As the holidays approach, we cherish spending time at home with friends and family, making sweet treats and sharing or swapping them. But even while we're focusing on our kitchens and our communities, we enjoy imagining how the rest of the world is celebrating this special season. Luckily, we've found a way to combine both inclinations: with recipes that bring the world into our homes.
To help us gather recipes for bite-size treats from all over the globe, we turned to expert bakers Emily Luchetti and Anita Chu. Emily's a cookbook author and the pastry chef at two renowned San Francisco restaurants, Waterbar and Farallon. Anita's a popular blogger at Dessert First and the author of two dessert "field guides." Although their recipes are international, they require no exotic ingredients—well, very few!—and instructions are adapted for American cooks. Best of all, with just a little embellishment these candies and cookies are perfect for sharing and gift giving. Let's start the world tour!
Every journey needs a good guidebook, and we found an excellent one in the brand-new Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu. (Anita's also the author of Field Guide to Cookies; see below. And she's the subject of our Baker's Profile this season.) Compact and generously illustrated with color photos of all the recipes, the Field Guide lives up to its subtitle: "How to Identify and Make Virtually Every Candy Imaginable." Beyond the recipes, there's a helpful section on candy-making tools and tips for working with chocolate and sugar. ("When you're making candy," says Anita, "watch for crystallization that can ruin sugar syrup.")
Start your journey with delectable Fleur de Sel Caramels, long a regional favorite in the French region of Brittany, where fleur de sel ("flower of salt") is hand-harvested from the sea. The salt crystals add a burst of flavor to sweet caramels; for chocolate lovers, Anita suggests dipping each cut candy into tempered dark chocolate and top with a few grains of fleur de sel. Wrap each candy in wax paper for gift-giving.
Emily Luchetti's Honey Cinnamon Almond Caramels add the flavors of Spain—and a bit of crunch—to this chewy treat. For the smoothest consistency, use C&H Superfine or Baker's Sugar, which dissolves completely.
California-born Anita, whose mother came from Hong Kong, loved the mild, milk-flavored Chinese candies of her childhood. When she couldn't find a recipe for them, she created her own. Chinese Milk Candy "is a cross between taffy and Tootsie Rolls," she writes; it's very close to the commercial White Rabbit Creamy Candy she remembered. Wrap each candy in colorful foil or edible rice paper for a pretty presentation.
Turkish Delight —rahat lokum in Turkish—has been sold in Istanbul's Spice Bazaar since the 1400s; British travelers brought it back to England in the early 1800s. (It's mentioned in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.) According to Anita, authentic Turkish Delight differs from most jelly-like candies in that it's made without gelatin or pectin: the only binder is cornstarch. For that reason, it doesn't last long—but it's so delicious, that won't be a problem! For authentic flavor, seek out rosewater or lemon-flower water.
If your holiday fantasy looks more like Victorian England than the Orient, you'll want to add Sugar Plums to your repertoire. The sugar plums in "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (better known as "The Night Before Christmas") were bits of sugar-coated coriander; later, the recipe included dried fruits and nuts, like our version. To give the candies a snow-dusted look, roll them in additional C&H Pure Cane Powdered Sugar after forming them into balls; refrigerate them for a few days to enhance the flavor.
The American word "cookie" comes to us from Dutch koekje, or "little cake"; in the United Kingdom, you'd call it a "biscuit." As for the rest of the world, a cookie may go by any of dozens of names!
In Argentina, for example, the most popular cookies in any pastry shop are the caramel-filled shortbread sandwiches known as Alfajores (ahl-fa-HOR-ace), whose name comes from an Arabic word meaning "stuffed." In her Field Guide to Cookies, Anita Chu gives simplified instructions for making the dulce de leche filling (the secret: a can of sweetened condensed milk). For an even easier version, substitute Nutella or jam for the filling. Or try Emily Luchetti's version, which she calls Vanilla Sandwich Cookie with Dulce de Leche Filling. Emily's recipe involves a secret shortcut, too: use hardboiled egg yolks instead of raw ones in the shortbread dough.
Remaining in Spanish-speaking America, we'll be sure to bake a few batches of perennially popular Mexican Wedding Cookies. These light, tender cookies are filled with chopped nuts and rolled in C&H Pure Cane Powdered Sugar. They're a true international favorite: you may know them as Russian Teacakes.
Finely ground almonds give Amaretti their distinctive flavor and crispness. These small round cookies are the modern version of the original macaroons, invented centuries ago in Italy. Besides being delicious on their own, says Anita, amaretti go well with tortes or gelato, and can be crushed and layered with ice cream and fruit to make a simple, elegant dessert. For a different way to showcase almonds, try Chinese Almond Cookies, each one adorned with a single whole blanched almond.
Sweet and spicy Lebkuchen are traditional German Christmas cookies; they're related to gingerbread and ginger snaps but are filled with toasted nuts and grated citrus zest. The custom of building gingerbread houses, Anita tells us, actually began with lebkuchen in the 1800s in the German city of Nuremberg, after Grimms' Fairy Tales were published.
Finish your world cookie tour with a trio of tributes to the U.S. of A. Emily Luchetti's Chocolate Walnut Crinkle Cookies bring deep brownie flavor (enhanced by a little dark coffee) to a classic drop cookie. Emily's Peanut Chocolate Fudge CookiesPeanut Butter and Jelly Grahams are variations on classic thumbprint cookies; they're rich with molasses and graham-cracker crumbs and topped with a dollop of jelly.
Bon voyage—and happy holidays!