Yesterday we celebrated Sinterklaas’s birthday, ate way too many pepernoten and speculaas and sang all the Sinterklaas songs. It turned out I know the lyrics of some of the songs better than my Dutch relatives, which I think should entitle me to an honorary Dutch citizenship.
Judging by my presents, it seems I’d been particularly good this past year. (Sinterklaas keeps score of our behavior in his huge red book and many years ago my daughter asked for this book as a present and (surprise!) did not get it). This is what I got this year: organic extra virgin olive oil from Liguria, Weleda handcream citrus & pomegranate (my favorite brand of natural cosmetics), artisan pasta from Naples and a book that I’ve been wanting since it came out but that was sold out around my birthday: Vegetable Literacy. Deborah Madison who elevated vegetarian cooking to culinary heights, is one of my heroes and I can’t wait to cook from her newest book.
But since today Sinterklaas set sail for his home in Spain, we can wave him good-bye and turn our thoughts to Christmas. Because baking Christmas cookies has been a hobby of mine since I was in about sixth grade, I bake many every year. Mainly I bake cookies because I enjoy the process and also because I think that a parcel with a variety homemade christmas cookies is the best thing to give to friends.
There are already quite a few recipes in my archives, so I thought I would kickstart the Christmas-cookies-baking-season with an overview of the recipes. Some of them are traditional family recipes, some of them more recent additions to my repertoire, but all are delicious – and pretty! Let’s not forget pretty, because in Christmas cookies, looks do count.
Linzer cookies – a classic that is best not messed with. My father’s and my daughter’s all time favorite cookies – Esther even baked them in the middle of the summer this year because she couldn’t wait.Snowflake cookies – these are as christmassy looking cookies as you can get. With ground almonds and lemon zest in the dough and a lemon glaze on top, they also taste great. I make them around the same time as the gingerbread cookies, so that I can use one batch of icing to ice both.
Star tower cookies – I started making these two years ago upon a request from my husband and they have become one of my favorites. The dough is spiced with mace (such a great, underused spice!) and coffee and sandwiched together with a firm ganache with more spices (cinnamon, cloves and cardamom). They look like miniature snow-dusted Christmas trees.
Crispy cane cookies – there are oats in these cookies – oats that are first caramelized in sugar. That’s what makes the cookies crunchy. They are also fun to shape, a break from the rolling out of dough most cookie recipes require. Also, they’re dipped in chocolate (always a good thing).
Peanut butter and mocha checkerboards – coffee and peanut butter are my husband’s favorite food groups so this pretty cookie was catering to his preferences. But I’m sure there are more people who will appreciate this flavor combination, especially when it comes in a pretty parcel with a chocolate ribbon.
Chcocolate pretzel cookies – a recipe I found in my grandma’s Christmas cookbook and one I like for the intense chocolate taste and the pretty shape.
Cranberry walnut biscotti – the dough is made with butter so these don’t need to be dipped in coffee first like the rock-hard Italian version of biscotti. Studded with walnuts and dried cranberries and spiced with cinnamon and ginger and with a dash of brandy for good measure.
And finally: Parmesan poppy biscuits (above right) – for those of you who prefer cheesy biscuits to sugary cookies.