The sweet smell of the holidays

No matter what your religion, odds are that when you think of the winter holidays, you remember warmth and good smells, hopefully positive memories of family and friends. And while the holidays can get hectic, it’s good to take some time to continue those traditions. We asked some local bakers for their holiday memories and they shared some great recipes for holiday cookies and desserts.

The Cooking Cottage is located down a small country lane in Sellersville and is as quaint and cozy as it sounds. Peggi Claus has been offering cooking classes there for 22 years. One of her most popular classes is “Christmas Cookies.” “Many people don’t have the time to do a lot of holiday baking,” she explains, “but they still yearn for the smells and tastes, all those memories from their childhood.” The class is so popular she offers it four times in December, as well as a “Christmas Tea” class. The cookie class starts in her home kitchen, across the lane from the cottage, which is bigger and can accommodate the number of recipes covered. The class moves over to the cottage for lunch or dinner, which is included in the class fee. You’ll also go home with a tin of assorted cookies. The class covers baking Holiday Snow Bars (see below), Christmas Hazelnut‐Fig Biscotti, Pistachio White Chocolate Chippers, Chocolate Butterfinger Truffles, Peanut Butter‐Toffee Turtle Cookies, and Southern Chocolate‐Bourbon‐Pecan Tassies. It’s a great way to pick up a new holiday favorite, or just enjoy the end result (with someone else doing the work!) Here’s the recipe for the very popular Holiday Snow Bars. Peggi says they’re easy to make and delicious, and they look great for entertaining or giving.

Snow Bars

½ cup butter
1 12-oz package white chocolate chips, divided
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp almond extract
½ cup raspberry jam
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup of the white chocolate chips. Do not stir, but allow to stand a few minutes to melt.

Beat eggs until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating at high speed until lemon-colored. Stir in the white chocolate mixture. Add flour, salt and almond extract. Mix at low speed until combined. Spread about 1 cup batter into pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Stir in remaining 1 cup vanilla milk chips into remaining half of batter. Set aside.

Melt the jam in a small saucepan over low heat. Spread evenly over warm, partially baked crust. Spoon teaspoonfuls of remaining batter over jam and ease together to create top layer. It is okay if some jam shows through.

Return to oven and bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool and cut into bars.

Dust with powdered sugar.

Roseann Burns and her husband, Kerry, own the Town Crier Bakery in Peddler’s Village. Remember the neighborhood bakery you grew up with? That’s Town Crier. You can find all types of baked goods from sticky buns to cannoli to cupcakes to beautiful wedding cakes. Kerry is the baker, and learned by the side of traditional German bakers. “They were tough guys,” says Kerry. “There was always some additional ingredient or trick that they never included in the official recipe book. It wasn’t until they trusted you that they gave their secrets.” Roseann was born in Italy and came to the United States as a child. Her memories are of Italian baking, like biscotti. “I’ve had this recipe for 25 years,” she says, “And now I’m finally able to use it at my own shop.” Make a batch and you’ll have enough to give as presents.

Roseann’s Biscotti

2 lbs. sugar
8 oz. butter
1 oz. flavoring (anise, vanilla)
12 oz. eggs (7 -8 eggs)
3 lbs., 6 oz. flour
3 oz. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil.

In large mixing bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a medium bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Alternately add dry ingredients and flavoring to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Drop dough by spoonfulls onto prepared sheet, forming two 2 x 13-inch long strips on each sheet. Smooth dough into logs with moistened fingertips.

Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Place cookie sheets on racks and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Cut cooled logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Place slices on cookie sheets.

Bake for about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes, until dry and slightly brown. Remove to a rack and cool.

Felix Papadakis grew up in a big Greek family. “It’s just like the movie,” he laughs, and reminisces about lamb grilling on a spit in the backyard. Today Felix goes all out in his Newtown and Buckingham bakeries, Felix’s Caketeria, where he makes exquisite wedding and specialty cakes, cupcakes, cookies, cheesecakes and Philadelphia-style butter cakes.

He remembers his mother making a very popular cookie called a Mexican Wedding Cookie for the holidays. “It’s basically a walnut almond shortbread cookie, rolled in powdered or cinnamon sugar,” he explains. Even today you can find it in the bakery at holiday time.

Walnut Shortbread Cookies

1 pound unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups of all purpose flour
¾ cup toasted walnuts, cooled and chopped until finely chopped
Additional confectioner’s sugar for coating after cookies are baked

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until well combined. Add flour, vanilla and walnuts, mixing to combine. Chill dough slightly and then scoop out into 1 tablespoon balls. Place on parchment lined sheet and baked at 350 until just slightly brown. Remove from oven and let stand until cookies are slightly warm to the touch. Toss in confectioner’s sugar to finish.

Notes: To toast walnuts, place in a 325 oven for about 8 to 10 minutes until fragrant. Let cool, and chop in processor until fine.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of Bucks Life magazine.

- Advertisement -