Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Traditions & My Favorite Cookbooks

The holiday season starts soon!

At Thanksgiving and Christmastime, tradition takes over from the chaos of everyday. My family and I plan get-togethers and parties, and we all have our favorite foods to bring and enjoy. Thanksgiving is low-key and homey; I bake a cheesecake for Thanksgiving, then muffins and scones and cake for family gatherings the following weekend. When Christmas hits, everything just gets more sparkly. I bring out the sparkly pins, sparkly sweaters and cover my home in decorations. My cooking gets in on the sparkles, too, as I plan and execute my yearly cookie spread.

The grandmother of all baking books is the Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking. It's out of print and hard to find, and my copy is all cracked and falling apart, but it's still the one I turn to for the basics and even the not-so-basics. You'll get all your classic cookies here plus fun things like a Christmas-tree-shaped cinnamon bread and more. I don't know what I would do without it.

For Thanksgiving, my family loves for me to make the scone recipe from this book; for Christmas, the Mexican wedding cake cookies and gingersnaps, peanut kiss cookies and coconut macaroons are standbys.
These "Cranberry-Orange Pinwheels" are a beloved staple of my Christmas cookie table, always made with Nantucket cranberries straight from the bogs.

The Gourmet Cookie Book is a collection of recipes from the storied magazine, and not just any recipes. This volume collects the "single best recipe" from 1941-2009. It's not just a cookbook but a little bit of social and culinary history. Each cookie has a story, and the cookies range from the easy to the difficult, the classic to the exotic.

I've made black and whites, strawberry tarts and discovered a new family favorite in the "Mocha Cookie," a rich chocolate cookie with an espresso-powder kick. And it's a really fun book to read to boot.
When I worked in synagogues I came across Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking and it's become one of my favorites. For post-Thanksgiving brunch my family loves the "Delicatessen-Style Classic Sour Cream Coffee Cake," a rich, buttery bundt cake laced with nuts and spices and topped with an almond-flavored glaze. It's amazing! And this is another can't-go-wrong cookbook.

This photo shows the coffee cake on the left and the scones from the Pillsbury book on the right, on our Thanksgiving buffet table a few years ago. The cranberry corn bread in the center is from a book  I no longer own and whose title I don't remember.

Now that we've moved, I'm not sure what's going to happen to our holiday traditions. This will be the first year either my husband or I have had to travel for holidays and I've already decided not to bake and transport a cheesecake. Instead, I  ordered a chocolate babka from a New York baker and had it shipped home.

And my cookie spread? I don't know. It would be nice to think I could round up enough New York friends for a holiday party, but it's hard enough to get together every day. So we'll see. I definitely want to bake- I just need to make sure there will be people who will eat!