Merry & Bright
Local food pros share a few of their favourite holiday recipes, from sugar cookies to Madeleines, to brighten the cookie tray this year.
Let’s cut to the chase. After the last two years we’ve had, we could all use a cookie. Or 12.
Thankfully, holiday bakers and their grateful family and friends anticipate the season’s baking rituals as much as its gift giving and twinkly lights. Embedded in the sweets we share are a wide range of narratives. Some are born of old family recipe boxes and beloved flour-dusted cookbooks, and evoke a nostalgia not dissimilar from that of pulling out the box of Christmas tree decorations and greeting them anew. Other treats reach beyond the traditional to spruce up a cookie tray that may read as a little rote.
Whether you’re baking for a cookie swap, packaging gifts for friends and family or stocking your own cookie platter, consider trying (or slipping to a friend or family member you’d like to influence) one of the 10 recipes shared with us by six generous local kitchens. The recipes include classics, those plucked from professional bakers’ own dog-eared cookbooks, and clever new inventions. Happy baking – and happy holidays – from all of us at In The Hills.
A few years ago Spirit Tree owner Tom Wilson was looking for a new Christmas cookie to offer from his bakery – something classic, but not so familiar that it was widely available. He and the baking team shrank a Madeleine down to bite-sized, added a lightly boozy filling and topped it with coconut “snow.” “Canadians for some reason, even though we don’t grow coconuts, are just fascinated with anything coconut,” he says. As of late November head baker Diane Clarkson-Dann oversees the rollout of these moist flavour bombs – if you need to take, you know, a research trip.
This French classic has a fascinating past – it began life as a commercial chocolate cookie sandwich in the 1920s made by a French company, Biscuiterie Nantaise. The cookie was updated with a cheeky smiley face in the 1990s. Alan Le Louedec and Gaëlle Thollet tap into their nostalgia for the cookie at their Bistro du Pain bakery in Erin – and use the name of the store-bought variety, too. “It’s a really popular biscuit for kids,” says Gaëlle. “It reminds us of our childhood, eating it after the school.” Although it’s undeniably a kid’s treat, their elevated version leans on a polished chocolate ganache for a grown-up touch. Want more? Try their classic Madeleine recipe.
Cookies were the first thing Le Finis chef Terry Doel was allowed to bake when she was a kid. “I got so good, I did all the Christmas baking in our house,” she says. “To this day I still participate in cookie exchanges as I love to see everyone’s creativity (except for the year one person brought a store-bought oatmeal cookie).” Try these out and we’re pretty sure you’ll win at the cookie exchange – even if your icing piping skills aren’t Terry-level. These are about 3 inches wide, but the recipe can be used with any sized cutter. For more, try Terry’s Lavender Sugar Cookie recipe.
In the Middle East and the Arab world, maamoul is the main treat served to family, friends, and guests during holidays such as Ramadan and Eid. Islam Salamah, who works with her family at Orangeville’s Rasmi’s Falafel food truck, crafts these homemade cookies by tucking seasoned date paste into a piece of dough, pressing it into a decorative maamoul mold and popping it out onto a cookie tray to bake. As a substitute, any small mold or even mini-cupcake pan will do, but you may not be able to resist the urge to seek out the pretty, authentic molds. Rich yet not too sweet, these are cookies you won’t feel (too) guilty enjoying with your morning coffee.
At any given time, pastry chef Adriana Roche of Caledon East’s catering hot spot Gourmandissimo has up to a dozen cookies available for sale. She’s offered two options for us mere mortals to try at home. She designed her Santa Fudgy Brownie Cookies to be kid-helper friendly – and a hit with the jolly old elf. “It matters what cookies you leave out on Christmas Eve, and it gives children so much pride to help make them.” The jam sandwich cookies pictured here are a dainty-yet-sturdy cookie tray stalwart – easy to customize to suit your tastes. Adriana says they work equally well with Nutella, lemon curd, marmalade or chocolate ganache. We may have to take that as a challenge and test each one.
When asked to whip up some holiday cheer for us, Zac Schleyer and Courtney Snow of Heatherlea Farm Shoppe Café in Caledon turned to two reliable sources they use throughout the holiday season. The chocolate crackle cookies are their version of a classic Martha Stewart recipe they have on repeat. And the duo also leans on beloved cookbook author and illustrator Susan Branch’s recipe for Sugar Cookies. While they hope you’ll visit and pick up a few, owner Pat McArthur admits that nothing beats a home kitchen: “Baking Christmas cookies is such a happy time to spend with kids, family and/or friends.”
Shortbread on your Wish List
We have an embarrassment of riches in Headwaters when it comes to purchased shortbread. Orangeville’s shortbread queen, Keri Parfitt, has expanded her footprint. In addition to her 96 Broadway Wicked Shortbread pickup location, Keri opened Wicked Shop Local Bakery & Marketplace at 17 Armstrong Street where her store-made Scottish empire cookies and melt-in-your-mouth stalwarts share shelf space with other local brands. We’re also excited to try out new Creemore player Motherbutter Shortbread at the Holiday Treasures Arts & Crafts Sale at Museum of Dufferin December 1 to 12. (For more on Motherbutter, see Food+Drink.)
As for imported shortbread, Mulmur’s Rosemont General Store is brimming with classic brands from Britain. And if you’re looking for something with an Indian twist, Orangeville’s FIG Grocers stocks a range of specialty boxed cookies, including the Deep biscuit brand, which adds cashew, pistachio and even saffron to its recipes.
These rich, chewy treats are easier to make than you might think.