Make kids holiday kitchen helpers with Chanukah cookies

judy zeidler cookies

Russian Tea Cakes Photos by Dan Kacvinski

This year at our family Chanukah get-together, we’re having a cookie exchange. Everyone will bring their favorite cookies to enjoy as part of our dessert after the traditional latke dinner. Then boxes and tins of home-baked cookies will be exchanged as take-home gifts, gaily wrapped in blue-and-white paper and ribbons. This will definitely be a Chanukah that everyone will remember in a very sweet way — especially the children, who will delight in the gifts, parties and festive food it brings.

My children and grandchildren have always looked forward to helping me bake cookies for Chanukah, and I have collected some easy-to-bake recipes over the years that are now family favorites. We also have special cookie cutters that form perfect stars, dreidels and menorahs to help celebrate the holiday. 

The boys and girls in my family agree that cooking is lots of fun. Nothing tastes quite as good as a homemade cookie fresh from the oven, especially when it is eaten by its makers. Small hands are remarkably adept at rolling dough into balls, using cookie cutters, decorating with icing and sprinkles and other chores, so they need only a little gentle supervision. 

Cooking helps teach children how to follow directions, how to measure and weigh ingredients, how to tell time and other useful skills. And they always love to eat cookies, but especially when they help in the baking. 

A chanukiyah can be made out of juice cans, egg cartons or clay, but why not make an edible chanukiyah out of cookie dough and use it for a centerpiece?

I’m sure your children will enjoy baking these seven types of festive cookies as much as my family does.


Brown Sugar Shortbread

BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD

More flavorful than the usual shortbread, this four-ingredient recipe is perfect for kids to bake in the kitchen with Mom. Cut into small rounds and wrap in gold and silver foil to resemble Chanukah gelt or decorate with blue-and-white icing.

1 cup unsalted butter or nondairy
margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
2 1/2 cups flour
Blue and White Icing (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Beat butter and sugar until creamy in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add vanilla, then gradually beat in flour, blending thoroughly. Gather dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 1 hour until firm.

Divide dough into four parts. Working with one part at a time, roll out dough about 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart on a lightly greased, foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool. 

Makes about 3 dozen.

BLUE AND WHITE ICING

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cream, milk or mocha mix
2 cups powdered sugar
2 or 3 drops of blue food coloring

Blend lemon juice, cream and sugar in a bowl until creamy. Add additional cream if needed to thin icing. Divide icing in half. Add food coloring to half of the icing and mix until completely blended. Place blue icing in a pastry bag (with plain tip) and pipe onto cooled cookies as desired. Repeat with uncolored icing.. 

Makes about 2 cups.


PEANUT BUTTER BALLS

Practically foolproof, they’re a cinch for little helpers. 

3/4 cup unsalted butter or
nondairy margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven 375 F.

In a large bowl, cream butter with peanut butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding powdered sugar. Blend in vanilla and flour. Stir in peanuts; mix well. Shape dough into small balls. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until brown on the bottom.

While hot, roll in powdered sugar. If desired, re-roll cookies in more powdered sugar when cool.

Makes 4 dozen.


APRICOT HOLIDAY COOKIES

Apricot and orange flavors add a festive note to these cookies. For a variation, replace the apricot preserves with orange marmalade.

 1/2 cup unsalted butter or
nondairy margarine, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons orange juice
Grated peel of 1/2 orange
1/4 cup apricot preserves
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat in egg. Add orange juice and peel and apricot preserves. Mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat flour mixture into the butter mixture until dough comes together.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of batter, about 2 inches apart, onto foil-lined, greased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are brown around the edges. 

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


CHANUKAH STAR COOKIES

3/4 cup unsalted butter or
nondairy margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups flaked coconut,
finely chopped
Light cream

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Add egg, vanilla and almond flavoring and blend well. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add salt. Stir in 1 1/3 cups of the coconut. Divide dough in three portions, wrap each portion in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll chilled dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with a star-shaped cookie cutter. Place on an ungreased foil-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with cream and sprinkle with the remaining cup of the coconut. Bake for about 6 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes about 8 dozen.


Almond Meringue Cookies

ALMOND MERINGUE COOKIES

Small children will find it easier to drop dough by teaspoonfuls instead of rolling it out.

4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups coarsely ground almonds
1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Fill a pan halfway with water. Keep pan over low heat.

Beat egg whites in bowl large enough to fit atop the pan without it touching the water. When the whites are foamy, begin beating in the sugar a little at a time. Transfer the bowl to the top of the pan, raise the heat to medium high and continue to beat the white about 5 minutes until they are very glossy and thick.

Remove the bowl from the pot. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the almonds and then the flour, a little at a time.

Using two teaspoons, drop the dough onto the parchment paper, spacing them about 1/2-inch apart.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Cool for 5 minutes before removing them from the parchment paper to cool completely on a cooling rack.

Makes about 4 dozen.


CHANUKAH FRYING PAN COOKIES (SUFGANIYOT)

Foods fried in oil are a Chanukah must. Adults should take over for the actual frying.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or
nondairy margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
Grated peel of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Oil for deep-frying
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Cream butter and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add lemon peel and salt. Beat in eggs one at a time. Sift flour and baking powder; fold into butter mixture to make a dough. 

Heat oil in deep-frying pan to 360 F. Shape dough into small balls and drop about 8 at a time into hot oil. Fry for 3 minutes, turn with a slotted spoon and fry for another 2 or 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Lift out cookies with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon, and while cookies are still warm, roll in sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Makes about 4 dozen.

RUSSIAN TEA CAKES

1/2 pound unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
Powdered sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Blend the butter and powdered sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour and salt and blend thoroughly. Mix in the walnuts. Work the dough with your hands into a smooth ball.

Pinch off (or use an ice cream scoop) and roll the dough with your hands into 1-inch balls. Place them about 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown. Cool slightly, roll in sifted powdered sugar. Let them cool and roll them in sugar again.

Makes about 5 dozen.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of "Italy Cooks" (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.