Recipe Traditions Canada Style
Each year, as the days get shorter and the nights longer, we pull out family traditions and recipes, each garnished with sprinkles of our memories.
In Canada, we like cookies too. There isn’t a family I know that hasn’t a favorite recipe stashed away in some cookbook or a treasured handwritten copy from a grandmother. I was introduced to cooking and baking by my mother and my sisters when I was young and still enjoy the tradition today. There’s nothing more rewarding than the scent of sugar and spice and family and friends enjoying treats fresh from the oven.
When I was just a teenager, my then-boyfriend introduced me to his family’s favorite Christmas cookie. The recipe had been passed down from a long line of fine English women who knew how to make shortbread. My punishment for eating an entire tin full of cookies one night was that I had to learn who to make these cookies. It’s taken me years to perfect, though they always taste great, sometimes the dough just won’t cooperate.
This year I enlisted the boyfriend who graduated into husband and asked him to cream the butter and lard—the first step in the recipe. While my husband is a great and willing helper, sometimes, I take the simple skills a girl is taught in her make-belief doll kitchen, and by her mother, for granted. Some background techniques become second nature to us. My husband is a bit messy, though he will deny that, he’s good at following directions. He creamed that butter and lard until it almost reached the melting point. This year, it was never easier to combine the sugar and flour and roll out the dough, so if there is a trick to these simple and delicious cookies, it’s all in the prep.
SHORTBREAD COOKIES GRANDMA MARTYN STYLE
1/2 lb. butter (softened)
1/2 lb. lard or shortening (creamed soft)
2 cups fine granulated sugar
4-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup rice flour
Optional: maraschino cherry, sprinkles.
Cream butter and lard together well--note husband’s technique
Sift together the flour and rice flour before stirring in small increments into butter and shortening
Mix well – knead until pliable, pat out or roll and cut in desired shapes
Prick with a fork in a shortbread pattern and sprinkle with granulated sugar, garnish with small bits of maraschino cherry, or sprinkles.
Bake on ungreased cookie sheets until golden brown at 275 approx. 30 min. (These cookies should remain white.)
Did you know that sifting flour makes it lighter and easier to mix for baking? I’ve always thought that it was an old-fashioned practice that had something to do with weevils. Eek!
While shortbread cookies are great, vanilla nut crescents are always the star of the show. This recipe is an Austrian classic. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them. The ingredient list is short; I bet you have all of these in your pantry.
While you can toast your own nuts, it’s much easier to purchase pre-ground packages of either walnut, almond, or hazelnuts. If doing an impromptu bake, simply use whole nuts, grind them in a coffee grinder or pulse in a food processor (add ½ of the flour until the nuts are ground. Adding the flour will make the nuts less greasy and less sticky.) It’s okay to have some larger pieces to add to the dough.
1 1/4 cups nuts (of choice)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (remember sifted is best)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted, room temperature butter (¾ cup)
1 ½ cups of confectioners’ sugar (the equivalent of powdered or icing) (½ cup only is for dough)
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
(Also, if you have almond extract and Dr Oetker Vanilla sugar in packages, set them out.)
In a medium-size bowl, whisk the ground nuts and sifted flour together and add the salt, set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and half cup of the sugar until nicely whipped or about 2 minutes (I’ve used regular attachments, and they work too.)
Beat in the vanilla. (if you have almond extract and are using almonds add a teaspoon of the extract for that authentic almond taste.)
Next, set the mixer on low and add the flour and nut mixture in two portions until combined.
Next, you can either roll the entire batch into a long log, wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Form the cookies using a teaspoon full of dough and pinching it and shaping it with slightly tapering ends into 3-inch crescents. Or you can do the same with the room temperature dough and then chill the crescents for 30 minutes or until firm.
Bake in a preheated oven, 350F, on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets for about 16-18 minutes until edges are faintly golden. Remove and cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Then sift the remaining sugar* on top, rolling the cookies until completely covered. (*if you have Dr. Oetker's Vanilla pouches, mix them into the sugar.) (Or use a vanilla bean in the sugar until the sugar becomes infused with vanilla flavor and scent.)
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