MUSKOKA - Ladies (and gentlemen), start your ovens. With Thanksgiving over, it’s time to think about Christmas baking.
Last year, the treats I baked for Christmas all had an international flair. I was revisiting some old favourites, pizzelle and Russian tea cakes, and discovering some new to me goodies. Some of them will be added to the usual Christmas line up for this year, too.
Here are some recipes for treats from other countries that may become Christmas traditions at your house.
I first learned about pizzelle when I lived in Sault Ste Marie with a family that always spent a Saturday before Christmas making the big crispy anise-flavoured cookies. It didn’t matter that this family wasn’t Italian. If you live in Sault Ste Marie, you know someone who is Italian, who shares their pizzelle recipe and no matter what your heritage, the cookies very quickly become a Christmas tradition at your house, too.
Pizzelle makers, very much like waffle makers but not as deep, are available either electric or that need to be heated over the stove. You may need to do a bit of searching to find one. This is half the original recipe that was shared with me in Sault Ste Marie.
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup oil
1/3 cup anisette liqueur
2 cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground anise seed
shake or two of salt
Beat the eggs well; add the sugar gradually and continue to beat. Add the oil and flavouring and beat until smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, ground anise seed and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, a little at a time, mixing well.
Chill the dough at least two hours or overnight.
To cook, follow the directions that come with your pizzelle maker. In a pinch, you can use your waffle maker and use less batter than you would for waffles.
Makes two dozen pizzelle. They freeze well.
In the southern hemisphere, Christmas happens in the middle of summer, but Australians still manage to have White Christmas. An email pal passed along this recipe. When I tried it, I used dried cranberries instead of currants. Lovely.
2 cups Rice Krispies
1/3 cup chopped glacéed cherries
¼ cup currants
1/3 cup sliced almonds
10 squares white chocolate, melted
1/4 cup soft butter
Line a nine-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper and grease the paper. Set aside.
Combine Rice Krispies, cherries, currants and almonds. Set aside.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave oven on medium power for 1 ½ minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in the butter. Return to the microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir well to combine the chocolate and butter. Or melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water.
Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry ingredients and quickly mix to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and pat down with your hands. Let it cool until set and cut into fingers.
There are many dozens of recipes for the German Pfeffernuesse — also known as Peppernuts. I found this version in a delightful cookbook called Mennonite Girls Can Cook by Lovella Schellenberg, et al. (Herald Press, Waterloo; 2011)
The first time I made them, I followed this recipe exactly. The second time, I doubled the amounts of all the spices. Both versions are good; how much you use will depend on how much spice you like.
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup golden or corn syrup
½ cup buttermilk
2 tsp baking soda
5 cups flour
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground anise
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Cream butter and brown sugar; add eggs and mix well. Add syrup and buttermilk to which the baking soda has been added.
In another bowl, mix 4 ½ cups flour and all the spices. Add to the butter mixture and mix well. Add another cup of flour and mix until you have a soft, pliable dough.
Refrigerate dough until well chilled (I left it in the fridge for at least two hours). When chilled, break off chunks of the batter and form into half-inch thick ropes. Place the ropes on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and chill or freeze until you are ready to bake.
With a sharp knife, cut ropes into half-inch thick slices and place on cookie sheets.
Bake at 350ºF oven for about eight minutes.
Mary-Lyn Tebby is a creative cook who loves to play with food. She can be reached at email@example.com.