1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 53

Holiday cookies are such a beautiful intersection of, and expression of love, craft, personal history and culture. I have tasted many cookies this past month as cookies greeted me from every direction: at a cookie exchange, in-deliveries from near and far, and lovely spontaneous offerings in hallways from co-workers opening the metal tins they carried. 

Each person has a story behind keeping these cookies alive in their lives. Most of the cookies start by combining everyday ingredients like flour, butter, eggs, sugar but add the most noted & overlooked ingredient, of time. Oh the small balls, each one rolled in powder, the little corners dipped with sprinkles after letting the chocolate dry just enough. Some were pressed with stamps and others had layers. There were cookies made with beer, fragrant spices, adorned with preserved jams, local and fresh flour, frosting, dried fruits, finely chopped nuts or homemade extracts…

I marvel at the cookies I didn’t taste. I got to admire pictures of recipe cards texts from friends. Studying snapshots of handwritten notes was like meeting people who have been traveling through time, from Christmas to Christmas, greeting each generation and finally being present with us. Being present with me. 

I take a bite. Nice meeting you I say. Thank you for coming to my home and into my life. Thank you for bringing me some gentle sweetness this time of the year. Thank you for revealing a bit of you to me. I am never sure what to give someone for special occasions and though I am a big fan of cakes and pies, I have learned to love food that travels with ease and some can even get better with time. 

“Ginete Cookies” were the gifts I remember receiving as a kid from my vovó Antonia, my mom’s mom. She would send us “petas” as well. Both are made from tapioca starch, typical flour of the area. There were no phone calls and family visits for the holidays – not because the feelings were lacking, just that travel and calls were impossible. She lived very far from us, in a village called Sucesso, in the interior of the Northeast of Brazil. I would get a letter once in a while. She didn’t know how to write, but she would dictate to someone who could help. As a child it took me a while to understand why she wrote, “and she is asking to tell you…” The letters were short, but let us know she was well and she was thinking of us. I was young, but I wrote back knowing that my letter would have to travel for days in the care of a friend or relative, tracing back the cookie’s journey. I now make those cookies too and so thankful to connect with her through them. 

Rugelach cookies were a new-to-me cookie this season. I have made similar doughs and pressed into mini cupcake pans and added all kinds of fillings. I really enjoyed taking my time with rugelach, fermenting them and reading the different methods of how people shape their cookies or little horns as my husband calls them. I had such high hopes for my first try. I wanted them to be whole wheat and rye and be filled with jam made from fruit from a friend’s tree, but they were too thick. So I started dreaming again and made them again. I looked for new methods, new fillings. How can I get them to hold all the filling? Practice I think, make them again I told myself. They are festive, fussy, fun with endless possibilities. I can see myself making them over and over again. I wrote down my notes here for us.

My Instagam friend Annie Levy @kitchencounterculture, who loves to make them, sent me a message when she saw some of my pictures: “Put those in my tomb for the eternal afterlife!!!!!!” she said. 

Fermented Rugelach 

1 1/2 cups of flour (all wheat or mix in rye) 

¼ cup of butter, soften

¼ cup of cream cheese or other cultured cheese, soften

2 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

½ cup starter

Jam: raspberry, apricot, cherry jam

Filling: chocolate shaving, chopped nuts, seeds. finely chopped dried fruits, etc

Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add sugar, starter and salt and beat until combined. Add flour, beating until it cleans the bowl. Scrape dough and form 3 discs. Let it ferment at room temperature for the day and then transfer to the fridge to chill and/or continue fermenting for an extra day or so.

Roll out each cold dough disc onto a lightly floured surface to about ⅛-inch thick. Spread a thin layer of jam on the dough round leaving a 2-inch clean edge. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of filling over the jam. Cut the dough into12 edges, using a pizza cutter.

Roll the rugelach gently from the wide to the narrow end. Curve the ends to form a crescent shape and place the cookies on a parchment or baking mat lined baking sheet.

Brush the cookie tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.

Bake 400° F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar.


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