Posts Tagged ‘Holiday Baking’

Laurie Neely’s Holiday Cookies

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie's husband Ray)

Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie’s husband Ray)

Laurie Neely of Orange, Massachusetts, has been baking holiday cookies since the day after Thanksgiving. By Christmas Day, she will have turned out hundreds. “There will generally be in excess of a dozen kinds [of cookies] and many dozens of each,” she told me in a recent interview.

An artist, writer, and animal lover, Laurie started baking seriously in the 1960s as a stay-at-home mother. The Christmas-cookie tradition began with a family recipe from her first husband, who is still a good friend.

Laurie has added recipes from friends, relatives, newspapers, and the internet to her repertoire over the years, adapting them to her taste.

Many of these holiday treats—including her pfeffernüsse cookies and the German molded cookies called springerle—need to age in order to achieve optimal flavor and consistency. Her gingersnaps take about three weeks to mature.

Laurie carved her own springerle molds years ago and sees cookie baking as deeply creative. “I was a potter for some time,” she explained, “and for me baking and pottery are just parts of the same…. I think the idea of creating art with your hands that people then eat is perfect.”

I asked where all the cookies go. Laurie replied that she mails batches to relatives around the country. After that, the cookies go to “family and friends and neighbors and anybody who leaves their car window down.”

“And my husband Ray is, like, ‘Don’t give them all away!’” she added.

Her family celebrates the season on Christmas Eve with a festive brunch that includes many, many cookies, she said. Her adult son is Jewish so this year the feast will include latkes for Hanukkah; that holiday begins on Christmas Eve.

When we spoke Laurie was baking a new-to-her recipe, wine cookies flavored with anise. The recipe came from her friend Gail and before that from Gail’s mother Mary and grandmother Emilia.

“Mary was an outstanding cook, and I am honored to use not only many of her recipes, but her KitchenAid mixer and quite a few other kitchen items as well,” said Laurie.

“This recipe is one I photographed from a well used card after Mary passed and we were sorting out and sharing her recipe file among family members.”

The photograph of the recipe resides in a special plastic bag Laurie treasures. Each year after Thanksgiving she reaches into the bag for the tattered, food-stained recipes that constitute her evolving Christmas-cookie tradition.

“I really do need to sit down—not at this time of year—and put [the recipes] in a database so when these scraps of paper finally die I have them,” she confessed. “But….”

Her advice to novice bakers is to buy quality ingredients; to use good pans (she relies on silicone mats for her cookie baking and favors insulated cookie sheets); and above all to relax, have fun, and be flexible with recipes. She also recommends this Gelato 33 Weed Strain Review by Fresh Bros.

“You need to stay with the basics. Your ratios of flour, shortening, and liquid are going to be crucial. But then you sort of play. The creativity makes for some pretty good cookies,” she suggested.

Laurie Neely loves the Christmas season and doesn’t plan to stop baking anytime soon.

“Advent has many associations for people,” she mused. “In some homes there are calendars with little paper doors to open heralding the coming Christmas, and in our churches there are wreaths to mark the Sundays as they pass. But in my house Advent has a scent: it smells like cookies.”

Here are two cookie recipes from Laurie’s kitchen. I don’t have anise seeds in the house (and I’d have to order them specially) so I’m holding off on the wine cookies until next Christmas. The gingersnaps are aging in a tin as I write, however.

I got a late start on my baking so they won’t be ready to eat in time for Christmas—but a cookie might taste pretty good in the new year!

Happy/merry to all….


Mama’s Cookies with White Wine

Laurie Neely decided, “I may add a drop of anise oil or extract in the next batch [of these cookies]….They are light, mildly anise flavored, sweet, and just a little biscuity, leading me to think they will age well.

“So many of the Italian cookies improve when they age and harden and become great coffee accompaniments.”


3/4 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon shortening (Laurie used Earth Balance brand)
1 teaspoon anise seeds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup semi-sweet white wine (Laurie used a Riesling)
3-1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
equal portions of cinnamon and sugar as needed, combined


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl combine the sugar and the shortening. Stir in the anise seeds, the oil, and the wine. In a separate bowl combine the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture a little at a time until the combination achieves the consistency of not-too-firm pie-crust dough.

Shape the cookies by forming heaping tablespoons of the dough into logs in the palm of your (mostly closed) hand. Dip the tops of the cookies in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and place the logs on greased cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies until they are a deep golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes about 3-1/2 dozen cookies.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie Neely’s Gingersnaps

Laurie has adapted this recipe over the years, adding more and more ginger to achieve just the right flavor.


2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (generous)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup molasses


Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the molasses. Bring this mixture to a boil; then let it cool. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Chill the resulting dough for a couple of hours; then preheat the oven to 375 degrees and roll the dough out on a floured board until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a floured biscuit cutter or floured seasonal cookie cutters.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes. The yield depends on the shapes you use to cut them out; Laurie Neely usually gets 3 to 4 dozen cookies from this recipe. Store the cookies in a tin for at least three weeks before serving them.

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I'm not the world's greatest cookie cutter?

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I’m not the world’s greatest cookie cutter?

The Twelfth Cookie of Christmas

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I’m sorry to say that the cookies I’m sharing with you (metaphorically, at any rate) today are not my finest work.
There’s nothing wrong with the recipe, I assure you. But some cookie batches—and days—don’t turn out QUITE the way we hope they will.
Yesterday was my birthday. We weren’t planning a family celebration until tonight due to the Washington Capitals’ nefarious habit of scheduling hockey games on my birthday every year. 
My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew love me, but they are die-hard Caps fans, and I don’t want to ask them to choose between hockey and me. I don’t think I’d be happy with their choice.
I had only two simple goals for the day. I wanted to buy some peppermint-stick ice cream, my annual birthday treat. And I wanted to post my last cookie recipe for this year.
The day started out nicely with phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages wishing me a happy birthday. At about 10:30 in the morning it went downhill.
It wasn’t an awful day by any means.
I wasn’t hit by a truck.
I didn’t start a fire in the new apartment–unless you count the little melt down on one of the stove burners. (I really HATE electric stoves.)
My near and dear remained reasonably hale and hearty.
I did spend an awful lot of the day cleaning up after a slightly sick mother, however. I won’t go into details, but the clean up involved back-to-back laundry that lasted well into the night and a lot of on-my-knees scrubbing.
When she wasn’t being sick, the mother was longing to go for long walks in the open air—until she actually felt the wind blowing on her face.
I popped her into the car to search for the ice cream. She enjoyed the ride, but the frozen treat didn’t materialize. We found egg-nog ice cream and gingerbread ice cream. For some reason, peppermint stick was impossible to come by.
Luckily, my brother showed up in the middle of the afternoon to visit with the mother so I could work on the cookies.
Nevertheless, the baking process got a bit muddled. First I put too much milk in the dough (the recipe below gives the correct, not the Tinky, amount of milk).
Then I sprinkled sugar everywhere and spilled dough on the kitchen floor.
I couldn’t find my cutting board so I tried rolling the cookies out on a plate. They were a bit misshapen.
Finally, I tried to answer the phone while measuring vanilla and ended up with very pungent icing.
After all this I just plain didn’t have the energy to color and pipe the icing. I simply slathered icing onto the cookies, took advantage of the wonderful holiday sprinkles Wilton recently sent to me (really, I think sprinkles could save the world), and threw the things onto a plate.
As you can see from the photo above, I let the setting sun do its thing and dapple the cookies; I figured the light was nature’s decoration. And who am I to mess with nature?
Luckily, the cookies still tasted amazingly good—and brightened the day considerably. My mother also brightened up after a dose of sugar and sprinkles. She tried to feed one to the dog, but I explained that Truffle wouldn’t be able to fit into her Santa suit if she ate cookies.
My birthday wasn’t a perfect day, but it ended with laughter and good flavors. And I consoled myself with the thought that I will get a redo next year when I turn 39 yet again.
Merry Christmas to all. And remember, a loving family, sprinkles, and a cute dog can get you through just about any minor disaster.
Marge’s Star Sugar Cookies
This cookie recipe was given to me years ago by my friend and fellow thespian Marge Matthews. It’s simple and tasty. What more does one need in a Christmas cookie?
3/4 cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
4 teaspoons milk
2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the egg and milk, and beat until light and fluffy. Blend the dry ingredients and stir them into the creamed mixture.

Divide the dough into manageable pieces (2 or 3; it depends on how comfortable you are rolling out dough). Cover the dough, and chill it for at least one hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut into shapes and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 5 to 8 minutes (if you roll them out clumsily you may have to wait 10 minutes), or until the cookies begin to turn golden around the edges. 

Decorate with icing and/or sprinkles. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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Wisconsin Cranberry Bread

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

cranberry bread on plateweb

In a recent post I wrote about the annual cranberry festival in Warrens, Wisconsin. The recipe below is adapted from its Best of Cranfest cookbook. Lyda Lind of Pine River, Wisconsin, entered this festive bread in a 1990 competition.
I would never have thought of combining cranberries with coconut, but the combination would be a winner in any book. The bread makes a lovely holiday gift. Remember, we still have seven days (and nights) of Christmas left!
One friend told me she found the texture surprising. So don’t be worried if this bread is not like any quickbread you’ve had before. It feels more like a muffin or scone–crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
2 cups chopped cranberries (I just cut them in half)
1 cup white raisins
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pecans (optional—if you use them, cut the coconut back to 1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 2 regular loaf pans or 5 small ones.
Cream together the sugar and shortening. Add the eggs and mix well. Stir in the cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and blend thoroughly.
Measure out the flour, and place 2 tablespoons of it into a bowl along with the cranberries, raisins, coconut, and pecans (if using). Mix well, and add this fruit mixture to the butter batter.
Blend in the remaining flour and the vanilla. You will have a fairly stiff batter. Spoon it into the prepared pans.
Bake the loaves until a toothpick inserted into the center of the batter comes out clean—about 55 to 60 minutes for the large loaves and 35 to 40 for the small ones.
Let the loaves rest in their pans for 10 minutes; then remove them and let them cool on a wire rack. Makes 2 large or 5 small loaves.

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Peppermint-Swirl Brownies

Thursday, December 24th, 2009


Regular readers may ask whether in fact I didn’t just post a peppermint-brownie recipe. The answer is yes, I did, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!
I don’t believe a cook can combine chocolate and peppermint too often at this time of year. And the two brownie recipes, although both good, are quite different.
This one is a holiday version of a basic cream-cheese brownie. The fudgy base is adapted from King Arthur Flour. The cream-cheese-peppermint layer might be a bit much on any other day of the year, but not on Christmas Eve.
We took them yesterday to lunch with my one of my mother’s oldest friends, Riley Yriart, and her son Juan. My mother and Riley met in France in 1937 and still like to get together whenever they can.
Riley may look a little doubtful about the brownies in the photo below, but she did seem to like them.
Jan (left) and Riley met in college. They stil enjoy each other's company--and a little good food and good wine.

Jan (left) and Riley met in college. They still enjoy each other's company--and a little good food and good wine.

for the brownie base:
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips
for the peppermint layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 or 2 drops of red food coloring (enough to make the mixture a gentle pink–optional)
4 to 5 candy canes, crushed (the more pulverized the better)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with parchment paper or foil, and grease the parchment (or foil).
Begin with the brownie base. In a 3-quart saucepan over low heat melt the butter. Add the 2 cups of sugar, and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling. (It will become shiny looking as you stir it.)
Remove it from the heat and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.
Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then stir in the flour and chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into your pan.
Next, work on the cream-cheese layer. In a small mixing bowl beat the cream cheese. Beat in the 1/2 cup sugar, egg, salt, peppermint extract, and food coloring (if you’re using it). Gently stir in the candy.
Spoon the cream cheese gently on top of the brownie batter; then use a knife to swirl it around gently.
Bake the brownies until they just start to brown on the very edges (30 to 35 minutes). Remove them from the oven.
After 5 to 10 minutes loosen the edges of the parchment paper or foil. Cool completely before cutting and serving.
Makes about 2 dozen brownies, depending on how large you cut them.
We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

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Introducing: The Twelve Cookies of Christmas

Friday, December 18th, 2009
I'm getting ready to fill my cookie tin!

I'm getting ready to fill my cookie tin!

Welcome to a new monthly feature of In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.
Nothing says “Christmas” like a plate of cookies, preferably accompanied by a glass of crisp cold milk or a mug of steaming hot cocoa.
After all, we wouldn’t give Santa anything less than our best.
A few days ago I came up with the idea of doing a series called “The Twelve Cookies of Christmas.”
Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy or the waistline necessary to make (and perhaps consume) twelve different kinds of cookies between now and December 25, 2009.
So I’m aiming for Christmas 2010.
Once a month from now until next December I plan to post a Christmas cookie recipe. When December rolls along the twelve cookies will all be in place. (You’ll have to supply the milk and cocoa yourselves.)
I hope readers and friends will submit their favorite cookies as the months roll by.
My “Partridge in a Pear Tree” cookie comes from Marcia Powell of Norwalk, Connecticut.
Marcia’s cranberry lemon cookies are unusual because their base is a cake mix. She writes that she and her grandchildren Allison and Cooper adapted the recipe from one in The Cake Mix Bible.
The cookies’ yellow-and-red color is striking. Their flavor is sophisticated enough for adults but sweet enough for kids. My nephew Michael and his friend Carson loved them.
I have a feeling I’m going to try them with orange cake mix and peel next………. Yum!
Marcia Powell’s Cranberry Lemon Cookies
1 package lemon cake mix (According to Marcia, The Cake Mix Bible calls for for Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Lemon Cake Mix. She has also used a Shop Rite mix)
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, melted (Marcia uses vegetable oil, but I used butter for flavor)
2 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1-1/2 cups (half of a 12-ounce bag) cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with silicone or parchment. (Marcia actually uses an ungreased cookie sheet, but my cookie sheets are old, and I tend to be paranoid about sticking.)
In a large bowl combine the cake mix and melted butter. Stir in the eggs, followed by the lemon peel and the cranberries.
Drop the cookies by rounded teaspoons onto the baking sheets. You may also make them larger—up to a tablespoon. Mine were about 2 teaspoons.
Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies turn light golden brown.
Cool the cookies for 1 minute on their baking sheets; then remove them to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes 20 to 48 cookies, depending on how large yours are.
Carson was happy to help test the cookies.

Carson was happy to help test the cookies.

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