Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Re-Post Baking Christmas Cookies ~ A Tradition In My Family

Traditionally the Christmas Cookie was the cut out sugar cookie in shapes that resemble items that remind us of Christmas. Ever since the nine-teen thirties children in the USA have been leaving cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve.

However, baking Christmas Cookies is not necessarily a female tradition; it is a predominately female tradition. In keeping with that idea it is easy to understand how we ended up with a huge variety of recipes for cookies that are baked for Christmas. Since the United States is the melting pot of many nationalities, it is inevitable that recipes from other nations were added to the mix.

Somewhere along the time line of baking cookies for Christmas, someone decided that they would make a great Christmas gift to be enjoyed by the whole family. Many attractively decorated tins popped up in the super markets, some may even had been sold containing mass produced commercialized versions of our favorite home baked cookies.  I love to re-use tins that I have either bought or had given to me.  Recently, I received a huge box of tins that were lovingly used by one of Alpha's best bakers, Yolanda Savary. 

My Uncle Dick's wife our Aunt Jenny is of Hungarian decent and was known for her Kieflies. She called them Kieflies, but many Germans call them Kiffels. In her recipe she used yeast and sour cream, and this was the recipe our mother used for many years.

Then in 1978, we were introduced to our neighbor Andy "Gumps" Penyak's sister Anna "Anky" Moyer who was of Russian decent. She gave us the recipe for Kiffels made with cream cheese, which is much simpler than the one with yeast and sour cream.

One Christmas I gave a tin of my cookies to Aunt Jenny and Uncle Dick, and she asked for my recipe for the Kiffel with cream cheese. It was my understanding that from that time onward she used the cream cheese recipe. I think that the cookie comes lighter, more flaky, and richer with cream cheese.

I had previously been known in my circle of friends as the person who makes wedding cakes. My dear friend Georgia called me to make her brother Jimmy's wedding cake. At their wedding reception I was introduced to Mrs. Georgia Kustopias Crouse's delicious, melt in your mouth Greek Crescent Cookies.

When I was about eighteen my cousin Paula Jessamine "DiRisio" made tons, and tons of Christmas cookies for her family on their farm in Karrville, NJ. One of my favorites of Paula's cookies was her powdered sugared pecan sandy balls that looked like a snow ball. They too would just melt in your mouth. The recipes were quite similar to the Greek Crescent Cookies so I incorporated the two. I separate the Greek cookie dough into two parts, and add pecans to one part for the "snow balls".

Three years ago my daughter Jennifer gave me a Christmas Cookie book. In the book was a recipe for "Mice Cookies", they were so adorable looking and so easy to make that my grandchildren helped me make them. They are now a whimsical addition to the many cookies our family enjoys each Christmas season.

There was a day many years ago when I made thousands of cookies and gave them as gifts. Well, those days have hit the skids for me. Physically I am not able to bake so many cookies, and the cost of ingredients have sky rocketed since the seventies and eighties.

I now wrangle the help of the granddaughters and even the grandsons if they would like to learn how to bake. My father was an excellent baker and candy maker. His cream puffs, Danish, and bread were scrumptious. My friend Georgia would take them to her Aunt's former restaurant in Easton to be sold at the counter. He also tried his hand at making homemade sauerkraut, horse radish, and pickles. So as to not leave the gentlemen out of this tradition of baking Christmas cookies, I think that I should see if Jacob and Gabriel would like to try their hand at baking.

As to not make this blog any longer, I will now add my first Christmas cookie recipe, and will post the rest of them next week.

I think if I took a poll in our family the Kiffel would win the first choice of the cookies I bake. Therefore it will be my first recipe:


4 c. flour "You may need more if dough seems too wet."

1 lb. butter

1 lb. cream cheese

Mix well. Divide into about 4 large round balls. Refrigerate overnight; however, if there is not enough time to refrigerate overnight, the dough may be worked immediately after mixing. Roll dough in powdered sugar/flour mixture into a large round circle to about 1/4 inch in thickness. or on parchment paper. Cut 5 inch squares with a pizza cutter or crimper. Fill with apricot, lekvar, etc. (many fillings can be store bought at the deli section). Don't be afraid to fill. You may make them smaller if you want. I have also used a pastry bag to put the filling on the dough. Fold sides inward to pinch and seal in the filling. Bake at 350 degrees starting at 13 minutes and watching until kiffels are golden on the surface. (This time will vary on the size of the kiffels. 5 inch kiffels with filling will turn out somewhat large.) Use cookie tray. Remove when hot. 1 batch makes about 5 1/2 dozen kiffels. These freeze very well.

2 c. ground walnuts 12 tbsp. condensed milk 8 tbsp. sugar My mother added black walnut flavoring, which is hard to find, but really enhances the flavor.*

LEKVAR FILLING: Lekvar is sold in the jelly section of the grocery store, it is prune filling, and my personal favorite. Back in the day I would purchase Lekvar in a white paper dish, wrapped in the white meat wrapping paper, at the meat counter in Alpha's well known, Central Super Market, which also sold black walnut flavoring, and the little silver balls that Mom used for the eyes on her Mirror Cookie Press Peanut Butter Camel.  The Pados family and their Central Super Market are surely missed by everyone in Alpha.

APRICOT FILLING: I use Apricot Jam that I get at Aldis, and would also be found in the jelly section at any grocery store.

*After the nut filled kiffels are cool, I place them in a zip lock bag with some powdered sugar, lightly shake, and remove from bag.

If you happen to be too busy to bake and live in the Lehigh Valley, you may want to take a trip to the Kiffel Kitchen on Route 512 in Moore Township north of Bath, south of Wind Gap. They also ship! Here is a link to their website: The Kiffel Kitchen   I have had their kiffels, nut cups, and cream cheese brownie cups and they are delicious. The store is really nice too, and they sell country craft gift items, and play Jimmy Durante background music, definitely worth the trip.


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