Holdiay Food Guide

Heritage Cookies

by Terese Allen, Food Editor

Nothing makes me feel more Belgian than a "boonoh" during the holidays. My family bakes these small, waffle-like cookies in the stove-top, heirloom iron that one of my paternal grandparents brought over when they came to Wisconsin in the mid-19th century. At least one Flemish-Belgian cookbook I own calls them nieuwjaar's wafeltjes, or New Year's waffle cookies, but the term my family uses (our kin came from the French-speaking southern part of Belgium), is probably based on a French term for "good year."

My father taught us, as his mother had taught him, exactly how the cookies should be prepared: Use the freshest, richest butter you can find. Hand-roll the dough into balls the size of large marbles. Heat the iron well and flip it by the long handle—just once!—for each cookie. They should come out golden, crispy and not-too-thick.

As a child I marveled that my grandmother had made them just this way when she was young. As an adult I treasure a custom that spans generations, reminding me of who I am and where I belong.

Cookies can do that, especially during the mid-winter holidays. Handed-down recipes for Norwegian fattigman, Jewish rugelach, Mexican wedding cakes, and myriad others are delicious little reminders of our ethnic past. We find comfort in following the same rituals and relishing the same foods as our ancestors. There's also joy in sharing them with others—witness the Christmas cookie swaps that are all the rage these days.

Whether you make one family specialty or an array of cookies from around the world, you want them to be the best. So start with the best: real creamery butter, organic free-range eggs, plump raisins, fresh spices. Then turn off the television, unplug the computer, and head into the kitchen to bake some small symbols of heritage.

Labors of love? You bet, especially when you share the load with loved ones. Gather them 'round, roll up your sleeves, and savor the season. When the holidays are here, these cookies are history.

Almond Crescent Cookies: Crumbly, buttery cookies crammed with finely chopped nuts and rolled in powdered sugar—these are a special occasion tradition in numerous cultures.
Rugelach: Cinnamon-spiked, raisin-stuffed rugelach are served in many Jewish homes at Hanukkah.
Belgian "Good Year" Cookies: Small, crispy, Belgian cookies that look like thin waffles and taste buttery-good.
Norwegian Fattigman: An unusually shaped Norwegian delicacy.
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies: These charming cookies look like tiny loaves of Italian bread.
Armenian Mavish: A rose-shaped pastry that is deep-fried and then drizzled with sugar syrup and walnuts.
Maple Gingersnaps: Gingersnaps are part of the holidays in Germany, Sweden and other countries. This is a New World twist on an Old World tradition, made with a native American ingredient: maple syrup.
Buttery Crystallized Ginger Shortbread Hearts: Organic Valley's European Style Butter shines through in this simple yet scrumptious twist on an old Scottish favorite.

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