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An assortment of Christmas cookies based on recipes from the early- to mid-20th century. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)
An assortment of Christmas cookies based on recipes from the early- to mid-20th century. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)

For those of you who are planning to leave a plate of cookies out for Santa Claus, what will it be? Chocolate Chip? Snickerdoodle?

How about something more historical? Amy Traverso, senior lifestyle editor for Yankee Magazine has been scouring the magazine's archive for classic New England cookie recipes, and she brings Radio Boston  some of her favorites.

Guest:

The following recipes are all courtesy of Amy Traverso.


Aroostuck Gingerbread Puffs

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

In the 1930s, when Yankee magazine launched Maine’s Arroostook County was the potato-growing capital of America. In a 1937 Yankee article, Pearl Ashby Tibbets noted, “This section of the Pine Tree State is a land of extremes. Affluence or poverty depend on the price of potatoes.” In 1925, potatoes sold for twelve dollars a barrel; in 1933, it was ten cents.

Aroostuck gingerbread puffs. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)
Aroostuck gingerbread puffs. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)

Tibbets, described in the article as “the busy wife of a very busy country doctor in Bethel, Maine,” concluded her article with 100 potato recipes, all written in short paragraph form. Back then, you could assume that readers knew all the basics of cooking and just needed ideas. Included was a recipe for “Potato Drop Cookies — Molasses.”

I love how the recipe reflects the economy of home cooks during the Great Depression, but I didn't love the results, which were too dry and cake-like. With a few changes, the recipe now has great flavor and a very moist texture, though this is still very much a soft cookie. And it’s a fun way to make use of leftover mashed potatoes.

 Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) salted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup mashed potatoes, cooled
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Decorative sprinkles of your choice or with spiced apples (as pictured above)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350° F and position racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Grease two cookie (baking) sheets.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large bowl, if using a hand-held mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute. Add the buttermilk, molasses, and mashed potatoes and beat to combine (don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled; it will smooth out when you add the flour).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, soda, and spices. Add this mixture to the wet ingredients and beat until a nice dough forms.

Drop cookie dough onto the baking sheets a heaping tablespoon at a time, 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with decorative sugars or sprinkles (we like small white candy snowflakes). Bake until nicely puffed and lightly browned on the bottom, rotating pans halfway through, 12 to 15 minutes. Repeat with any remaining dough. Cool on wire racks, then serve.


Cranberry Honey Walnut Drops

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Cranberry honey walnut drop. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)
Cranberry honey walnut drop. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)

During the 1940s, when government sugar rations made baking a challenge, Rumford Baking Powder (of Rumford, Rhode Island) ran an ad in Yankee with a recipe for cookies sweetened with honey.

It occurred to us that today’s locavore-inspired cooks might be just as interested in a recipe that swapped imported sugar for local sweeteners, so we updated the recipe with a combination of honey and maple syrup (for flavor) and added lots of chopped cranberries and walnuts for flavor and texture.

Vanilla is the only product in the cookies that doesn't come from New England, but you can buy locally-brewed vanilla extract from Charles H. Baldwin & Sons of West Stockbridge, Mass.

 Ingredients:

  • 3 cups fresh cranberries, plus about 2 cups additional berries for garnish
  • 1 ½ cups walnut halves
  • 1 3/4 sticks salted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup maple syup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Method:

Preheat oven to 350° F and position racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Grease two cookie (baking) sheets.

Put the 3 cups cranberries and walnut halves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture looks like very coarse meal with plenty of larger pieces. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large bowl, if using a hand-held mixer), cream the butter, honey, and maple syrup until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat for 1 minute.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and soda. Add this mixture to the wet ingredients and beat until combined. Add the chopped cranberries and nuts and stir with a spatula until evenly distributed.

Drop cookie dough onto the baking sheets a heaping tablespoon at a time, 1 inch apart. Cut the cranberries for the garnish in half and decorate each cookie with a few of the halves. Bake until lightly browned, rotating pans halfway through, 15 to 17 minutes. Repeat with any remaining dough. Cool on wire racks, then serve.


Greek Nut Crescents (Kourabiedes)

Yield: About 50 cookies

Greek nut crescent. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)
Greek nut crescent. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)

I found this recipe when I was paging through Yankee’s archives from the 1950s. It appeared in the February, 1958 issue in an article by Duncan MacDonald, then the magazine’s food editor and lifestyle maven. In an article celebrating the influx of European cuisines to post-war America, she included recipes for halva, loukoumathes, and these crescent cookies.

You can make them with any nuts you like: hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts. In my tests, I combined all of the above, and the results were delicious. The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for ten days and they also freeze well — just dust them with another coat of powdered sugar once thawed to room temperature.

 Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups very finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, or pecans (a food processor is ideal for this job)

Method:

Using a standing or electric mixer, beat butter until very creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and vanilla, and beat well. Add flour and nuts and beat until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Break off a tablespoon-sized piece of dough, roll into a cylinder, turn it into a crescent shape, then transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake until golden brown on the bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. When cookies are still warm, gently toss with the remaining 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to coat. When cookies cool completely, dust once more with the sugar.


Chocolate-Hazelnut Tartlets

Yield: 24 tartlets

Chocolate-hazelnut tartlet. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)
Chocolate-hazelnut tartlet. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)

A hazelnut shortbread forms the base of these mini-tarts, which are baked in mini-muffin tins and  filled with raspberries and chocolate ganache.

This recipe first ran in the December, 2002 issue of Yankee Magazine, when I had just begun my first tenure as food editor.

For the shells:

  • 1-1/2 cups whole hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

In a food processor, chop hazelnuts to the texture of coarse sand.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add flour and chopped hazelnuts, and mix briefly until dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes, up to 1 day.

Meanwhile, make the ganache:

For the ganache:

  • 2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Pour chocolate chips into a heat-safe mixing bowl. In a heavy saucepan, heat cream over medium-high setting until it just begins to simmer.

Remove from heat immediately and pour hot cream over chocolate chips. Stir steadily until all chocolate is melted and blended. Set aside, or refrigerate up to 3 days.

To assemble:

  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves
  • 1 pint raspberries

Form 2 teaspoons dough into a ball and press into mini-muffin tins, creating a well for the filling with your thumb. Repeat with remaining mixture. Bake shells until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

If dough has puffed during cooking, gently press down with your thumb. When shells are cool, turn and lift carefully to remove from pan.

Warm raspberry preserves in your microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat. Spoon approximately 1/2 teaspoon preserves into each shell.

If the ganache is cold, warm it in your microwave or over low heat. Using a pastry bag (or a plastic sandwich bag with a hole cut in one corner), neatly pipe ganache into shells, approximately 1-1/2 teaspoons per shell, until almost filled.

Press a whole raspberry, upside down, into ganache. Tartlets are best when served within 24 hours.

This segment aired on December 24, 2012.

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