It’s the holiday season! This means…it’s cookie season! From family traditions to new, elevated recipes everyone has their favorites. And while Christmas Cut-Outs and Thumbprints are the first thing that come to mind, each year dozens more are introduced to my list as fresh ideas that cater to my ever evolving and appreciative palate.

I was ready for Christmas cookie mania back in November when catching wind of the The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap being hosted by the food-loving folks at Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen. With such a fun concept at hand – send three food bloggers each a dozen homemade cookies and receive three dozen in return – I couldn’t help but sign up for the virtual event. Now all left to do was decide on the perfect recipe.

After searching through countless mesmerizing and mouth-watering cookie slideshows, cookie magazines and cookbooks, I decided the best recipe was one near and dear to my heart. Perhaps most appealing was that it was one that I had yet to make. Apricot Kolachy (or Apricot Preserve filled Bowtie Cookies) have stuck in my mind since childhood when the local Dairy Store (i.e. convenient little deli/market) regularly sold them.

Every now and then my mom would pick up a couple dozen cookies. My choice at the time was a caramel and cream filled tartlet topped with a pecan (that I always picked off), so the glistening apricot-filled sugar cookies never much caught my eye; these we took on visits to my Grandparents house. With their discerning taste of sweets, I should have known sooner that the cookies were delicious.

As my appreciation for fruit-filled desserts increased so did my enjoyment of this cookie.  The light sweetness of the dough is well complimented by a dollop of apricot preserves. Sprinkled with sugar before baking, they come out of the oven just slightly golden with an irresistible sheen. Each cookie is small enough to be enjoyed as a simple nightcap and a few go down just as well with a tall glass of milk.

Kolachy is the Eastern European name for this cookie that takes various forms. Proud of my Czech roots, I’m eager to sift through the pages of my Grandma’s authentic cookbooks during my next visit home to find a longstanding recipe. Until then, I was able to send some of these home and received a thumbs-up review from the “Siskel & Eibert of home baking” – Gram and Gramps.

APRICOT KOLACHY (Apricot filled Bowtie Cookies)
Adapted from Fine Cooking

Ingredients
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2-1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling
One 12-oz. jar good-quality apricot preserves (about 3/4 cup)
One large egg white, beaten
Granulated sugar, for dusting

Preparation
1. Beat the cream cheese and butter in a bowl on medium-high speed of a stand or hand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle. With the mixer on low, gradually mix in the flour until a smooth dough forms.

2. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough gently to form a ball. Divide the dough in thirds, wrap each in plastic or waxed paper, and flatten into squares. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 1/8-inch-thick rectangle. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2-inch squares.

4. Spoon about 1/2 tsp. of the preserves onto the center of each square. Fold one corner into the center, dab with the beaten egg white, and then bring the opposite corner into the center and pinch firmly together to seal the corners. *Note: this is an important step! If the dough isn’t pinched well enough, the cookies will unfold during baking. With a thin spatula, transfer the cookie to the cookie sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Brush each cookie with the egg white and generously sprinkle with granulated sugar.

5. Bake one sheet at a time until golden and very lightly browned and puffed, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. You can freeze these cookies in freezer bags for up to 3 months.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011

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Pepperoni Rolls are ever so popular in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up, being a staple at high school football and basketball concession stands or local delis. And, for good reason. These soft-baked subtly sweet and buttery rolls wrapped around two slices of salty, spicy cured meat are nothing short of delicious – and quite addicting. The few bite snack triggers that warm, cozy feeling when eaten, or for me, fond memories of my carefree adolescent autumn days.

When I thought to make a savory treat for a friend’s annual Birthday Skate at the Bryant Park Pond, Pepperoni Rolls seemed like a fun recipe to resurrect. It was the perfect choice! As a pre-dinner nibble and a contrast to the sugary Magnolia Bakery birthday cupcakes, they were received with great enthusiasm. Having arrived with nearly 50 warm rolls for a handful of folks, every last one was enjoyed. A few butter-stained spots on the empty brown paper bag remained as the only sign that they had ever existed.

You could take a shortcut and use refrigerated crescent roll dough, but I wanted to do everything from scratch since attempting this recipe for the first time. There is a deep satisfaction in successfully homemaking dough instead of store-buying. And, by doing so, you’ll find a new appreciation for the art of kneading and the women who perfected the craft long before effort-saving kitchen gadgets took precedence.

I ran into only one glitch when initially making the dough as it simply didn’t rise. This may be attributed to the extra large metal bowl where I first rested the dough. The interior temperature of the bowl may not have been warm enough for the yeast to properly activate because of the excess space and conduction of the outside cold temperature. After a nonresponsive first hour, I transferred the dough to a smaller plastic bowl and re-covered with a light towel. Problem averted as it seemed to do the trick.

Pepperoni is the traditional standalone filling, but I added hard salami for a complimentary flavor. Think of the roll as a calzone. Any combination of ingredients can be added – meats, cheeses and vegetables – and it should turn out well. I’m eager to experiment with a sausage and sauerkraut filling that closely follows a few Eastern European recipes I’ve found. With positive results, you will hear about that, too.

PEPPERONI ROLLS
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.com

Ingredients
1 cup warm water (about 100 degrees F)
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
50 slices sandwich style pepperoni
50 slices sandwich style hard salami

Preparation
1. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon sugar in 1 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over the water and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Mix flours, 3/4 cup sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture, beaten eggs, and melted butter. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl, then place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F) until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet.

5. Punch down the dough, and divide it into 40 equal pieces about half the size of a golf ball. Flatten each ball of dough into a disc shape using your hands. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 4-6 inch square. Place 1 slice of pepperoni and 1 slice salami at the center of the dough square.

6. Roll the dough around the pepperoni and salami slices, so it is in the shape of a log. Pinch the edges closed. Tuck one end in and roll into the shape of a bun. Place the roll on the prepared cookie sheet.

7. Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for 14 to 16 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly browned and the tops are barely golden.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Turkey and stuffing aside, there’s nothing more traditional than Pumpkin Pie on this holiday. And regardless of how many dinner plates you scarf down, the smooth and creamy pumpkin filling will disappear in your mouth more easily than perhaps it should. Served warm à la mode with a generous dollop of whipped cream, there’s usually always room for at least one slice…or two.

This recipe couldn’t be more simple. If taking a shortcut with a pre-prepared crust, you’ll spend a mere fifteen minutes prepping the filling and assembling the pie. It will be ready to pop in the oven just as its finished preheating. But, don’t be tempted to equate simple with less flavor. This pie has everything you’re looking for.

Pumpkin is enhanced with ground cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger spices. Sweetened condensed milk and eggs make for a thick, but not heavy consistency. Packaged in a perfect pie crust, the filling will bake to a brilliant deep caramel color. Refrigerate overnight if making ahead, but if last minute if more your style then know that you still have time to make dessert today. This recipe won’t test your culinary chops too much and the resulting Pumpkin Pie will definitely make for a happy party crowd.

PERFECT PUMPKIN PIE
Recipe from AllRecipes.com

Ingredients
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Pour into crust. Bake 15 minutes.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from crust comes out clean. Cool. Garnish as desired. Store leftovers covered in refrigerator.