In the weeks leading up to Christmas, there’s typically a parade of social gatherings taking up all of your movie time on Saturday afternoons and Tuesday nights in with the family. This year, the lack of social obligations has left a series of gaping holes in your schedule, and there is nothing better than filling that free time by baking cookies for your loved ones, popping a bottle, and getting real cozy.
Pairing cookies and wine can be challenging, but I’m here to tell you…it’s not as scary as it seems. My family is Italian, and I’ve got an ancestry of experience in pairing wine with just about anything—cookies are no exception. Plus, there are scarier things during the holidays, like the line at Uncle Giuseppe’s, or waiting 2 hours in the cold for Vitamia’s sausage bread on Christmas Eve. If you live in New Jersey and have a cousin named Tony, you’ll understand just how scary these references are.
3 Holiday Cookies and Wine Pairings
First up is my grandmother’s recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies. When I called my Grandma for these, she told me she saw ‘a woman making them on the television in the 50s,’ and she has been making them ever since. I’m going to give you all her recipe, but I’m sorry to tell you that no matter how hard you try, your cookie will never be as good as hers. She has leant this recipe out to a dozen friends and family members in the past, and while the recipe is identical, they will always be missing Grandma Clara’s touch.
Grandma Clara’s Mexican Wedding Cookies
- Half pound of butter (two sticks)
- 7/8 cups of confectioners’ sugar
- 1 ½ cups ground walnuts
- 2 cups of flour
- ½ tsp of cinnamon
- 1 extra cup of confectioner sugar for final sprinkle
- Cream butter and 7/8 cups of confectioners sugar together until well mixed
- Add walnuts, cinnamon, and the flour.
- Mix well and form into a log. Then, wrap the log in plastic and chill.
- When well-chilled (one hour in the fridge), cut in slices ¼ inch thick.
- Place on greased cookie sheet (or parchment lined baking sheet if you hate clean up like me)
- Press thumb in the center of each slice to form a ring
- Bake for 12 mins in a 375-degree oven
- When done, sprinkle well with both sides with confections sugar
Sequoia Grove Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is the perfect match for these sweet, buttery cookies. While the wine is dry, the acidity and creamy notes will marry (no pun intended) the Mexican Wedding Cookie in your mouth. Buy Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Here.
My second favorite holiday cookie is my mom’s Cuccidati. “Gucheys,” their colloquial name in my house, are Italian fig-stuffed cookies made every year at Christmas time. My mom tweaked the recipe quite a bit from the traditional recipe. Mainly, she uses store-bought pie dough for the shells, because she’s a working mom and, well…Pillsbury does it for you. Her cookies end up looking like iced dumplings, and contrary to typical cuccidati recipes, she wouldn’t DARE add rainbow sprinkles as a garnish. They are our family favorite, perfect for dessert and with morning coffee.
Dough: Pillsbury Pie dough Pillsbury Pie Dough
- 3 cups of dried figs (chopped and soaked in hot water for 10 mins to soften)
- 3 cups of seedless raisins or dates (she prefers raisins)
- ½ cup of orange marmalade
- 3 cups of toasted walnuts
- 3/4 cup of black coffee
- 1 tsp of black pepper
- 4 tbsp of fresh grated orange zest
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 cup of powdered sugar
- 2 tbs of milk
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- Roll out the dough so you have a thin layer. Mold the dough into 4×4 inch disks and put in the fridge until they’re needed.
- For the filling, in a food processor, pulse the figs, raisins, orange zest, orange marmalade, cinnamon, black pepper, and walnuts until all ingredients turn into a thick paste.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Working with 1 piece of the dough at a time, spoon the filling from one end of each piece to another (in the center) in a thick ribbon. Fold the moistened edge of the dough over the filling and press to seal. You should have made a fat dumpling.
- Do not overcrowd your baking sheets, leaving some space between the cookies.
- Bake the cookies for about 14-16 minutes until their tops are golden. When done, remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before covering with the glaze.
- Finally, prepare the icing by whisking the powdered sugar, milk and orange juice in a small bowl until smooth. Using a spoon, glob the icing over each cookie to form a coating. Let the icing harden before serving.
These Italian cookies demand to be paired with an Italian wine. Because the wine has hints of orange and spice, Sangiovese is going to be a proper companion. Try Tenuta Sette Ponte’s Vigna dell’Impero Valdarno di Sopra. The cookie is almost savory in parts and will pair well with the complex flavors in this wine. Buy Vigna dell’Impero Here.
My final Christmas cookie is an after-dinner espresso in two bites. After the Christmas coffee machine breakdown of 2017, I feel it’s always good to have an espresso cookie on hand, if only in case of emergency. I won’t get into detail about what happened in 2017, but as I was piping cannoli with my uncle, the coffee machine shuttered with its last breath…right after Christmas dinner…right before presents. The horror of listening to 15 adults shout, “Where is the cawfee? There is no cawfee???” rings in my ears to this day. Thus, the chocolate espresso cookie idea was born, as a safety measure built for other Christmas coffee casualties.
I got this wonderful Flourless Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies from Baker Bettie. She’s a jack-of-all-cooking-trades and I love her website. Her website is linked here, but I’ve copied her recipe and instructions below for easy access.
- 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
- 1 tsp instant espresso powder or 2 tsp instant coffee granules
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2-4 egg whites
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- Whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and kosher salt.
- Add two egg whites and whisk into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated. You are wanting a thick, brownie batter consistency here. If you need more moisture, add another egg white in part or all of the 4th until it is the right consistency.
- Fold in the butterscotch chips. Chill the batter for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper or foil and spray them with non-stick spray (this is important, or it is difficult to get them off the paper.)
- Using a small cookie scoop (about 1 tbsp), scoop batter onto the cookie sheets, 6 on each.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes until the edges are set. (10 minutes was perfect for mine.)
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the foil or parchment. RESIST the temptation to eat them while warm. They are impossible to remove from the paper or foil while warm.
Montes Icons Purple Angel. This wine is bold and dark with gorgeous chocolate notes. If any wine is to be paired with a dark chocolate espresso cookie, this Carmenere based wine is it. This combination will make you forget about the cannoli and pie still left on the dessert table. Buy Purple Angel Here.