by Rebecca Horwitz
Delicious foods are associated with all the winter holidays; who doesn’t love a plate of hot latkes at Hanukkah, or a cup of eggnog at Christmas? Perhaps the most beloved holiday recipes are those for cookies, a sweet indulgence that makes everyone joyful this time of year. And there is truly a cookie for everyone this holiday season: gluten-free, fancy decorated ones, and simple butter cookies too.
Hanukkah comes very early this year, coinciding with Thanksgiving as everyone knows by now. Cookies at Hanukkah tend to be your basic butter cookie, cut into familiar holiday shapes such as dreidels(playful spinning tops) and stars of David. Decorated in colorful frosting and perhaps sprinkles—often glittery blue and white or silver—they make a pretty follow-up to a classic meal of latkes (potato pancakes) with apple sauce and/or sour cream. Making cookies for Hanukkah is a fun, simple—but messy—activity to do with antsy children in anticipation of the holiday. For more Hanukkah recipes, I recommend any of Joan Nathan’s cookbooks. She is, arguably, the queen of contemporary Jewish cooking.
Perhaps you are wondering which kind of Christmas cookie to show off at the holiday cookie swap? You need not go far to find tempting and visually delightful cookie recipes. First of all, go for a tour of Martha Stewart’s website and look for two video links: “Holiday Celebrations” and “Countdown to Christmas”. She may not be local to us, but I like her principles of using fresh, high quality, local ingredients whenever possible, and trying the do-it-yourself approach instead of relying exclusively on commercial products. Perusing her website, I found recipes for Snow Globe cookies—big and round as their name suggests; Nativity cookies in the shapes of barn animals; Chocolate Truffle Cookies; Chocolate Espresso Cookies, Spiced Cardamom Cookies, and Classic Sugar Cookies.
Alas, many folks today are avoiding particular ingredients that are considered essential to baking, due to allergy or other health reasons. What to do when you are craving holiday cookies but all the recipes require eggs, dairy, and wheat? Allergy-free foods have come a long way, and you can now find reliable substitutes for butter, egg, and regular wheat flour. Even sprinkles and chocolate chips are available gluten-free (sometimes online only).
Recipes for the gluten, dairy, and egg free are widely available now in cookbooks, online, and in magazines such as Living Without: gluten-free living at its best. In the December edition of the magazine, I found several yummy-looking cookie recipes to make your Christmas celebration more festive: Christmas Lights Cut-Out Cookies, Rudolph Cookie Pops, Gingerbread Men, and Chocolate Snowball Cookies. Although they are free of many troublesome ingredients, please note that none of them are free of sugar!
The recipe I wish to share is one that I modified from an O magazine article; I call it Fancy Chocolate Bark and it can be prepared in less than 20 minutes.
12 oz. any kind of chocolate, chopped up into about 2 cups
12 thin, crispy crackers (I like Ak-Mak)
Any toppings you like! Suggested toppings include chopped nuts, chopped dried fruits like cherries, mango, coconut, kiwi; broken up pretzels, and candied ginger.
1. Melt your chocolate. This can be done with a microwave or without. On the stovetop, put chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, without letting the bowl have direct contact with the water. Within just a few minutes, the chocolate will be almost melted. Stir to help along the process. Remove the bowl and let the chocolate finish melting while you stir.
2. Prepare a baking sheet; I like to cover mine with parchment paper. There’s no need to preheat the oven as you will not be baking—yay!
3. Now for the fun, creative part! Dip each cracker into the melted chocolate and lay on the baking sheet. Repeat for all 12. Then start decorating to your heart’s content; there are lovely combinations of fruit and nuts that look festive and merry. Try pomegranate seeds with bits or small slices of dried kiwi for Christmas-y colors. You could even sprinkle bits of broken up candy cane. The O Magazine article suggested “Dark Chocolate with Cherries, Pistachios, and Ginger” or “Milk Chocolate with Pretzels and Peanuts.”
4. Refrigerate for 10 minutes until set.