Sugar Plums


While Visions of Sugar Plums Danced in Their Heads. . . . .

Isn’t it interesting the way holiday traditions always center around the kitchen and food? No matter what the culture or holiday, our memories linger on aromas in the kitchen and the delicious tastes of the foods we love.

As you prepare for the Christmas season and reflect on your own traditions, we would like to share with you some of our favorite foods and why they are so meaningful.

Marianne: My husband’s mother always made this cookie for Christmas and it was my husband’s favorite cookie. When we married 38 years ago, I began making the cookies for Chuck and I always know when he has been eating them as I can follow the “powdered sugar trail” through the house!

Russian Tea Cakes

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling cookies
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 325

Cream butter in large mixing bowl.  Add the vanilla then gradually add the ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, beating until light and fluffy.  Sift the flour, measure, and then sift again with the salt.  Add gradually to the butter mixture.  Add the nuts and mix well.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until edges are very lightly browned.  Remove the cookies from the baking sheets and roll in powdered sugar while still hot.  Cool on wire racks and roll cookies again in powdered sugar.

Once they are completely cooled, cookies may be stored in airtight containers for up to 1 week.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Sharon: My mom used to make these treats every year. We would always get some but the bulk of what she made was for neighbors who had no one there for Christmas. Every Christmas Eve we would sneak around the neighborhood and place a package of Christmas goodies on the front porch for that person to find. We never left our name, but somehow I think the neighbors suspected it was us. They were easy to make and never lasted long in our home.

The Christmas before my mom died, she shared her recipe. We made these cookies until the wee hours of the morning and then took them to the local VA hospital as a treat for all the veterans on Christmas morning. Needless to say the cookies didn’t last long there either! My family still makes and gives away these cookies to special neighbors who live alone and just need to know someone is thinking of them.  You can never tell what surprises you may find on your porch Christmas morning . . . . . . .

Date Filled Cookie Bars

Original recipe makes 1 -9×13 inch pan

  • 1 pound dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Directions: In a medium saucepan bring the dates, sugar, water, lemon zest and orange zest to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325

Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the rolled oats, flour, baking soda, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Stir in the walnuts and melted butter.

Mixture will be somewhat crumbly.

Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Spread the date filling evenly over the crust.

Crumble the rest of the crust mixture over the filling, and pat down slightly.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven.

Cut into bars while warm.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar when cooled.

Leisha: For as long as I can remember, my aunt has made this coffee cake for our Christmas morning breakfast – with one exception.  Three years ago, she and my uncle arrived at my parent’s home with arms full of presents – but no coffee cake.  Twelve hungry people stood there in horror as she realized that she forgot the cake.  She just didn’t forget it at home – she completely forgot to bake it.  Needless to say, the beloved coffee cake was there for the next year’s Christmas morning breakfast!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks) softened
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Stir together dry ingredients and set aside

Cream butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream and vanilla

Add dry ingredients to butter mixture

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Mix together

Generously grease and flour a bunt pan.  Shake out excess flour.

Spoon a layer of batter around pan then add a little nut mixture.  Continue with layers ending with the nut mixture.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Let cake rest in pan for 15 minutes then invert to cake stand.  Cool completely before slicing.

Perhaps the most recognized holiday traditions come from the Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner.  The following recipe was shared at this year’s Feast of the Fishes Festival cooking school demonstration.

Cucidati:  Italian Fig Cookies


  • 1 pound pitted dates
  • 1 pound dried figs
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • Juice and rind on one small orange
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, cut into ½ – inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
  • Colored sprinkles for decorating

Directions:  For the filling, using a food processer, grind dates and figs together.  Grind walnuts then a whole orange with its peel and juice.  Put the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add sugar and water, stir over low heat so that the sugar completely dissolves and mixture is smooth and spreadable, about 15 minutes, cool.

To make the sough, in a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine.  Add the butter and blend with your fingertips until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg, milk and vanilla together.  Add to the dry mixture and stir to make rough dough.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Cut the dough into 4 pieces, cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets or use parchment paper lined baking sheets.

On a lightly floured surface, one at a time, roll out each piece of dough into a 12-inch square.  Cut the dough into 4 x 3 –inch rectangles.  Spook 2 tablespoons of filling down the center o0f each rectangle.  Fold the long sides of each rectangle inward to the center to enclose the filling; pinch the edges to seal.  Turn the cookies seam-side down and press gently to flatten the seams.  With a floured knife, cut the logs crosswise into 1 ½ -inch-wide slices and arrange ½ inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Brush with egg wash and decorate with colored sprinkles.  Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

What Christmas cooking traditions would you like to share?


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