When it comes to the holidays in Florida, the only “white Christmas” you’ll find is on our sandy beaches. Creating holiday cheer in the Sunshine State takes a little effort – from lights on palm trees to tinsel draped evergreens, to catching a glimpse of Santa decked out in red swim trunks. Most Floridians can’t imagine it any other way.
Besides, we all know that true holiday spirit comes from the precious moments we share with our loved ones, like catching up with a sister over a cup of tea, or gathering for a feast with the extended family. For me, these are the important connections that make this time of year so special. And for me, they are intertwined with food and traditions passed down through generations.
I caught the baking bug as a tot, and happily assumed the role of cookie-maker when my grandmother passed on the torch. As a kid, it seemed like she would make dozens of varieties, such as snowballs, sugar cookies, and nut horns — an old-world delicacy featuring fresh walnut filling wrapped in a rich, flaky crust. Chocolate gingerbread, forgottens, and peppermint crackles are a few new favorites I’ve added into the rotation, and I know she’d be proud of my spread. In this season of giving, I’ve decided to share some of our family’s favorite cookie recipes, old and new.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 cup pecans not toasted or salted
- Preheat oven to 350. On a rimmed baking sheet, toast pecans for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cool, grind them finely in a food processor. Be careful not to over grind, or else you will have pecan-butter instead of finely ground pecans.
- In a stand mixer, beat ½ cup of powder sugar with the butter until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl and beat again, adding the vanilla.
- Combine the flour, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add it to the mixer and beat just until combined, scrape then beat again for a few seconds. Add in the ground pecans and mix until fully incorporated, being careful not to over mix.
- Divide the dough in half and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Pinch off walnut sized pieces of dough, roll gently into balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet 1-inch apart. Bake for 18 minutes.
- Place the remaining powdered sugar in a bowl. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the pan for 4 or 5 minutes. While still warm, carefully roll them in the powdered sugar and place on a rack to finish cooling. Cookies will keep, tightly sealed, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
My Favorite Gingerbread Cookies
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 cup good quality bittersweet chocolate chunks or large chips
- Sift the dry ingredients together (flour through baking soda) and whisk to ensure even distribution.
- In a stand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together using the paddle attachment 4-5 minutes. Add the grated ginger and molasses. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and beat again.
- Add the flour and mix on slow speed until just incorporated. Scrape the bowl again and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips Remove to a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten into a 1 inch disc, wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. (At this point you can freeze the dough as well. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before proceeding).
- Preheat the oven to 325. Form the cookies into 1 ½ inch balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet two inches apart. Refrigerate while you form the rest of the cookies.
- Bake for 12 minutes, until they are cracked on the top. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Cookies stay good, stored at room temperature, for up to a week.
Tips & Tricks
- 2 egg whites
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips
- ½ cup hazelnuts
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon optional
- Preheat oven to 350. Toast hazelnuts for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, rub the loose skins off. Coarsely chop and set aside.
- In a stand mixer or using hand-held beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gradually add the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla and cinnamon, then stir in the hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
- Drop by teaspoons onto parchment lined baking sheets. Place in the 350 degree oven, then turn the oven off and don’t open until it is cold.
- Store in a sealed container for up to a week.
Grandma’s Nut Horns
- 3 cups flour
- 1 ¾ cups sugar divided use
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- ½ pound butter 2 sticks, cut into small pieces
- 1 package dried yeast
- 3 eggs separated
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract divided use
- ¼ cup warm water
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 pound nuts we always use walnuts
- Make your nut mixture. Preheat oven to 300. Lay the walnuts out on a baking sheet and toast for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, grind them in a food processor. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add in the nuts, 1 ½ cups sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
- Wipe out the food processor and add the flour, ¼ cup sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse again until the butter is in small, pea sized pieces.
- Stir the yeast and the warm water together in a small bowl.
- Beat egg yolks and add the milk and vanilla to them. Stir into the yeast, then add it all to the flour mixture. Pulse until the dough comes together, then turn it out and knead until smooth. If it is sticky, add a bit more flour. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Divide the dough into 8 balls. Working with one at a time, roll it out into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. Cut it in half, then cut each half into 6 wedges, for a total of 12 triangle shaped pieces. Spread the nut mixture on the fat end of each piece. Roll it up, starting at the fat end, and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate until you have formed the other cookies.
- Heat the oven to 350. Once the cookies are all formed, bake for 10 minutes, rotating the pans half way through to ensure even cooking. They should be slightly browned. Remove and let cool on racks. Repeat with remaining cookies. Store at room temperature for up to a week, or freeze for a month.