The Gourmet Cookie Book’s Moravian White Christmas Cookies + Five Beautiful Stories
This post is the result of a project created by my friend Anne Woodard, who used to work for Gourmet Magazine. She and four friends and family members each wrote a beautiful story about making the cookie from the year of their birth from The Gourmet Cookie Book. This lovely little book collects the single best cookie recipe from Gourmet Magazine for each year from 1941 to 2009.
We've included the recipe for the 1946 best cookie, Moravian White Christmas Cookies. For the rest of the recipes, you'll need to get your hands on the book. In 2009 both the New York Times and NPR ranked it among the best cookbooks of the year.
Photo by Romulo Yanes for Gourmet.
As Gourmet Magazine closed up shop in 2009, my dear friend Anne Woodard was for several months the single remaining name on their payroll.
Anne is of the rare breed who can look into your eyes and know who you are and what, in the deepest reaches of your soul, you need. If that sounds a little terrifying, you’ll have to trust me. It isn’t. Just to meet her is to know you’ll never begrudge her the knowledge. To befriend her is to discover that she won’t only know what you need. She’ll make it her mission to ensure you get it. Not many people are like that. But Anne is.
When Anne first saw The Gourmet Cookie Book, she gave it the same treatment she’d give you. And she realized instantly, as I don’t think I would have done with all the time in the world, that this book needed to tell a particular set of stories.
She gave the book to a handful of her family members and friends and asked each of those women to bake the cookie from the year of her birth and write about the experience. Then we’d put it all together and see where it took us. Don’t you just wish you’d thought of that on your own?
This series is the result of that project. During the week we’ll hear from five contributors, spanning the years 1946 to 1975. Anne’s mom Joan Holliday kicks off the week with the Moravian White Christmas Cookie from 1946.
The recipe in the cookbook is written in the style of an era when people knew how to cook, and recipe writers could take for granted that their readers would understand terms like “cream the butter” and “roll the dough extremely thin.” It’s quite lovely, really. I’ve included a modernized version of the same recipe in today’s post, but if you’d like to have the recipes for the other cookies featured this week, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the book.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading these stories as much as I have.
Take it away, Joan Holliday!
Joan Holliday's cookie story: 1946 Moravian White Christmas Cookies
Well, the ol’ girl did it! I am looking at my finished product of Moravian White Christmas Cookies, and they look pretty darn good! My husband just taste-tested one and also said the flavor was very intriguing and lingering; he said he especially enjoyed the light, crisp texture. Yeah!
I must admit, I have made my share of cut-out cookies in my long life, so I was reluctant to spend the time on this project. But I couldn’t resist my youngest daughter’s request for the women in our family to make the cookies of our birth years from the Gourmet Cookie Book, then write about the experience. I was born in 1946 and currently live near Bethlehem, PA, home to a Moravian community that was the subject of an article from the December 1946 Gourmet — so it was clearly meant to be.
The ingredients are simple, except for the sherry, but I did dig this out of the back of my liquor cabinet—who knows what year that was purchased? The recipe said to add “sufficient flour” or one extra cup to stiffen. I ended up adding two extra cups of flour (five cups in total), and the texture of the dough was soft, yet firm enough that I could lightly pat it into three balls. I started this project on a Sunday night, and ended up refrigerating the dough all week, as my work and family life is busier than ever.
Today, I left the chilled dough out of the refrigerator for half an hour, then proceeded to cut out cookies. I rolled the dough as thin as possible. These days, I use an oil spray to grease cookie pans, and I questioned whether a 1946 cookie recipe could handle this—amazing all the new conveniences we have—but I did use it this time, and it didn’t seem to be a problem. I also have a convection oven, and realized, after the first batch of overly browned cookies, that I needed to reduce the oven temp from 450 to 425 degrees. I baked on two racks for three minutes, then rotated the pans—six minutes in total seemed perfect. The cookies browned nicely on the bottom, but were light white on top, fully cooked and crispy. The recipe made about eight dozen.
I think this is the first time in my entire life that I made cut-out cookies by myself. Coming from a large family, then having three children of my own, baking cut-out cookies has always felt like a communal event. So I missed the crazy chatter and hearing my oldest daughter telling me that I needed to roll the dough out thinner, or my youngest daughter making it clear that it was her turn to cut out the cookies, or seeing my son sneaking a few pieces of the raw dough. Now, working alone, the only upside was that my kitchen didn’t need a full cleaning after the dough was formed. I reminisced about how fast the years have passed and savored the thought that baking connects us through many generations—even now, I’m tearing up about the past, yet also aware that I am bringing back to life a recipe that my mother may have made when I was young.
After the cookies cooled, I ended up icing them, and I am really glad I did. The tablespoon of lemon juice in the Blue Decorative Icing (p. 152) was just what was needed to bring out the delicate spice flavors in the cookie. I also thought the cookies needed to be sweeter, so the light icing gave them just the right sweetness. I added a touch of blue food coloring, and it looked like blue ice—how cool!
There are now eight dozen Moravian Blue Christmas Cookies in my freezer in tin canisters, with wax paper between each layer, waiting for the holidays. This is called being prepared, like any good ‘40s girl!
For the cookies
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 well-beaten eggs
- 4 cups flour, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 Tablespoons sherry
For the icing
- 1 pound confectioners' sugar
- 4 teaspoons powdered egg whites, not reconstituted
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cookies
- In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until lightened in color and texture, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is light, about 2 minutes more. Add the eggs and beat until well combined.
- In a medium bowl, sift together 3 cups of the flour and the salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add half the flour mixture to the bowl with the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Then add half the sherry and stir to incorporate. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and sherry. When all is well blended, add enough additional flour to stiffen the dough, about 1 cup. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease two baking sheets. Flour a work surface and roll out the dough to a mere 1/16 inch thick. Cut out cookies with a cookie cutter. Place on cookie sheets, leaving an inch of space between cookies. You will need to bake in several batches. Bake for about 7 minutes.
For the icing
- Beat all ingredients together in a large bowl until just combined, about one minute, starting on low speed.
- Increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. This will take about three minutes in a stand mixer or up to 10 minutes with a handheld mixer.
- Use line and flood method, detailed below, to ice cookies.
To ice the cookies
- Spoon about 1/4 of the icing into a disposable piping bag and snip off a tiny bit of the bag's tip. Draw a line of icing as close as you'd like to the outer edge of your cookie, making sure to connect the line's ends to each other so the flood icing won't have any gaps to flow out.
- In a medium bowl, mix some more of the icing with two additional teaspoons of water. This icing should be thin enough to spread slowly and slightly across the surface of the cookies, but no thinner than that. You may need to experiment a little to find the consistency that's best for your humidity and, ahem, skill level. Pour this icing into another piping bag or better yet a squeeze bottle.
- Squeeze some flood icing onto the surface of a cookie, filling in the entire surface inside the line. You can use a toothpick to fill any gaps that don't fill themselves and gently rap the cookie onto the work surface if you're brave and want a perfectly smooth finish.
- Let dry completely.
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookie Book.
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Serving Size:1 cookie
Amount Per Serving:Calories:: 74 Total Fat:: 2.9g Carbohydrates:: 10.9g Fiber:: 0.2g Protein:: 1.1g
Kim Demopolous' cookie story: 1963 Curled Wafers
What. Was. I. Thinking?
Apparently, I wasn’t. As a self-proclaimed foodie, it is now painfully obvious to me that I would sell myself to the highest bidder for anything food-related, which, because it is food-related, is bound to appeal to me. And when you throw in the Gourmet caché—well, it was pretty much over as soon as it started. I think my words were: “You’ll get a blurb AND some sample cookies, how’s that?”
Sooooo—the book was handed to me by a grinning husband, who, having skimmed the recipe once the book was collected from the cubby at school, announced a little too gleefully, “You have your work cut out for you with your year.” Because he knows full well that I’ve only ever been on the receiving end of these creations—never on the production line. Oh, I make cookies, all right, but usually ones that don’t require equipment—unless cookie cutters count.
Well, as you can tell from the title, the year is 1963—which, did I mention that I had completely glossed over the tiny detail of sharing my birth year with the parties involved? Exactly. Ouch. Anyway, once that was out of the way, I forged ahead with the panic over the procurement of a pizzelle or a krumkake iron. The sound of both of them scared me, but the pizzelle iron I was at least familiar with. Hmmm … Did I really want to spend money for one of these contraptions? Lightbulb! Quickly followed by a pleading e-mail to a friend who used to be an annual provider of this treat, and actually lives in the same town as me! Jackpot—said pizzelle iron changed hands, and I was ready to go.
Step 1: Carve time out of an obscenely busy weekend. Check.
Step 2: Review recipe and required ingredients. This was much easier than Step 1. The sixties seemed pretty straightforward from an ingredient perspective. I actually had all of them in my kitchen already—butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla. Check.
Step 3: Take the pizzelle iron out of the box. Oh, this is what it looks like. How does it work? Check (but add Step 4—see below).
Step 4: Carve more time out of an obscenely busy weekend to actually read the pizzelle iron directions. Check.
Step 5: Get cooking. Or is it baking? Actually, I think it’s ironing. Check.
And then it got fun. Mixing the batter was a breeze. The rest of it, not so easy-breezy, but I have to say, I was into it. Mastering the pizzelle maker is an art, of which I was an enthusiastic student. It was messy. I used too much batter. I used too little batter. I undercooked, but I didn’t really overcook, because I did too much hovering. I tried different placements of the batter on the iron, and learned that the instructions inside the box were spot-on—further towards the back is better. Much better. I burned my fingers. A lot. Trying to use a spatula on an overpopulated pizzelle iron is futile. I curled. I tasted. I let my kids taste.
And then—the batter was gone. And I was out of time. The pizzelle maker has to go home, and I’m going to move on to my traditional, familiar, and comforting Christmas cookies. Maybe I need a pizzelle iron after all … but only AFTER I’ve tackled some of the other cookies in the book.
Kim Holliday's Cookie Story: 1969 Galettes de Noël
I have always considered cooking a bit of an adventure. Sure, sometimes it’s routine, but most times I use it as a chance to explore. So it’s only apropos that when I agreed to make the recipe for my birth year, I discovered it to be nothing short of arduous. A deep-fried dough? Well, here goes…
As I was making the recipe, I was impressed with how naturally it came together as a gorgeous dough. As the Gourmet Cookie Book recipe advised, with just a spoonful of extra milk, voilà! I must admit, I did not have the most precise method for dividing the dough into 15 to 18 balls; mine numbered about ten more than that. But who doesn’t prefer a big batch of cookies to a small one?
Taking on a recipe from my birth year definitely led me to reflect on eras. As a ’69 baby, I was always proud to have at least one foot in the sixties. The year of landing on the moon — talk about explorations. Maybe that’s why that spirit is ingrained in my DNA.
I am curious as to whether my mom ever made this Galettes de Noël recipe, but it’s doubtful, as she was busy with her firstborn and a still freshly minted marriage. Although she never shied away from fried dough in concept: When we were kids, she held an annual neighborhood “doughnut party” just before the start of the school year. What a novelty! We had seemingly hundreds of kids and moms in our rural corner-lot manicured yard, celebrating the end of the summer instead of begrudging it. And better yet, doing so while we were still able to break the rules, having such fun on a weekday. The cookie for my year seems to makes sense for the times as they once were.
While I was waiting the 25 minutes for my dough balls to rest, I decided to do some work in parallel on another recipe that I had been eyeing: the Bourbon Balls for 1980. Heck, I am a bit of a Jack Daniels girl, and who doesn’t love a bourbon ball or two?
I live in a small town in Sonoma County, CA, which once had the honor of receiving a favorable comment on our local taco truck in a Gourmet issue several years ago. But in my hamlet, I could not for the life of me find the chocolate wafers necessary for the dark color and flavor of the Bourbon Balls. With a bit of inventiveness and stubbornness, I ventured instead to use a package of Newman-O’s, the organic version of Oreos, which required scraping away the precious white crème. (What does one do with a pile of that stuff, anyway?) So if you see tiny black flakes in the photographed ’69 cookies, those might be a few crumbs that remained on the counter when I got back to rolling the fried-dough cookies.
Frying the dough was interesting. As an engineer, I of course studied the behavior of the dough in the sizzling hot oil. Not surprisingly, the time span from when the rolled cookie dough was lowered into the hot oil until the moment that it rose (or bounced!) to the surface was inversely proportional to the temperature of the oil. But I did find it interesting that the edge of the dough that last entered the oil going down was the first to break the surface of the oil on the way back up. I would also estimate that something close to 18 percent of the time, the galette pulled a maneuver during surfacing in which it folded over into a taco shape, so this took some well-timed attentiveness to catch. (Not that the unintended shape didn’t provide a handy receptacle for a sweet filling.)
Despite not having a deep fryer, controlling the temperature wasn’t as much of a challenge as my work patterns. Let’s just say that the darker galettes resulted from when I had turned my back on the cooking pot while rolling a new ball, and the lighter ones were a product of my hovering over the pot instead.
Once I flipped and scooped the galettes out, I questioned whether I was putting too much powdered sugar on them. But after my first bite, I knew that no, they were perfect. And oddly enough, the flavors in that first bite brought me swiftly back to memories of my childhood neighborhood, and eating the homemade Italian pizzelles made by our across-the-street local grandma, Mrs. Cappa.
What a delectable treat! I am ecstatic to share them with others, and gladder still that I made them smaller than prescribed, to have more to share.
I unfortunately began this endeavor late on this Saturday, and it is now later than I wanted it to be. Thus, the Bourbon Balls will have to wait. At least my chocolate wafers are prepped. And I suspect letting the raisins spend extra time marinating in Jack Daniels is not the worst idea.
Oh, and for the record—one package of Newman-O’s produces one and three-quarters cup of crushed chocolate wafers (sans white crème, of course).
Kelly Holliday's Cookie Story: 1974 Kourambiedes (Greek Butter Cookies)
The new Gourmet Cookie Book has a sweet conceit: showcase one cookie for each year of the magazine’s publication and arrange the recipes chronologically. When my copy of the book arrived, I was first arrested by its striking images, with geometric arrangements of scores of perfectly baked cookies. After oohing and ahhing at the beautiful photos, I turned immediately to the page celebrating the year of my birth, 1974. A white and golden bowtie shape of sugar-dusted snowball cookies greeted me: the kourambiedes,or Greek butter cookie.
The narcissism that led me to turn first to my birth year also caused me to reflect on what I found there: Is this cookie representative of me, or of my mother? Does it reflect the person just starting out in life, or the person in the full swing of her life, embarking on the adventure of motherhood? Upon first glance, it was clear that this cookie was about me. It is a butter cookie, simple and understated. My mother, on the other hand, likes a lot more flamboyant spice in her life. This plain white ball of butter and flour would never fit in to my mother’s culinary repertoire. “Where is the pizzazz?” she would ask. (This clear difference in aesthetics almost resulted in fisticuffs the day we shopped together for my wedding gown.)
Maybe these cookies are more representative of my mother than I first thought. I guess the truth is that if any of us were lucky enough to have spent time baking with our mothers, we know that those techniques, skills, tips, and tricks she instilled in us will ensure that every cookie we ever bake is a representation of her.
After tasting the cookie, however, I changed my tune again. While delightful in texture, the cookie was sorely lacking in flavor. Where was the almond, clove, ororange? I tasted only slightly sweetened flour and butter. I even went back and read, and reread, the ingredients to ensure that I didn’t miss anything or skimp on the aromatics—to no avail. With this result, I can only say that I hope this cookie represents neither my mother nor me. Although, after the wedding dress incident, I fear my mother might attribute it to my boring tastes.
As I conclude this project, I can’t help but take a peek at the cookie from the year of my daughter’s birth, the 2009 Grand Marnier-Glazed Pain d’Épice Cookies. The name alone makes clear that this cookie does not fit my understated aesthetic. Not to mention the page-long list of ingredients, which includes freshly ground allspice, candied orange peel, and gold luster dust…gold luster dust! All I can say is, wish us luck when the time comes to find her wedding gown!
Anne Woodard's Cookie Story: 1975 Almond Bolas (Portuguese almond cookies)
A Cookie for Your [insert your wish here]?
It was December 2009, two months after the nearly 70-year-old Gourmet magazine closed, six years after I joined its staff. I was meeting a client to convince him the Gourmet brand could live without the magazine. For this occasion, I baked a fresh batch of Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Coconut Cookies from the newly released Gourmet Today cookbook.
A cookie for your conviction?
It is one year later, and I’m now the only remaining staff member from the magazine. I have this grand idea of having Gourmet Cookie Book spokesperson and adored chef, Sara Moulton, along with her mother and daughter, bake the cookies from their birth years for a broadcast news segment. Not only will it bring to life the depth, diversity, and deliciousness of this book, but it will spotlight the unique historical context of each cookie. The book will certainly fly off the shelves!
A cookie for your commitment?
When I realized I don’t work in PR for a reason, I took matters into my own hands. After distributing a first-bound copy to each of my closest and dearest Gourmet cookie fans, I requested they each (1) bake the cookie from their birth year, (2) write an essay about their experience, and (3) photograph the outcome (or, in one case, have her twins doodle a drawing, since all cookies were consumed before the camera was found). And I then called dear friend and favorite food blogger Umami Girl.
A cookie for your time?
The very first thing anyone does when they hold this book in their hands is flip to their birth year cookie recipe. What beautiful concoction represents me? Does it spotlight a spice, a nut, or an ingredient that I most adore? Does it remind me of my childhood, or of who I am today? Is it particularly unique like me?
Well, 1975 here I come … Almond Bolas, a Portuguese almond cookie. Hmmmm. I do love almonds, although I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten what the recipe calls for—blanched almonds. And what’s with the bread crumbs and no butter? Not to mention the fact that my cookie requires the use of a food processor, since ‘75 was the year that particular gadget was first introduced. I love my Cuisinart; in fact, it was a gift from Gourmet in 2007. But I have to admit, when baking, I try to avoid all mechanical intervention—I still make my chocolate chip cookies with a wooden spoon and a bowl. Not sure I have what it takes to make this cookie.
A cookie for your bravery?
When I first started grinding the nuts, I nearly fell backwards. How could this be right? It seemed like I was grinding a handful of stones. I first Googled “blanched almonds.” Did my husband buy the wrong kind of nuts? I then Googled “food processor.” Is this machine supposed to grind whole nuts? When it appeared all was in standard food-processing order, I stood back as far as I could from the machine and let it maniacally crunch through a pound of nuts (silently swearing to myself that I’d wear earplugs the next time, all the while reassuring myself that the ears on the baby in my belly were protected by many layers of flesh).
Now, on to the eggs. Whipping the egg whites brought me straight back to my mother’s kitchen, where she used to make lemon meringue pie for our neighbor. What a beautiful and instant evolution—and to think my husband had never seen “stiff peaks” before! It wasn’t, however, until I started making indentations in each dough ball to “fill them with beaten egg yolk” that my husband got out the camera. It was then that we realized I was definitely in uncharted waters, and I officially thanked Gourmet, once again, for teaching me new and exciting ways to cook.
After worrying about the bake time—opening and closing the oven door at least ten times for each batch of cookies—we took our first bite … a bite that instantly reminded my husband of his Aunt Mary’s pignoli nut cookies … a bite that made me proud.
A cookie for your reflections?
What is it about baking cookies that touches us? Is it the process or the outcome? Is it the drive down memory lane? Is it the sense of accomplishment after mixing, rolling, grinding, baking, cooling, and packaging? Is it the simple fact that with less than $20 and a little bit of elbow grease, you can give someone an incredibly delightful, personal gift?
As I packaged up the cookies for my grandma’s Christmas gift this year, I was reminded that despite the many years between us, the unique taste of each special creation transcends our generations. And despite the many miles between us, she will feel my love—my warm hug—the moment she opens the tin.
A cookie for your love?
I was determined to finish this project before my third child was born. Thankfully, I’m due one week from today, and no such introduction has been made. Whew! I also thought this project might help me bid farewell to Gourmet as a staff member. Another example of perfect timing — last week ended my seven-year stint. And as I hold this cookbook in my hands, I am certain that Gourmet will live forever as I continue to grow in my cooking and baking explorations. What I didn’t realize though was that this project would ignite a heartfelt sharing of stories about childhood memories … about our mothers, or being mothers … about community … about the trials and tribulations of being outside our comfort zone.
After reading the essays from my friend and family, I was so deeply touched. It was one beautiful story after another. Most of us boastful about the outcome; one of us not! Nonetheless, I couldn’t believe how unique each experience was, and yet, how connected they all were … Connected through conviction, commitment, time, bravery, reflections, and love!
What is your cookie for?