Saturday, December 08, 2007

Meringues & Kolackys

One buttery bite courtesy of Poland, a lighter-than-air morsel of meringue from France and a cakey tidbit for dunking compliments of an Italian grandma. My favorite Christmas cookie memories take me around the world even though in most cases, I never left my loved one’s kitchen.

Multicultural treats characterize my holiday gatherings with family: My Chinese aunt specializes in kolacky, a Polish cookie with a pastry base and a sweet fruit or nut filling. My Swedish grandma always made chocolate chip meringues around Christmas. My husband’s Italian grandma just introduced me to tender homestyle biscotti.

I’m far from home this December, so I decided to replicate some of my favorite holiday desserts. After an intensive weekend in the kitchen, my countertops were coated in flour, my sink full of measuring cups and roughly 10 dozen cookies cooled on wire racks and sheets of wax paper and filled tins and Tupperwares.

My first challenge was to create a meringue cookie like the ones my paternal grandma, Nan, used to make at Christmas time. My dad’s side of the family has gotten smaller and more spread apart over the years, so our family gatherings aren’t as regular as they once were. Nan has since lost her recipe, but I haven’t forgotten the taste or the way bittersweet chips keep the teeth from sinking right through the cookies’ cloud-like texture. I toyed with the ingredients from a meringue recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and borrowed the cooking instructions from a recipe in the December issue of Gourmet magazine to come up with this recipe.

Nan’s Chocolate Chip Meringues

2 egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a medium mixing bowl beat egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop rounded teaspoons of mixture onto cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours or until firm. Turn off oven, wedge door open with the handle of a wooden spoon and allow meringues to cool for an hour. When completely cooled, seal meringues in an airtight container.

While the meringues were slow cooking in the oven, I made the dough for the pastry base of kolacky. My Aunt Susie Wong usually fills them with strawberry or apricot preserves, but as I surveyed the shelves in the baking aisle, I couldn’t resist trying the almond filling.

Vicki Glowaki’s Kolacky

1 cup butter softened

1 package Philadelphia cream cheese 8 oz., softened

1 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 t baking powder

1 can SOLO filling (any flavor)

Confectioner’s sugar

Beat butter, cream cheese, milk and sugar in medium-size bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended. Beat in egg yolk.

Sift flour and baking powder and stir into butter mixture to make a stiff dough. Cover bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to ¼-inch thickness. Cut dough with floured 2-inch cookie cutter.

Place cookies on ungreased baking sheets about 1-inch apart. Make depression in center of cookies with thumb or back of spoon. Spoon a dab of SOLO filling into center of cookie. Pinch together sides of cookie. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from baking sheets and cool completely on wire racks. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar just before serving. Makes about 36 cookies.

This past Thanksgiving my husband ate most of a tin full of thumb-sized soft biscotti that his grandma Giammo added to the dinner table. Grandma G’s neighbor, Rose, who is also an Italian grandma, makes hundreds of these dunkable cookies at a time. I’ve halved her recipe to make it a little more manageable (and to keep my husband’s waistline in check.) These biscotti are nothing like the kind you get at Starbucks. Usually, biscotti are twice baked, making them extra crunchy. Rose’s biscotti will stand up to hot coffee or chocolate, but have the texture of a tender scone. The flavor is also very delicate, owing to the relatively small amount of sugar and zest from fresh lemons.

Rose’s Soft Biscotti

4 eggs beaten

½ cup sugar

pinch salt

zest of 2 lemons

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

3 ½ cups flour

Lemon glaze:

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Blend all the biscotti ingredients together, then work into a soft dough on a floured work surface. If dough seems too sticky, knead in a little more flour. Pinch off a small portion of dough and roll into a ½-inch thick log. Divide log into 1 ½-inch pieces and place on a greased baking sheet. If you like, try creating different shapes with dough, rolling ropes to a thinner width and creating an s-shape or twisting two strands together. Bake until golden, then place biscotti on wire racks to cool.

To make icing, pour confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl. Add lemon just a few drops at a time, stirring until icing is a syrupy consistency. Coat cooled cookies with lemon glaze and then let them dry overnight on waxed paper.

I love to try recipes that have roots in other countries and cultures, but I’ll never turn my nose up at a good recipe for all-American treats like Emily’s Chocolate Chip Cookies and Candy Cane Cookies. When I lived in Asia, I went through American cookie withdrawal. It’s hard to find a good, chewy cookie with real chocolate chips there and even harder to make them without the luxury of an oven. My attempts at using a toaster oven and a microwave to make cookies turned out disastrously! So don’t ever take these American treats for granted.

Emily’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 eggs

1 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup mini chocolate chips

Cream sugar and eggs, then add oil and vanilla extract. In another bowl, sift flour, salt and baking soda. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture. After dough is well blended, fold in chocolate chips. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon teaspoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased airbake cookie sheet. If you don’t have insulated baking sheets, stack two regular cookie sheets. After about 5 minutes, watch cookies vigilantly. Remove cookies when they are just set, but not browned. They will still be slightly raw in the center, but they will stay soft and chewy after they cool.

Candy Cane Cookies

½ cup margarine, softened

½ cup shortening

1 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

1 ½ teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

Mix together margarine, shortening, powdered sugar, egg and extracts in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, sift flour and salt. Mix together dry and wet ingredients to form a soft dough. Separate dough into two equal pieces. Add red food coloring to one ball and green food coloring to the second ball of dough.

Pinch off quarter-sized balls of dough and roll into ropes about 6-inches long. Twist together one green and one red rope and bend into a candy cane shape.

Bake at 375 degrees for seven minutes. Remove cookies briefly to sprinkle with sugar or crushed candy cane, then bake two more minutes.

Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet.

Emily Parrino can be reached at 887-3235 or

No comments: