Special Dessert Items for Hanukkah

By Tina Wasserman

Whoever said that decorated cookie constructions have to look like a house with snow on the roof and Christmas trees in the front yard? I originally taught this recipe 39 years ago when I was Chef Fields at Marshall Fields. Since Hanukkah comes right after Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to display assorted cookies and sweets looking like dreidels in an edible cookie box and all of the recipes can be made in advance!

Butter Cookie Box

  • 2¼ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cream or evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • Blue and white decorative sugars, optional
  • 1 tablespoon additional cream for brushing dough if using above sugars
  • 1 cup sugar plus ¼ cup water
  • 1 tube of decorative icing or recipe below
  • Candied or dried fruit or chocolate candies for decorating

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Measure flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl and set aside.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. A stand mixer or a processor can be used.

4. Add the egg, cream or milk, and vanilla and almond extract (if using). Beat until mixture is smooth.

5. Add the flour mixture and mix until well incorporated.

6. Spread the mixture evenly with your hands over the bottom of a 15x10x1 inch jelly roll pan.

7. Cut through the dough with a sharp knife following the diagram above.

8. Brush dough with the additional tablespoon of milk. Sprinkle with the colored sugars and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until light golden brown.

9. Cool cookie in pan completely and then re-cut along the lines you made before baking.

10. To assemble the box, melt 1 cup of sugar with the ¼ cup water and boil it until the sugar reaches the hard crack stage (300-310 degrees on a candy thermometer), then quickly dip the edges of the box one at a time into the hot sugar and immediately “glue” the edges of the box base one side at a time. 

11. Make the ornamental frosting and use that to cover the adjoining edges of the box. DO NOT glue top of box onto box.

12. Use some of the frosting to “glue” nuts, candied cherries, or candies to the top and sides of the box.

13. Allow the box to thoroughly dry before filling and gift giving.

Ornamental Frosting

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1¾ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1. Beat egg white, cream of tartar and vanilla in a small bowl until foamy.

2. Beat in sugar gradually until frosting stands in firm peaks and is stiff enough to hold a sharp line when cut with a knife.

3. Use plain, or you may color any portion of the frosting to fit your needs.

4. Frosting will dry very hard and crisp. This frosting is often referred to as “Royal Icing.”

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • You can use your favorite gingerbread or other firm cookie dough to make the box. Just follow the diagram for the cutouts.
  • Trace these cutout sizes onto graph paper, then cut out each paper piece. Mark the sections as shown in the diagram and then place the papers directly on the dough in the layout I have shown. Cut through the dough around the paper forms and then remove paper before baking.
  • Hard crack stage basically means that the mixture will be as hard as a lollipop when cooled to room temperature. Unless you have a candy thermometer that is accurate, the best way to test if sugar will be hard when cooled is to fill a small bowl with lots of ice and a little water. Using a wooden spoon, drip a small amount of the hot sugar over the ice. If it immediately gets so hard that you can drop it on the counter and hear a crack, your sugar mixture is at the correct stage.
  • Using a processor to mix the dough and using your fingers to push the dough to evenly fit the pan will work the gluten in the flour and make your dough tougher, which is what you want for the box to be stable.

Nutmeg Ice Box Cookies

This is an old-fashioned cookie that is crisp and flavorful at the same time. If the thought of using Crisco (it now comes in sticks to make measuring easier) appalls you, use an expeller margarine that is very firm.

  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon milk or water to glaze cookies before baking
  • Blue decorating sugar or edible gel pen, optional

1. Cream shortening and sugar together on high until light and fluffy.

2. Add the eggs, salt and vanilla and beat until the mixture lightens in color slightly and all ingredients are well combined. 

3. Add the flour, baking soda and nutmeg and mix until a stiff dough is formed.

4. Shape into logs about 2 inches in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap.

5. Refrigerate dough until it is firm for up to 2 weeks.

6. Cut out a dreidel outline on a piece of parchment paper that will be smaller than the diameter of the cookie roll.

7. When ready to make cookies, slice into ¼-inch slices. Brush with water or milk, place the template over the cookie and then sprinkle with blue sugar or fill in design with edible gel pen. Carefully remove the paper so excess sugar doesn’t compromise the dreidel design and place on an ungreased cookie sheet or parchment paper.

8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and then bake cookies for 7-9 minutes or until light tan in color.

9. Store in airtight container for a week or freeze.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • One half stick of butter may be used in place of ¼ cup Crisco for taste purposes but not more or the dough won’t be as crisp.
  • Traditionally these cookies were sliced from a log, but you could roll the dough out on a board lightly coated with confectioners’ sugar if you want cookie cut outs that resemble dreidels or hanukkiahs.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

I have had this recipe longer than my entire career and before I ever moved to Texas. Sometimes called snowballs or sandies, these are the perfect cookies to include on your tray of sweets anytime of the year but look especially inviting peeping out of your cookie box.

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat to incorporate.

3. On low speed, add the flour, salt and nuts and mix just until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

4. Working quickly and handling the dough lightly, form the dough into balls the size of marbles. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet or parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes or until very lightly golden.

5. When thoroughly cool, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Never skimp on your liquid flavorings. No interior of the measuring spoon should be visible when measuring properly. I might suggest for local cooks, Adam’s Best (not pure extract) is the best for baking because the flavor doesn’t dissipate during baking. (Not a paid endorsement, I just like it a lot!)
  • A small food portion scoop can help you get even-sized cookies without overhandling the dough.
  • The reason for lightly handling the dough is that softened butter from the heat of your hand will combine with the gluten in the flour and make your cookies heavy, not light and airy. 

Marshmallow and Chocolate Dreidel Candies

I don’t usually make food crafts but I saw this years ago and decided they would make cute, edible dreidels. If you have some leftover Royal Icing from the Cookie Box you can use that to “glue” the kiss to the marshmallow. Kids love these!

  • Chocolate kisses, 4-6 melted and the rest whole
  • Bag of large marshmallows (not giant ones but not mini)
  • Thin pretzel sticks or thin, chocolate-covered candy sticks
  • Tube of writing gel (any color)

1. Unwrap the kisses and melt 4-6 of them in a small dish in the microwave. Stir until smooth.

2. Dip the flat end of a kiss into the melted chocolate and then gently “glue” it onto the bottom of a marshmallow. Hold for a few seconds so that the kiss doesn’t fall off. Repeat with as many marshmallows as you want.

3. When firm, press a pretzel stick or 2-inch piece of candy stick into the opposite end of the marshmallow.

4. Using your writing gel, write one of the Hebrew letters of the dreidel onto the side of the marshmallow. A shin is the easiest because it looks like a W but look online for the Modern Hebrew print and proceed to decorate the other marshmallows with one or all of the Hebrew letters.

5. Place dreidels on a wire rack until gel is completely dry and then place near or in your cookie box for all to enjoy.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Have children decorate the marshmallows after you help them dip the kiss into the hot melted chocolate. They can use any color in the box of gels and it creates a great activity for all of you to share.
  • I prefer to melt small quantities of chocolate in the microwave in 30-second bursts rather than in a double boiler where the chocolate can get caught in the crevices.

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