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December 2012 A Note from Marcy

It's beginning to feel a lot like Hanukkah (and Kwanza, Christmas, and name a winter fest) everywhere I go. Free Hanukkah Nutella Doughnuts to start your holidays on a sweet note. 

Dear Bakers and Friends,

Happy December! It’s that time of year when being a baker means you get a little more love.

Why more love? It’s a no brainer because we bakers are carriers of joy and sweetness. We bake up dreams, memories and nostalgic moods of holidays past and holidays that never were (except in our mind’s eye – such is nostalgia). Christmas and Hanukkah among other winter holidays are two of the few occasions where you can take out the butter and sugar and pristine (albeit unbleached) white flour and bake up a storm. It’s time for vanilla, cream, chocolate and baking spirits or liqueurs. Come December, people are keen to indulge; at other times of the year, people balk when they see me coming and say – stay away, I’m on a diet. But now? I am, as you all are, the queen (and kings) of the baking ball.

Without further ado I am delighted to share with you a BB Baker’s Dozen of Holiday Cookies that includes many of my own holiday cookie favorites. These are my choices when I bake gifts and you will note my taste is somewhat pure and simple. I love classics as well as a bit of an international spin. If cookies aren't your thing (is that possible?) the Complete BB Recipe Archives are chocka full of holiday things from rum cakes, to pannetonne, biscotti of all types, cheesecakes and more.

Before you start however, please, pleas, please give a thought to the spices you are using. I cannot emphasize this enough. Most recently, I went to a bulk food chain here in Canada. The cinnamon smelled like sawdust, the cloves were reminiscent of horses’ hooves and the allspice, nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice could have been onion powder. They were all that bad and that stale. Then The Spice House rescued me (as well as King Arthur Flour and First, Patty Erd, The Spice House owner and chief operator is available to personally answer email and steer you right. A few seconds online and I had ordered fresh (FRESH) ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice and hot and sweet Chinese Cinnamon. How fresh is their cinnamon? They grind up over 100 pounds of cinnamon each week just to keep up with the orders. According to Patty, no man smells as sweet as the guy that grinds their cinnamon. I don’t doubt it. What a difference a spice makes – especially when it’s fresh. Online spice shopping is not as inexpensive (although The Spice House often offers Free Shipping) as going to your local supermarket but the difference is….Well, let me put it this way: one taste of one of my recipes made with fresh spices from a spice specialist and you begin to appreciate why Marco Pollo, Columbus et al set sail around the world to fine spices to begin with.

When you are shopping for spices (if you are buying from a bulk food store) smell them before you buy them. Sure, they might be bulk and seem cheap and fresh but they are just more often: just bulk. I do also recommend Costco’s amazing Cinnamon. It is $3 or so and comes in a large plastic spice container and is a lovely Vietnamese Cinnamon that will do you proud. You aren’t skimping on butter, sugar, eggs or vanilla at holiday time. So don’t treat the spices, which are part and parcel of great holiday baking, short shrift.

On this end, a lot is happening although it feels like the quiet before the storm. After 15 years, should be having a total overhaul and by the end of January (or so), look for a totally new look (and fully functional) BB website. My first cooking book, When Bakers Cook is scheduled for June 2013 and I’ll be telling you more about that as the launch draws near. This is a collection of my best cooking recipes and will be an edgy and simple, black and white book (and Ebook) – so stay tuned.

As 2012 draws to a close, I feel both nostalgic with memories past and buoyant with the things ahead. I feel somewhat like the U.S. economy: I can’t go back, I can’t stay still and wait (any longer) and I have to invest and go forward. Just when you thought you could meditate and watch Oprah re-runs, one has to re-invent and re-energize. Ditto for my tango life. I thought I was in a lull or almost done and then I bought new tango shoes (black suede with embroidered roses from Capezio) and the shoes brought back my tango spirit. Writing, baking, tango, and life – our passions are strange beasts. We can try quitting them but if we are lucky, our passions never quit us.

I wish you all health, warm tidings of family and friends, and peace in your heart. May that peace radiate from the batter in your Kitchenaid mixing bowl and splatter (in the nicest of ways) all across the globe. When in doubt, count your blessings, breathe, and bake something and give it away. And never check what comes back to you - just bake it forward.

Warm wishes from my kitchen to yours always,

Marcy Goldman

Master Baker, Author
Est. 1997

The BB Baker's Dozen 2012 Holiday Cookie Collection

Hanukkah Nutella Doughnuts
There's nothing like homemade jelly doughnuts especially when it comes to Hanukkah doughnuts aka soufganio. They are made with an easy yeast dough (a bread machine is perfect for this). For finer sugar to toss the warm doughnuts in grind the sugar in a food processor. Many more wonderful Hanukkah recipes are in my 10th Anniversary Edition of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking (Marcy Goldman, Whitecap Books) 2009).

Layered Rugulah Squares 

A lazy baker can have a brainstorm of an idea. Rugulah are amazing but rolling each wedge up individually can take time. Why not make a Rugulah Bar instead? This recipe is totally easy and just another route to rugulah that still spells success. Instead of rolling crescents, this special recipe creates a rugulah lasagna. Never mind, just try it! Perfect as a Hanukkah gift.

Decadent French Mint Cookies 

There's something innately and enduringly appealing about the chocolate mint connection. It's a flavour combo that never fails to impress. These are decadent fudge cookies, with crackly tops and a texture midway between cookie and brownie (think crisp edges and fudgy insides - like a truffle cookie). Warm, out of the oven, they are anointed with a peppermint patty or After Eight mint.
 Scandinavian Sour Cream Cardamom Rusks !!FREE!!!
Rusks are much like biscotti and mandelbrot - they are crisp, dry cookies that are perfect for munching or dipping in tea (Chai would be a good choice). These are gently spiced and fragrant in the way only something made with almonds, sour cream, butter and cardamom could be.

Alphahores or Famous Tango Cookies 

From The New Best of BetterBaking.Com cookbook, Whitecap Books 2009 .  Almond scented shortbread, filled with luscious dulce de leche caramel filling. One of a kind gift but save some for yourself! Make your own dulce de leche from the free recipe on this site or find ready-made (if you must). This is about the best cookie in the world and the ideal holiday gift. Make it once-it will become, as it is mine, your trademark. I learned about alphahore cookies in tango class. 13 years of tango later (which one needs to work off the alphahores calories), I am still making these amazing cookies. If you make only one cookie (after oatmeal and Tollhouse) this would be it.

Cream Cheese Holiday Sugar Cookies 

These are simply beautiful cookies –they roll like a dream, they bake up tender/crisp and they are the perfect cookie to showcase Nielsen Massey’s new, pure extracts (check with for where and how to order). The bouquet of extracts, along with the pure butter taste, makes a slightly more upscale than average sugar cookies. Make these tiny, if you like, and dust with cinnamon or ground nuts. If you cannot find the Nielsen Massey extracts (which are incomparable), use regular pure extracts.

Moravian Gingersnap Cookies 
Moravania is a Czech province that is associated with this spicy, snappy, amazing spice and ginger cookie. These are wafer thin like Pringles and just as addictive.

Kourabiedes or Greek Almond Cookies 
Almonds and ouzo? Yup – a tender, delicate, nutty cookie that is the queen of the Greek Isles. Everyone has a version of this recipe; but this one hits all the rights notes of taste, texture and fragrance. Thick, dense, crumbly bundles of heaven. Perfect with Greek coffee or a pot of Darjeeling.

Tiny French Butter Cookies (Punitions) 
This are traditional to France and made famous by Poilane, of Paris. If you look on the Poilane site, you will see these cookies available as well as the bakery’s famed sourdough breads. These are tiny, crisp, and perfectly sandy; not quite a shortbread; not quite a butter cookie but pure heaven. These are great keepers too. A glass cookie jar filled with these, is irresisistible. They stay crisp, sweet, and crunchy. Because they are no bigger than a quarter or dollar piece (people still use that term?) you’ll want to snag a handful for a cup of tea or cold lemonade. There is another story about Punitions and you can read it at Madeleines, a Story of Cake and Love. These have a shortbread taste but adding vanilla gives them another dimension, as would orange oil or extract or almond extract. I like them in almost any flavor rendition.

$$$$ Millionaire Bars

A buttery shortbread base is the throne to a special caramel filling all topped off with a yet another unique chocolate triumphurate crown. No wonder these are Millionaire Bars –they are a treasure. Forget about the economy, breathe in and out, and munch on one of these. Makes 24 ‘shares’. If you like Twix bars but even better - this is just the ticket.

Welsh Tea Cakes

Lovely with tea - as the name suggests,. these are wee little butter cookies with a touch of spice, decked out with diced dried fruits, including cranberries, California dried apricots and sour cherries. But these cookies are so bittery and satisfying you could even leave out the fruit.

Butter and Cream Shortbread Biscotti 

These are worth their weight in gold. A scone recipe (of all things) that went awry. No self-respecting baker throws out a pound of butter, a lump of brown sugar and heavy cream just because things "don't look right". I rarely omit vanilla in my cookie recipes but one this soars with unrivaled, pure flavor of the butter and brown sugar. This is essentially big sticks of biscotti with a shortbread pedigree.

Fleur de Sel Chocolate Shortbread 
Nothing brings out the bittersweet lusciousness of a chocolate-butter bouquet than fleur de sel. This recipe uses a sweet chocolate shortbread base but adds a touch more, larger grain, fleur de sel on top for the zap of sweet/salty bouquet. Fleur de sel comes in fine flakes (for inside the cookie) and slightly coarser grain for the cookie tops.

Orange Vanilla Butter Nuggets With White Chocolate Glaze
These are thick, vanilla-laced, dense and sandy butter cookies. Divine on their own, an orange-and-vanilla scented, melted white chocolate coating makes them ambrosial. These would be equally divine with semi-sweet chocolate on top. Double strength vanilla would make these resound with pure vanilla flavor. Just make sure you use quality white chocolate to ensure even melting.Orange Oil, which appears in this recipe, comes from and it is an essential part of the BetterBaking.Com Test Kitchen.



Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, ‘I’ve know the feeling; I know the place”. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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