Christmas memories can start any year. File these recipes away to add to your own traditions.
The first is a gingerbread cookie recipe that comes from "The Christmas Cook" (HarperCollins) by William Woys Weaver:
Makes about 8 dozen 2-inch cookies.
1 pound unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup unsulfured molasses
6 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rye flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Heat the butter, sugar, and molasses in a saucepan until the butter is melted and the sugar completely dissolved. Let cool slightly.
Beat the egg. Sift the flour and spices together twice and make a hole in the center. Add the beaten egg, the molasses mixture, and the caraway seeds. Stir to form a stiff dough. Cover and set in the refrigerator at least 3 days -- or as long as 1 month.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut into 2-inch rounds or whatever shapes you choose. Set the cookies on greased sheets and bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on racks.
Note: Some grades of rye flour contain large pieces of bran. Be certain the rye flour you use for this recipe is free of these bran flakes; otherwise, sift them out yourself.
The next recipe for strufoli alla Napoletana comes from "The Christmas Cookbook" (Atheneum) by Shona Crawford Poole:
Strufoli alla Napoletana
Serves 8 to 10.
4 cups flour
8 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 cup clear honey
rind of 3 oranges, grated fine
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, egg yolk, 1/4 cup of the shortening, the sugar, salt and lemon peel. Using your hands, work the ingredients together into a smooth dough. Shape the dough into small balls about as big as medium-sized grapes.
Melt the honey in a small saucepan and mix in the orange rind.
Melt the remaining shortening in a heavy frying pan and fry the balls of dough, a few at a time, until golden brown and cooked through. As soon as they are fried, lift the balls from the fat with a slotted spoon and drop them into the honey mixture.
When all the strufoli have been fried and soaked in honey, strain them in a sieve and pile them in conical heaps on a flat serving dish. Serve warm or cold.
The following recipe for kourambiedes comes from "Visions of Sugarplums" (Harper & Row) by Mimi Sheraton:
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.
1 cup blanched almonds
2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or brandy
4 cups cake flour
about 72 whole cloves for garnish (optional)
confectioners's sugar, for sprinkling
Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place almonds on a baking sheet or in a pie tin and roast for 7 or 8 minutes, or until they take on a pale sand color. Cool and grind very fine.
Cream butter thoroughly until fluffy. Combine confectioners' sugar with salt and sift. Gradually beat into the butter. Add egg yolk and cream well with butter-sugar mixture. Beat in Grand Marnier or brandy.
Sift cake flour and gradually stir into butter mixture with ground almonds until dough is soft, pliant, and can be rolled without sticking to your hands. If it is sticky, chill for 1 hour.
Break off rounds of dough and gently pat and shape into dome-shaped mounds, each just a little more than 1 inch in diameter. If desired, stud the center of each cookie with a whole clove. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until a pale sand color, about 20 minutes. Do not let these cookies brown. Cool on racks. Sift confectioners' sugar generously over the cooled cookies.