Christmakkah Holiday Cookies

Here’s another favorite from the Senior Planet archives. Enjoy!   

Hanukkah, Christmas… time to think outside the cookie jar. For the holidays, baker Norma Saulino created some brand-new treats by mixing elements from well-worn recipe cards with her own take on new favorites from the web.

Gingerbread + Rugelach = Gingerugelach


This idea came about while I was thinking about gingerbread – the spices in the air, elaborate houses I’ve constructed over the years.  But casting my architectural aspirations aside, I hunted for a gingerbread dough that is softer than the crisp, sturdy kind used for building.

My inspirations: a recipe for Asian Pear Gingerbread Newtons I found in the Washington Post’s Recipe Finder and a traditional Rugelach.

Once I adapted the Newton dough and modified the Rugelach technique to suit, I ended up with a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside holiday-spiced cookie with a dash of raspberry and chocolate.  Gingerugelach was born.

The Recipe (makes 64 cookies)

3 cups flour
2 ½ tsp. ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup mini chocolate chips
¼ cup seedless raspberry jam, melted
1 egg plus 1 T water beaten for egg wash, plus sugar for dusting

In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients with a whisk and set aside. Beat butter, sugar and molasses until fluffy, then add egg and beat to combine. Pour in dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until dough pulls together. Divide dough into 4 parts, pat into flat rounds about ½” thick and 6-1/2” in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. Remove one round at a time from fridge, and working on wax paper or parchment dusted with flour, roll into an 8” circle about ¼” thick. Spread with melted jam and sprinkle with mini chips. With pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 16 wedges. Working quickly, roll each wedge from wide end to narrow, and place on parchment-covered baking sheet. (If at any point the dough becomes too soft to handle, place it in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up—that’s why it’s helpful to work on wax paper.) Brush cookies with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Refrigerate for 5-10 minutes to set dough, then bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove while warm and set on racks to cool. Store in air tight container.  Can be frozen.

Apple Crumble + Pecan Tarts =
Apple Crumblets and Apple-Pecan Tarts


Senior-Planet-apple-crumbletsFor years my husband and I took our son apple picking. With apples to spare, I’d make a dessert I’d found on Epicurious that has a perfect balance of crunch and sweet: Any Season Fruit Crumble. Recently, I baked my mother’s pecan tart recipe for a party and everyone raved about the “miniature pecan pies” with their flaky cream cheese crust. With these two desserts in mind, I began to envision a mash-up: mini apple crumb pies with that wickedly rich crust? Pecan-topped apple in little tarts? After some trial and error, the answers were “yes” and “yes.”

The Recipe (makes 4 to 4-1/2 dozen)


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 8oz. package cream cheese
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt

Blend together butter and cream cheese on medium speed. Add flour and salt and continue to blend until mixture gathers into a soft dough. Form pastry into equal-size balls and place them into non-greased mini muffin pans or on wax paper to chill in refrigerator until firm. (Test one to see how big you need to make the balls. They should evenly press into the bottom and up the sides of the cups and be less than ¼” thick.) Meanwhile, make the filling and topping (s).

Apple Filling

2 large crisp apples, peeled and cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
1 tsp. lemon juice
2-3 tsp. sugar, depending on the tartness of your apples
½ tsp. cinnamon
4 tsp. flour

In a medium bowl, stir all ingredients to combine.


Make either one, or halve recipe and make some of each. Each recipe makes enough to top all the tarts.

  1. Crumb: In a small bowl, stir to combine ½ cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar and ½ tsp. salt. Cut 5 T very cold unsalted butter into 5 parts and incorporate into dry mixture using a pastry cutter, two knives or a fork, to make small crumbs.
  2. Pecan: In a small bowl, stir to combine ½ cup finely chopped pecans (you can substitute walnuts) and ½ cup light brown sugar.

Remove pastry from refrigerator about a dozen balls at a time, and press them down into mini muffin cups to cover bottom and sides. Fill each cup with apple mixture, just to the top of the cup. Sprinkle a scant teaspoon of topping over each. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned on topping and crust. Allow to cool slightly and remove from cups using a butter knife to help release them. Store loosely wrapped at room temperature for a couple days, or freeze and thaw for a few minutes at room temperature when ready to use.

Rum Balls + Thumbprints = Rum-Prints


Senior-Planet-RumprintsWhen I was a kid, our next-door neighbor always made Rum Balls for the holidays. They were a personal favorite, and I don’t know whether it was for the deep chocolate taste or because it was the closest I ever got to a grown-up cocktail. At our house, my mom and I would bake Thumbprints, a buttery classic coated with walnuts and filled with jam.  What happens when two nostalgic bites collide?  Try for yourself. I found a Rum Balls recipe I liked on a blog called My Baking Addiction and changed it a little to suit the Rumprints’ needs.

The Recipe (makes 4 dozen)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
24 Rum Balls, chilled and cut in half (recipe below)
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Beat butter and sugar together until blended. Add egg and vanilla and beat again. Turn mixer to low speed and mix in flour and salt, until dough comes together. Shape into 1” balls on ungreased cookie sheets and press thumb deeply into each one.  Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or just until edges begin to brown.  Right out of the oven, firmly place half a Rum Ball cut side down, into the impression of each one. Remove to wire racks to cool. Before serving, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

For the Rum Balls (make a day or two in advance, and store in air tight container in refrigerator.)

28 Nilla wafers, crushed (about 1 cup)
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 T plus 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup ground walnuts
½ tsp. vanilla
1 T light corn syrup
2 ½ T rum

In large bowl, whisk together first 4 ingredients. Gradually pour in remaining ingredients while blending with a large spoon to incorporate the wet with the dry. When fully combined, shape heaping teaspoons full into balls of equal size. Makes 2 dozen.

Photos: Lorraine Saulino