Often when I speak of the traditions of my family, I claim that none of us would consider to change even the smallest detail. But thinking back, I realize it’s not true. Sometimes the changes are so gradual that new traditions evolve slowly as our family dynamics shift.
My family is not the typical large Greek family. I have no first cousins and whatever extended family we had lived in Greece. My father had cousins in New Jersey but we never got together on the holidays. So, it was just us—Mom. Dad, my two sisters and me. It never stopped my mother from making a big deal of the holidays. Christmas Eve we would go to bed and at midnight we would be woken by ‘Santa’s’ bells. After we checked to see that Santa ate the kourabeithes Mom left for him, we would open our presents.
In later years, when I was in high school, my mother started a new tradition. She had a Christmas Eve gathering for friends and neighbors. My sisters and I would also invite friends. When the last guest had gone, we would open our gifts as we always had. Apparently, my little sister didn’t want the midnight tradition broken or, she was just overly anxious to open her gifts. At the stroke of twelve, she asked my friend and her boyfriend if she could get their coats. We all still laugh about it today, since they had not been thinking of leaving at that moment.
As the three of us married and had children, the gathering went back to our core family, but I will always remember those years as some of my nicest Christmas memories—a festive atmosphere, a lively evening and a warm sense of community.
When my mother passed away six years ago, we couldn’t bear to break tradition. We still gathered at her home, helping our father pull off the holiday just as our mom had.
This year, another shift in tradition occurred. My niece, Athena, was married in November and she wanted to host Christmas Eve in her first year of marriage. It was difficult for me to let go. It was as though one more piece of my mother was gone. But the truth is that she is with us every day, through the family she and my father created, in the love she shared and the lessons she offered. She established the traditions, and although they change with circumstance, the recipes are hers as well as the joyful spirit she brought to Christmas each year.
All week I have been sharing mostly Greek recipes, all of which were handed down to me by my mother. With all my talk of tradition it would be logical to share another one of her recipes. Instead, I’m going to showcase one that I only began to bake for Christmas a few years ago.
The Linzer tart cookie is one of the newest additions to my assortment of cookies I bake during this holiday season. These preserve-filled cookies originated in Linz, Austria, hence the name. Typically, the dough is made with finely ground almonds, and filled with raspberry preserve.
Cheffie’s version is a little different. I’m not fond of raspberry, but give me anything with cherries and I’m happy. You can use blueberry, mixed berry, or whatever you like, but I make them with cherry preserves.
The other difference is that I use finely ground pecans—just my little way of changing it up to make it interesting. The combination of the cherries and the pecans is divine.
So now it can be said that my box of cookies fully represents my nuclear family, and my husband can’t tease me that the assortment is all Greek. My husband, Ray is three-quarters Italian, and I make his mother’s Italian wedding cookies. The Linzer tart cookies represent his one-quarter German. But the rest are ALL GREEK!
Linzer Tart Cookies
16 ounces pecans
1 cup cornstarch
6 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
5½ cups flour
Preheat oven to 325°
In a food processor, pulse pecans and cornstarch until pecans are finely ground.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, salt, and eggs. Slowly add flour and then the pecan mixture until fully blended. Divide into 6 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in saran wrap. Refrigerate for at least1 hour.
On a floured surface, roll out cookie dough and cut out desired shape with a cookie cutter, making equal amounts of tops and bottoms. The tops have the extra cutout in the middle.
Bake about 17 minutes. The edges should just be starting to golden a bit, but the cookie should not brown. Cool on a wire rack. Spread cherry preserves on bottom half of cookie and place top half carefully over the preserves. When each one is assembled, dust powdered sugar generously on each cookie.
Yields about 40 cookies