Holiday Cookies

You may remember that I Have the Coolest Brother. Period. Additionally, I know everyone thinks they have the best Mom in the world. But I really do!  😍

**Before I go further, if you know my Mom, please do NOT mention this blog post. I’m going to write a couple “Odes to Mom” and print them to give to her as a Christmas gift this year! Shhhhhh! 🤗**

Everyone who knows my Mom, knows that she is a kind, gentle and sweet soul. Those who are lucky enough to have been in a group or organization with her have benefited from her thoughtful, clever, creative side. A collector of cartoons and articles, she has accented many a church Circle lesson and choir rehearsal with a perfectly selected New Yorker one-framer — clipped long ago and saved, in case an occasion presented itself for use. Recently, while we enjoyed a snack together, she casually quoted one: “You know, the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!”

A lover of language, she weaves carefully-selected words and phrases into her conversation and writing. Often times we kids received witty poems with our birthday cards, or to provide cheer when we were blue. I remember learning the phrase “to gild the lily” when we were traveling together through the Arizona desert and I cleaned my windshield at a gas station with a squeegee, followed by dispensing the car’s wiper fluid and using my windshield wipers as we pulled away from the station. Before we all carried smart phones with their instant access to information, I used to call Mom with any of my questions: “Mom, what’s the difference between an accordion and a concertina?” I called her my “Mom-clopedia” and my “Mom-tionary.”

Endlessly supportive and enthusiastic, I was the lucky recipient of many a gift or lesson, after just the slightest indication of interest. I followed baseball with my father for a little while — and a subscription to Sports Illustrated appeared in my Christmas stocking that year! When I presented an ad for a Wilton cake decorating class, not only did she register me, but bought me a kit of decorating tips and all the introductory tools for success. Her support went well past gifts. When my brother took an interest in computing back in the early 80s, his birthday cake was decorated with the Apple logo that year! Our cakes were always cleverly decorated, many times incorporating puns. For my boat-loving, sport-fishing father whose standard response to the question what do you want for your birthday/Christmas was “A 20-foot Bertram,” I remember her decorating his cake with a toy boat with twenty tiny feet attached to its base. Her support wasn’t only demonstrated with gifts and creations, but also with her compassion. If I were sick, she’d smooth-back the hair from my forehead, with the soothing phrase “poor little lamb.” Beyond gifts, creations and compassion, her love is unconditional and deeply-felt by all of us. Qualifying her to be Best Mom Ever! (hover over the photos below to reveal their captions)

The irony is not lost on me … the classically trained chef … that the recipes I make that people enjoy the most … and are most-often requested … are the ones I inherited from my Mom. During this Christmas season, I thought I’d share my holiday favorites, starting with sweets. This is the first of at least two posts I’ll share with her recipes.

I am transcribing these exactly — points for the use of “blobs” in the directions below:

Applesauce Coffee Cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • cinnamon-sugar

Cream softened butter and sugar. Add eggs and stir well. Add baking powder and salt and stir well. Add flour and stir well. Dough will be very stiff and sticky and form a ball. Cut off 1/3 of the dough ball and set aside. Press remaining dough into a parchment-lined (or greased) 15x10x1″ jellyroll pan. Spread dough with applesauce and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Pinch-off pieces of remaining dough that you set aside, and drop evenly in blobs on top of applesauce until the dough is used up. Sprinkle again with cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares. Freezes beautifully. Serve warm or room temperature. It’s even good warm with ice cream — rather like apple pie.

Notes from me: I serve this as a bar cookie, and I vary the fruit-sauce with whatever I have on-hand. These photos show nectarine and raspberry sauces, from fruits I picked this summer. I find that tart, not overly-sweet fruit sauces, such as those containing sour cherries or rhubarb, get rave reviews in these bar cookies. These actually get better over time, as they soften more each day.

Holiday Spice Cookies — like a glorified oatmeal-raisin cookie

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature & soft
  • 1-3/4 cups brown sugar

Stir together butter and sugar, until just combined — no need to whip air into the mixture.

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add to butter-sugar mixture and stir to combine.

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour

Add oats and flour to butter-sugar-spice mixture and stir to combine.  Separate 2/3 of the mixture out into a parchment-paper-lined (or very well-greased) 9″x13″ baking pan, and press to create an even crust in bottom of pan.

Pour contents of one 1-lb 12oz jar of mincemeat (3 cups) over crust, and spread evenly. In the past I bought Cross & Blackwell brand mincemeat, but now I usually only find Nonesuch brand, which is equally good.

To remaining 1/3 of butter-sugar-spice mixture, add 1/2 cup toasted, chopped nuts (I use toasted pecan pieces).

Crumble the remaining 1/3 of the mixture evenly over the top of the mincemeat.  Press slightly into the fruit compote.

Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Yield: approximately 48 bars. These freeze beautifully, and can be thawed for about 30 seconds in the microwave, and would be very good, slightly heated, with vanilla ice cream on top.

Pecan Pie Bars  I like these so much more than a slice of pecan pie, which is too rich for me. This has a better ratio of filling to crust, in my opinion.

Cookie crust: Line a jelly-roll pan (15″x10″x1″-deep) pan with parchment paper — with generous overhang of paper around all 4 sides of pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks frozen butter that has been grated on the large holes of a cheese grater
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, and use pastry cutter, two knives, or mixer to blend until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Press crumbs evenly and firmly into parchment paper-lined pan. Bake 12 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees for even baking, in case there are hot spots in your oven. Bake another 12 minutes or until golden brown.

While Cookie Crust is baking, make Filling:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups Karo® Light or Dark corn syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-1/2 cups toasted, chopped pecan pieces

Add ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir to combine.

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Add to above, and stir to combine.

Pour Filling over baked Cookie Crust, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 13 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees for even baking, in case there are hot spots in your oven —  and bake another 13 minutes, until filling is firm, lightly browned and even slightly domed in center.

Cool completely. Cut into squares. Yield: approximately 48 bars.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this mini-series which will be my favorite appetizer recipes of hers. ❤️

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