Friday, December 18, 2009

What's Southern, cookie?

Working my way through my own stash of Christmas cookies this year -- bite-size cinnamon pecan shortbread, peppermint puffs, roll-out cookies with royal icing and a cashew-chocolate creation I haven't gotten to yet -- I started pondering whether there are Southern Christmas cookies.

So many choices of Christmas cookies reflect heritage. If your grandmother was Scandinavian or Greek or Mexican, your got-to-have Christmas cookie probably is too. And in the usual Southern way of thinking of things, if you are Southern, any cookie you make (or your mother made, or your grandmother made) is, by extension, Southern.

But are there Christmas cookies that really only show up in the South? I think of my grandmother's tea cake recipe as being thoroughly Southern, and yet I never make it at Christmas. It's too simple, too stripped-down, to hold its own on a platter with chocolate this and peppermint that.

There are certainly Southern cakes and Southern pies. But the only Southern cookie I could think of is the pecan tassie, which is really just a miniature version of a pecan pie. I'll put a recipe for that one below, just in case you need one more batch of something to bake on what promises to be a great holiday-baking weekend.

While you're baking, think it over and send me your nomination for a truly Southern Christmas cookie.

Pecan Tassies

From Cooking Light

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons skim milk
Cooking spray
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar and dash of salt in a small bowl. Combine cream cheese, butter, and milk in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until blended (mixture will be crumbly). Press flour mixture into a ball.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 3 to 4 times. Divide dough into 24 portions. Place 1 dough portion into each of 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Press dough into bottom and up sides of cups, using lightly floured fingers.

Divide pecans evenly among dough-lined muffin cups. Combine brown sugar and remaining ingredients; spoon about 2 teaspoons over pecans in each muffin cup.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned and filling is puffy. Cool in cups for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around outside edge of each tassie; remove from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.


Anonymous said...

I think this screams southern and Christmas! Look great.

Kathleen Purvis said...

Other comments I've gotten through Facebook:
Martha Foose: Check out Ginger Molasses Cookies from my book "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea."
Katherine Forney: Do cheese cookies count? (they're not sweet, but ...) and pecan sandies.
Judy Walker: I think cheese straws definitely should count.
Ronni Lundy: In the spirit of "admire the problem" and not that of "a definitive statement" my first instinct is to say that a southern cookie is waaaaay shorter--much more butter-y and inclined to a soft crumbly texture instead of crunch. Pecan sandies, pecan "wedding" cookies" come to mind as prime examples. (Will the song, "Shortnin' Bread" do as curious ... See Moreauxiliary evidence, or is it a Tin Pan Alley minstrel faux folk tune?) I'd look to the impact of soft southern flour vs. hard winter wheat flour as a defining element. I'd say southern cookies are also inclined to be on the "too sweet!" side of the equation. And I'd offer that any of the "chess" bars, including but not confined to lemon bars, are definitely southern and were part of any Christmas assortment I ever encountered growing up into grown up and beyond. And I'm definitely on the "Cheese Straws must be included" side.

brenda roberts said...

Did anyone mention a mexican wedding cake cookie, you know the cookie with all that yummy powdered sugar, cake flour, butter, pecans, and vanilla then rolled in powdered sugar after baking again! Always a favorite of my son Dave! along with allot of other men I have found thru the years of baking this favorite at Christmas time!