You get two Italians together and it’s not long before the conversation settles food and family. Thus began my friendship with Vinny Dejohn, who worked in the wine shop at Whole Foods when I met him. Getting his suggestions for a good vintage was great, but getting his vintage family recipe for an Italian fig cookie was even greater. It’s one of the most delightful and delicious Sicilian holiday treats called Cucidati. Thankfully, Vinny’s mission a few years ago was to rescue this recipe! “Great Auntie Antoinette Arnone was 93 years old when she died. Ten years ago during the holidays, I went back to New York and I made arrangements to spend time with Auntie Arnone and have her teach me how to make ‘Goog-i-dottie’ as she would call them. We spent all afternoon making the cookies. Not only did I leave with Cucidati, but also her hand-written recipe card and her grandmother’s meat grinder that she herself has been using to grind the fig mixture for 60 years! I was so appreciative of her for taking the time to pass along her recipe. I often think of those treasured moments together.” Vinny’s version of this soft, flavor filled fig cookie with icing and little colorful candies is now part of my own holiday tradition. What better way to honor my Sicilian father!
If you missed these delightful treats during Hanukah this past week, the great thing about Rugelach is that they are popular all throughout the year and especially for the holidays! Rolled out delicate dough filled with a variety of ingredients, Rugelach has grown in popularity from a Jewish specialty to an American favorite. It seems as though every country has its own version and name for Rugelach and there are hundreds of recipe variations for this bite-sized goody. For the dough, sour cream or cream cheese is added to the flour which makes for flavorful dough that’s extremely easy to work with. These one or two bite morsels are generally filled with ingredients like sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, raisins, chocolate, or preserves with a little cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. Again, there are a number of ways to roll and cut Rugelach, but the classic shapes are crescents or slightly flattened squares. I know that Rugelach was baked up en masse for the Hanukkah celebration which ended yesterday, but there are plenty of chances in the days ahead to make, bake and deliver these delicious and delicate gifts from the kitchen for the holidays ahead!
What makes this the most wonderful time of the year? Well, besides, glad tidings, family and the holiday spirit, it’s gotta be Christmas Cookies! Nothing puts a smile on faces like a big platter of goodies decked out and adorned with glitter and glaze! These tri-colored cookies are among my very favorite to bake up, decorate and give as gifts for the holidays. Why do I love these cookies so much? First of all, this basic stocking cookie recipe is just right. With its combination of butter and shortening, you get the great flavor of butter and the shortening makes the cookies soft but still great for decorating. Second, they are so colorful, and that color is achieved in such an easy way! All you do is make one batch of batter and color two parts with green and red! Now you have a pre-decorated cookie that just gets a glaze and a tiny bit of decorating sugar. No fuss. No muss. Just gorgeous and scrumptious cookies that are fa-la-la-la lovely to eat and to share!
Watch my How To Video for Christmas Cookies here!
This one is personal! I’ve been making my special wreath bread for the holidays ever since I was in high school. I love making it, I love cutting into it (as pretty as it is) and I absolutely love giving it away as a holiday gift from my kitchen. I think I cut the recipe out of a Women’s Day Magazine many, many years ago, and eventually the clipping just disintegrated from overuse. By the time that happened however, I had the recipe embedded in my cooking DNA. The inside of this gorgeous bread wreath is filled with delicious surprises like brown sugar, walnuts, soaked raisins and spices. The outside is a thing of beauty and in my opinion, the perfect holiday wreath to share! Enjoy it as a breakfast bread or a sweet snack anytime!