by Pamela Capriotti Martin
I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of young families in 25 houses with 68 kids. While my mother was the only one who had a full-time out of home job, the others served as afternoon surrogates with cookies, brownies, and treats galore. Every Christmas we would bake 24 dozen cookies and bring them to the annual cookie swap. I both dreaded the work and loved the exchange. The kids had our favorites and with no disrespect meant to the other mothers – we all loved Mrs. Jensen’s cookies the best. Mrs. Jensen was from Sweden and we thought her so worldly. Mr. Jensen was Danish, and as I found out when I interviewed him for a college Oral History project, was a leading member of the Danish Underground during World War II. He met Mrs. Jensen, a nurse, when he ferried Jewish families from Denmark to Sweden where she and others moved them to safety. The Danish Resistance managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden. Sadly, I lost the tape of our interview, but I remember every detail very well. I remember being so awestruck that this hero was living down the street that I barely could keep my eyes on my notes and ask him questions. Thank heavens for a tape recorder. They were an amazing family right in our little neighborhood.
Mrs. Jensen was a sweet lady who made the most delicate horseshoe shaped Swedish ginger cookies. We waited ever year for the crispy brown cookies and coveted the recipe although she never parted with it. My mother made Norwegian sandbakkels (a crispy almond sugar cookie baked in a fluted tin) every year. Many of the mothers in the neighborhood had Scandinavian roots and then there was Mrs. Gallagher (Lebanese) and Mrs. Grady (Irish) and Mrs. Woodburn (German). Popular cookies with the kids were candy cane sugar cookies, a wonderful stained glass cookie, spritz with sprinkles (although we always thought they were too small), almond snowball cookies, and always some great baklava which technically isn’t a cookie but it was much appreciated.
Here are three of our favorite cookie recipes – my favorite easy shortbread, my grandmother’s favorite molasses cookies and my recipe for cranberry and pistachio biscotti.
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use a heavy hand on this)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 F
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a cookie cutter of your desired shape. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.
**Don’t want to roll them out – I generally don’t. Halve the dough, roll into two logs, (I always freeze one) cut them ½ inch thick and follow baking directions above. To festive them up – dip in melted chocolate of your choice.
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup boiling water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water. Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture, and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in cranberries and pistachios.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly. Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
Place logs on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack. Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack. Biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Great-Grandma’s Molasses Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) or robust-flavored (dark) molasses
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
Coarse sanding or raw sugar (for rolling)
Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375°F. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine.
Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.
Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
MAKE AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made and rolled into balls 2 weeks ahead. Freeze on a baking sheet; transfer to resealable plastic bags. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling in sugar.