Most people assume they don't like it, but have they ever tried Mom's? Yes, it does have candied fruit in it; but it also has loads of raisins, dates, pecans, some brown sugar and honey, and a bit of whole wheat flour. Almost healthy enough to eat for breakfast (so, that's what I did once this year) and heavy enough to use for weight lifting. It was wonderful to find out that all of Peter's family liked it, and I can carry on the Holder tradition of making it the weekend after Thanksgiving so that it can "ripen" for the next few weeks. This year both my sister Eva and Peter were on hand to help. The recipe was one my mom and Grandma Tschetter discovered in looking for a good fruitcake recipe in 1966. Mom might have made it every year since then!
Pfeffernüsse, or peppernuts, came down to me from my great grandmother Tschetter. These are not the cookies you find at Aldi's or some specialty shop--spongy, big, fairly flat, and coated in a thin icing. On the contrary. Ours are densely chewy or quite crunchy (depending on bake time), almost spherical, tiny (108 per baking sheet), not coated in anything more than a minimal amount of flour for rolling them out, and quite flavorful. They should be! Cloves, cinnamon, anise, molasses, pecans, butter, etc., mixed up a couple of weeks ahead of time (like the fruitcake) and then baked as needed, a few sheets at a time. This is one cookie dough that I love raw (almost more than I like the baked finished product), and there's plenty of opportunity to sample in the long process of baking them. You see, we Holders eschew almost any shortcuts in this process. We roll the dough into snakes about 1/2" in diameter, then cut every 3/8" or so. Others might pop them straight on the tray as is, but we go one step further and roll each one into a rounder ball with no sharp edges; the one shortcut Eva and I mastered was rolling two at once. Then for the bake WE like, we do six minutes before we trade and rotate the trays for another six minutes of bake time. Serve with milk (hot or cold). Eat like popcorn or peanuts...in quantity.
Date pinwheels are also a recipe handed down from my great grandmother Tschetter. My grandfather loved them. The dough is flour, butter, eggs, brown sugar, and cinnamon; the filling dates and pecans. Those two layers are rolled into a long log, kept in the freezer, and sliced while still frozen into 1/8" rounds for baking. Hopefully, they end up slightly chewy, not as crisp as I got them this last time. Like the peppernuts, good with milk or with coffee. Delicate but flavorful. Someday I want to make just the dough without the filling and see how they work as a sugar cookie. Ones with brown sugar (and cinnamon) may exist, but I've never heard of them!
My mom discovered this shortbread recipe in the late 1960s or early 70s and never had cause to deviate from it. It's the only one of our Christmas desserts that we make in other seasons, and it's as simple a recipe as can be: flour, powdered sugar, and butter. The only trick is having everything at the right temperature so that the dough is thoroughly mixed and also malleable enough to press into the pan but not stick to your hands or form layers. Flakiness after baking is desirable but not before. And remember to pierce all over (in nice patterns) with a fork before baking and to cut into squares IMMEDIATELY after baking while the cookies are still hot. They will not cut cleanly at all if you wait. Good with milk or any hot drink.
our first christmas party
We held our first ever Christmas party on December 9th, the earliest I've ever decorated or baked for Christmas, and invited my in-laws for a long evening of munching and sipping. Crackers left over from our wedding reception, smoked trout and sour cream, dates with cream cheese and pecans, a variety of cheeses (not pictured), the previously described fruitcake and cookies, coffee, mulled wine that Peter concocted, and homemade Austrian Eierlikör (featured in a previous post). Now--late January--to finish off the remaining cookies while they are still reasonably fresh! (The fruitcake will last a while yet, as will the Eierlikör.)