The Spice Necklace Blog

Ann's Blog

Trinidad and Toronto:
December 24, 2012:
Saying it with cookies:
Happy Holidays!

My mom, Rita (who passed away 5+ years ago), was a wonderful baker. Though she was known for her cheesecakes, rugelach, and pies (especially apple, pumpkin, and pecan), she really shined at Christmas. You counted yourself blessed if Rita gifted you a tin of her cookies. Better still, Mom always let me and my brother assist with the baking – even in our younger years when we were more hindrance than help. We decorated the wreaths, trees, and Santas that she spritzed out from her cookie press (sometimes we even got to work the press!); rolled her delicate Butter Balls in granulated sugar that we had tinted green, red, and blue with food coloring; and flurried her Greek Cookies with confectioner’s sugar.

She always made biscotti, too, with a recipe from an Italian friend. This was before fancy-schmancy, chocolate-dipped, lemon-iced, multi-flavored coffee-bar-type biscotti became popular. Mom’s were comparatively plain: anise-flavored, with toasted hazelnuts and – gasp – candied cherries. Oh, yeah, and some colored candy sprinkles on top.

Receta’s cookie tray, the 2012 release

Even though they were the antithesis of the 1950s North American gold-standard Christmas cookie, I loved those crisp, double-baked, not overly sweet biscotti. But the “Greek Cookies” – a variant of the Greek shortbreads called kourambiethes – were my childhood favorite. (For the record, there’s no Greek ancestry anywhere on our family tree, and Mom told us she didn’t know how they got their name.) A simple combo of sweet butter, a small amount of confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, flour, and lots of chopped pecans, they were so rich that Mom always baked them on brown-paper-lined cookie sheets and cooled them on more brown paper to absorb the excess butterfat.

The Greek Cookies (at 11 o'clock), Spritz Cookies (1 o'clock), and Toll-House Squares (4 o'clock) were regulars in Mom's repertoire. The Chocolate-Crammed Christmas Cookies (12 o'clock), Ginger Spice Cookies (9 o'clock), and Lime Squares (centre) are my own (recipes are in The Spice Necklace). Steve baked the sailboat-shaped shortbreads (his favorite childhood Christmas cookie).

I made these cookies twice this season, excess butterfat and all – first on Receta in Trinidad, where Christmas cookies have become part of our cruising holiday tradition, and then again yesterday, in Toronto. We’ve come north unexpectedly because of yet another death in the family this sad year: of Steve’s dad’s second wife, Joan. Since traditional cookies are comfort food, another batch of these was called for.

Below is Mom’s recipe for Greek Cookies. Make them post-Christmas, and enjoy them with a cup of coffee on leisurely mornings between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

We hope your holiday season is merry and bright, and that the New Year brings all of us health and happiness, peace and prosperity.

Mom’s Greek Cookies
Typed on Mom’s old manual typewriter, the slip of paper with the recipe says it came from “Joyce McManus.” I don’t know who she was (an old friend from Mom’s working days at the Prudential Insurance Company? a former neighbor?), but I apologize to her and her descendants for thinking of this recipe as Mom’s. After all, its style is pure Rita: a series of parentheticals without which the recipe would be impossible to follow. I’ve given the original recipe verbatim — with only one new parenthetical of my own, to keep you from burning the cookies.

In my memory, Mom used pecans only. Never walnuts. In place of the brown paper – paper bags being less ubiquitous today – I use baking parchment. Mom didn’t include a yield – almost none of her recipes do – but figure you’ll get about 4 dozen cookies.

½ lb sweet butter

¾ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 cup pecans or walnuts

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups sifted flour

Cream sugar and butter (15 minutes). Add vanilla, then flour, mix well. Then fold in nuts. Bake 375˚ until lightly brown on the edges. (Mom’s recipe said about 35 minutes – but in both my land and floating ovens, mine take only 15–20 minutes, max.) While warm, roll in conf. sugar. (Bake on cookie sheet lined with brown paper.) (Form by taking small pieces and rolling them between the palms, then form into a crescent.)

Melt-in-your-mouth: Mom's Greek Cookies

Back to top

Sign up to be notified by email when I post a new blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code

HTML tags are not allowed.