Christmas Cookies

Have I told you that the Sous-Chef moved to Paris?

Well, she did.

It’s been more than four years since we first met in Paziols, and she’s featured on this blog more than half a dozen times. For this installment of “emiglia and the Sous-Chef cook way more things than they could ever possibly eat,” we went for Christmas cookies.

It seemed seasonally appropriate.

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Christmas cookies are a strong childhood memory for both of us. We sought out the recipes that made this time so special through family members, and one Saturday a few weeks ago, after traipsing around the Montmartre Christmas market for a few hours, we got together in my tiny Parisian kitchen, equipped with no more than a toaster oven, and we baked.

lebkuchen and Russian tea cakes
My great-grandmother’s lebkuchen and the Sous-Chef’s Russian tea cakes.
thumbprints and chocolate drops
My grandmother’s thumbprints and the Sous-Chef’s chocolate drops.

We made four cookie recipes — two from each of our families — and a loaf of my mother’s cranberry bread, which I forgot to photograph, because the Country Boy and his friends soon arrived to take care of the several dozen cookies we had just finished baking. If the Sous-Chef hadn’t taken a few batches home with her, I wouldn’t even have pictures of the thumbprints and chocolate drops to share; they were gone in the blink of an eye.

Of course, like proper French guests, they stared at the plate for several minutes without saying anything at all… until I told them they were welcome to cookies, at which point, it became a feeding frenzy. The simple raspberry and apricot thumbprints and the chocolate drops were the first to go; the spiced German lebkuchen with lemon icing have three deterring factors for the Country Boy and his French-tongued friends (lemon, cinnamon and nuts), but that left more for me.

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This was the first Christmas season I spent in Paris not as a student. Instead of the rush of finals and drafts of my thesis, I had the relative calm that comes after our monthly content update at work. Instead of sitting at a desk all evening, I left work at 6 and took advantage of the way that Paris lights up for the holiday.

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Paris doesn’t become the same kind of winter wonderland that New York does in time for Christmas, with carols on every speaker system and lights blinking in every window. But that makes the pieces of Christmas all the more fun to discover. The small market streets string up lights.

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A healthy handful of Christmas markets grace the city.

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And sometimes — not this year, but sometimes — we get a light dusting of snow.

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This year, I put up a tree with blue lights. TCB and I stuck oranges with cloves and made pomander balls. I found a classical radio station that played the kind of Christmas music I like — strictly no “Jingle Bell Rock” — and put TCB’s presents under the tree, though we’ll be having our Christmas celebration later, a day before Epiphany.

This Christmas has become a combination of traditions: some old, some new, some mine, some the Sous-Chef’s and TCB’s and Paris’. One thing is certain: it is definitely beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

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4 eggs
1 lb. Dark brown sugar
½ cup sweet butter
½ cup chopped hazelnuts
2 cups flour
rind of one orange
juice of one orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons baking powder
a few drops of vanilla

lemon icing – lemon juice and confectioners sugar

Mix all ingredients except for icing ingredients. Spread on a buttered jellyroll pan size 11” x 16”. Bake at medium heat 350°F.

Cool completely. Cut into squares. Pour and spread icing.

Jam Thumbprints

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
raspberry and apricot jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Use a wooden spoon to combine the dry ingredients with the butter mixture, stirring until just combined.

Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll between your hands until they become perfect spheres Place about 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with jam.

Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Cool cookies on the baking sheets. Be careful… the jam will be hot!

Chocolate Shot Cookies

1 cup room temperature butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup uncooked quick rolled oats
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
about 1/2 cup chocolate shot (chocolate sprinkles)

Cream butter; add sugar gradually; cream until fluffy.

Add vanilla and flour sifted with soda, and rolled oats. Mix thoroughly.

Shape into logs, wrap, and chill at least 1/2 hour. Coat each log in chocolate shot (or do this when forming logs).

Slice about 3/8″ thick and place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes. These burn fast, too, so watch carefully.

Russian Teacakes
1 cup room temperature butter
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Mix butter, sugar, and vanilla thoroughly. Sift flour and measure, then sift again with salt. Blend into butter mixture. Mix in nuts. Chill dough after forming into a large ball and wrapping in saran.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll dough into 1″ balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet (cookies do not spread while cooking) and bake 10-12 minutes or until set but not brown (check the bottoms–they burn fast). While still warm, roll in conf. sugar. Be careful–they break easily while they’re warm. Cool, then roll in sugar again.


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