleeing from terror, wars, starvation and other horrific conditions with little more than the clothes on their backs, but still, the women found a way to bring their recipes with them to help the family start over in a distant land. My mother-in-law’s parents were just a few of the thousands who immigrated early in the 20th century looking for a better life, and because of them, three generations are still enjoying special dishes originating in central Europe.
Now that Great-Grandma lives in complex care and remembers so little, I’m going to bake up her old Christmas favourites and take a huge box over to her; who knows, it may trigger some fond memories from her past or bring a smile to her face.
Christmas Chocolate Chip Cake
1-2/3 cups all purpose flour, unbleached
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup safflower oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 8-inch square metal cake pan with canola oil cooking spray.
In large bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, ginger and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together molasses and boiling water; whisk in yogurt and oil. Whisk in egg. Stir molasses mixture into dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in centre of oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake is done (a cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean). Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack to cool completely.
Cut into 16 squares. If desired, serve dusted with sifted icing sugar. Tip: For an easy icing, sprinkle an extra 1/2 cup chocolate chips over cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let stand for 5 minutes, then spread with a knife over cake’s surface.
(Austrian Christmas cookie)
3/4 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups white whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting
7 1/2 ounces (1 stick plus 7 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons juice and 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup apricot jam
Pulse almonds and sugar in a food processor until the texture of coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl. Pulse flour and butter in food processor until the consistency of coarse meal. Add egg yolks and lemon juice; pulse. Add almond mixture and lemon zest and pulse until dough comes together.
Remove from processor and knead once or twice to combine. Pat into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/4-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut rounds and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown on edges, about 18 minutes. Let cool.
While cookies are baking, bring cream to a boil and pour over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes; stir until smooth. Let cool. Whisk until thick. Spread 1 teaspoon jam onto one cookie, then sandwich with a second cookie. Spread with a bit of the chocolate ganache on top. Chill before serving.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.