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Playground Equipment Blog
Friday, December 14, 2018

From Our Family to Yours: Cookies from Around the World

With the quickly approaching holidays, it seemed an appropriate time to bring in a guest poster to share some of their family traditions on the blog. Family is at the center of the holiday season and all families have their unique ways of celebrating. That's part of the beauty of being a parent. It's an opportunity to form your own traditions that could be based on your culture, other cultures, or even incorporating elements from regions all around the world. This post will guide you in discovering what family traditions create your holiday memories.

In our house, like many midwestern homes, the month of December is all about cookies. One of our biggest holiday traditions, Cookie Sunday, revolves around baking and family, in that order, and we’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Every year, on one Sunday in December, we all gather at Grandma’s house to bake through the morning and late into the evening. Everyone comes together to make more than a thousand treats and when we’re done we assemble our cookie boxes to take or send to family, friends, and neighbors. Year after year the staples remain the same: peanut butter balls (the favorite, last year we rolled over 1000), chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin, Christmas crack, puppy chow, no-bakes, and snickerdoodles, but every year we each bring a new recipe to the table to try our hand.

This year we each chose a holiday cookie recipe from around the world. We thought it would be fun to look up the history behind the recipes, as well as each country’s holiday traditions.

The history of cookies is well documented and originated out of the discovery and trade of sugar. According to historians, the first record of cookies was their use as test cakes, a small amount of batter was baked to test the temperature of the oven. The earliest cookies date back to 7th century Persia A.D. With sugar originating somewhere in Southeast Asia, it then spread along the developing spice trade to Persia. From Persia, cookies and other portable sweet treats spread to Europe with the Muslim conquest of Spain, and along all the major spice trade routes. Sugar is one of the best documented products of the Middle Ages, which means cookies are, too! By the end of the 14th century one could buy cookies and pastries on the streets of Paris and Renaissance cookbooks were filled with countless cookie recipes.

In the present day, there are now hundreds if not thousands of cookie recipes in the United States alone. With the US being a veritable melting pot of cultures, it has been fun and interesting to look through popular cookie recipes and find their origins. This led to my family’s choice this year to choose holiday cookie recipes from other cultures. Many countries have traditions around cookies made during the holidays, just like us. We thought it would be fun to explore the food and culture of other countries and regions by learning about their holiday traditions and the cookies tied to them.

Our list includes recipes from:
Finland, Germany, China, South America, Mexico, the Czech Republic, and Scotland.

Finnish Pinwheel Cookies (Joulutorttu)

*Makes about 24 cookies and 1 cup of preserves

There are lots of different versions of recipes available for this particular treat, but they all incorporate the iconic star shape of the season with a bright fruit-filled center. The recipe posted here is by Elizabeth Stringer-Bake from Scratch Holiday Cookies 2018. The traditional recipe calls for a prune preserve filling, but our recipe has a bright cranberry and ruby port preserves reduction. If you would like to know more about the history of the cookie and its origin, the Curious Cuisiniere has a wonderful article about it.

Cookie Recipe

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup whole milk

  1. In the work bowl of a food processor, place flour, cold butter, and salt; pulse until mixture is crumble. Add ricotta cheese and whole milk and pulse until the dough comes together. Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line 3 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Working with one dough disk at a time, roll dough to ⅛ inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a 3-inch square cutter, cut dough, and place on prepared baking sheets. On each square make 4 (1-inch) cuts at the corners diagonally toward the center. Place 1 teaspoon of the fruit filling in the center of each dough square. Fold every other tip over toward the center, forming a pinwheel. Dab the ends of the tips with water to help adhere and prevent separation in the oven.
  4. Bake until the edges are barely golden brown, 11-12 minutes. Let cool on pans. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

Cranberry Port Preserves

  • 2 cups frozen cranberries, thawed
  • ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup ruby port wine

In a medium saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat. Mash cranberries, and reduce heat to low; simmer for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and let cool completely. Refrigerate any leftover cranberry preserves for up to 2 weeks. (Leftover hot preserves can be transferred to sterilized jars, water bath processed for 10 minutes, and stored for up to 6 months.

German Almond Crescent Cookies

*makes about 24

This crumbly, almond-scented cookie is not just a Christmas classic, but a staple in the Austrian and Germanic areas. The simple shape and size of the cookie makes it the perfect compliment for tea, coffee, or even a glass of milk. A slight variation of these is the vanillakipferl, which is the Austrian vanilla crescent cookie. For a this Austrian version of the recipe, check out The Daring Gourmet which also has wonderful pictures of Austria as well.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • ¾ cup confectioners sugar
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat all-purpose flour, cold butter, confectioner’s sugar, almond flour, and salt at medium-low speed until a crumbly dough forms, 3-4 minutes. (Mixture will start out dry, but will come together.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Divide dough into 24 balls. Roll dough balls into 4 ½ inch logs with tapered ends, and bend each one into a crescent shape. Place about 1 inch apart on prepared pans.
  4. Bake, one batch at a time, until the edges are just beginning to turn golden, not brown. 12-15 minutes. Sift confectioners sugar over hot cookies. Let cool completely and dust with confectioners sugar again. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Traditional Chinese Almond Cookies

*makes about 5 dozen

The Chinese, Korean, and Japanese areas are not often recognized for their cookies and other sweet desserts. Typically, that part of the world, is noted for the delicate balance of sweetness which allows them to explore textures that are rarely seen in Western cuisine. This recipe shines line on a cookie that could pass as a Western style cookie. China Sichuan Food has created a wonderful recipe that showcases the individual steps needed to create these simply delightful treats!

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup sliced raw almonds
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon water

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and almond extract.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and mix well.
  3. Preheat oven to 325° F.
  4. Add the dry ingredient mixtures to the cream mixture gradually until the dough forms.
  5. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten with a fork, sprinkle with almonds.
  6. In a small bowl, beat egg white with water. Brush over cookies.
  7. Bake cookies for 14-16 minutes or until edges and bottoms are lightly golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes on pan, before removing to wire racks.

Latin American Alfajores or Dulce de Leche Cookies

*makes about 3 dozen 2 inch cookie sandwiches

The Latin American Alfajores aren't contained to a specific country in South America, because historically they were brought overseas when the Spaniards first came. However, time has changed them to become their current form.

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ⅛ cups cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar*
  • 1-2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, optional
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 350g (12oz) dulche de leche, for filling
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, for rolling

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract and egg yolks just until combined. Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.
  3. Form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until firm enough to roll.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for five minutes. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to a ⅛ or ¼ inch thickness. Cut out into rounds using a 2-inch fluted or round cookie cutter.
  6. Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place baking sheets with cookies in the freezer or fridge for at least 15 minutes, or until firm, so that they will be less prone to spread.
  7. Bake cookies for 7-10 minutes, until the cookies appear golden around the edges. Allow them to cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then gently transfer to wire rack for cooling.
  8. Spread the bottom half of the cookies with dulce de leche, about one teaspoon each. Sandwich together with remaining cookies pressing lightly so that the caramel oozes out the sized. Roll the sides in coconut.
  9. Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week, or freeze for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave on the counter overnight.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

*makes 2 dozen

Featured in a New York Times article about traditional Christmas cookies in 1990, it has become one of the most popular versions of this recipe and we make it every Christmas at our house. Sometimes called Mexican wedding cakes, polvorones or Russian tea cakes, these are dead-simple to make and addictive to eat. This recipe is done entirely in a food processor so you can clean-up in minutes and get on to the most important task..devouring these cookies.

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • 2 ½ cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • A pinch of salt

  1. Put pecans, 1 cup of the sugar and the pinch of salt in the food processor and blend until nuts are ground finely. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and add it to nut mixture with processor running.
  2. Scrape dough into a bowl. Cover tightly and refrigerate one hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  4. Scoop dough balls with tablespoon and form 1-inch balls by rolling dough between palms (lightly flour hands, if necessary). Place balls 1 ½ inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  5. Bake 15 minutes or until cookies barely begin to brown. Cool for 2 minutes. Use small spatula to lift cookies from sheets. Roll the cookies in remaining sugar.

Czech Gingerbread Cookies, Pernik Na Figurky

This recipe for Czech gingerbread cookies or Pernik Na Figurky, is popular at Christmas time when they become a part of Vanonci Cukrovi or Christmas treats. There are quite a few ginger flavored Christmas treats out there. Ginger snaps is another one of them. MyRecipes does a great job explaining the differences between these two Christmas favorites.

  • 2 ⅓ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups refined sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons honey (warm)
  • 2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, spices and baking soda until thoroughly mixed. Add honey, eggs, rum and zest and form a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 325° F. Between two pieces of parchment paper, roll dough to ⅛ inch-¼ inch thickness. Remove top parchment paper and cut out various shapes of your choice, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Remove scraps.
  3. Lift parchment paper by opposite corners and place on a sheet pan. Bake 15-20 minutes or until light golden at the edges. Cool completely on the pan before removing to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough and scraps.
  4. When the cookies are completely cool, decorate with icing if desired. Let icing harden before storing in an airtight container with parchment paper between the layers.

Traditional Scottish Shortbread

*makes 12 servings

Enjoy this delicious Scottish Shortbread recipe. Shortbread is the most popular cookie eaten traditionally around the Holidays as an essential part of the the traditional Scottish New Year. The success of shortbread is to handle the dough with care and as little as possible. Do not pound or knead heavily and make sure the dishes you use and your hands are cold. The resulting treat will be light and crumbly with a buttery taste.

  • 8 oz butter
  • ½ cup superfine sugar, and a little extra for dusting
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 ½ oz cornstarch
  • 1 tiny pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
  2. In a large bowl cream together butter, salt and sugar until light and fluffy and pale in color. This can take up to 10 minutes. Use an electric or stand mixer.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour and cornstarch. Do not overmix as you will risk the danger of making the shortbread too warm.
  4. Tip the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead lightly and quickly to form a loose dough.
  5. Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper to ¼ inch thickness. Prick the surface all over with a fork. Cut into desired shape or rounds.
  6. Place the Scottish shortbreads on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until pale golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle the warm shortbreads with superfine sugar and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. Store in an airtight container.

What are some of your family's favorite cookies? Please tell us in the comments below.

Written by: Erin Brown

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