Holiday Traditions

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I look forward to indulging in all of the yumminess that this season brings. Our family has some amazing recipes that we cook only during the holidays. As a chef, most people think I will be busy making a big Christmas dinner. The best gift I get each year is that I leave the cooking up to the family professionals. Uncle Norm’s “damn ham” named as such for its delish apple cider and bourbon glaze, Aunt Betsy’s pretzel crusted strawberry jello salad, and Dad’s scalloped potatoes. Comfort food galore! 

Growing up, I remember my Mom and my Nana working as hard as Santa’s elves baking all of our favorite cookies. Now, years later my sister Katie and I have taken over those late night cookie baking sessions with mom as our kitchen supervisor. 

Katie’s favorite are our holiday cut outs. My mom found a recipe years ago that uses buttermilk. The dough rolls out like a dream. The cookies bake up light and fluffy but also can hold up to lots of frosting and sprinkles. Mom’s favorite cookies to bake are Italian butter balls. They have the creaminess of a buttery shortbread, but with the addition of chopped almonds or walnuts, they also have a great crunch. Last but not least my favorite, Butterscotch Haystacks. These are a no-bake cookie, super easy to whip up and one batch makes about 4 dozen. 

Baking in general is a science, so following the recipe is a must. I have included my top 5 cookie baking tips. Trust me, they really do make a difference! 

I hope these recipes become some of your family’s favorites as well. May you and yours have a wonderful holiday season filled with lots of love and full bellies. 

Buttermilk Cut Out Cookies 

Makes 2-3 dozen 


2 cups sugar 

2 cups shortening 

4 eggs, beaten 

1 tablespoon vanilla extract 

2 cups buttermilk 

6 cups all-purpose flour 

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder 

2 teaspoons baking soda 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 16-oz. container butter cream frosting 

Optional: colored sugar or sprinkles 

Preheat oven to 350°. Blend together sugar, shortening and eggs. Add vanilla and buttermilk. 

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir into sugar mixture. Add more flour as needed to make a firm dough. Chill for 2 to 3 hours or overnight.On a floured surface, roll out dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out with cookie cutters; place on greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 to 8 minutes. Let cool. Frost and decorate as desired. 

Italian Butter Balls

Makes 4 Dozen 


1 cup finely ground walnuts 

2 1⁄4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour 

1⁄2 tsp. salt 

1⁄2 lb. unsalted butter, softened 

1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus 2 cups for dredging 

1 tsp. vanilla extract 

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine walnuts, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside. Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed. Gradually add 1⁄2 cup sugar and beat until mixture is fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then reduce speed and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Using your hands, shape dough, 1 tbsp. at a time, into small balls, then place about 1” apart on buttered nonstick baking sheets. Bake until cookies are slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, place remaining 1-2 cups sugar on a large plate. Roll cookies, while still warm, in sugar, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cookies are completely cool, roll them again in sugar. 

Butterscotch Haystacks 

Makes 4 dozen 


2 cups butterscotch chips 

1 cup cream peanut butter 

1 cup dry roasted peanuts 

4 cups chow mein noodles 

Melt butterscotch chips and peanut butter on top of a double boiler, or in a microwave. Blend together. Stir peanuts and noodles gently into the melted peanut butter mixture. Drop dough by forkfuls onto waxed paper. Cool until set. 

Tips For Successful Cookie Baking From Madame Chef 


Most cookie recipes call for softened butter. The butter should be starting to soften but still be slightly cool to the touch (it shouldn’t feel like it’s melting at all). 


Ask two people to measure out one cup of flour and chances are they’ll be slightly (or a lot) different by weight and that can greatly affect the results of your recipe. For the most accurate flour measurement, spoon it lightly into a dry measuring cup, then level it off with a knife. Never dip the measuring cup into the flour or tap the knife against the cup — you’ll pack too much flour into the measuring cup, and end up with tough, dry cookies. 


If the flour is added all at once, the dough would be too stiff and difficult to mix together. The more the flour and liquid are mixed, the more gluten will develop, creating a dense cookie. Adding the flour in batches also ensures the dry ingredients get evenly dispersed. 


Space the balls of cookie dough far enough apart on the sheets so that they don’t spread into each other as they bake. Usually, this means about 2 inches apart. If your dough has a lot of butter in it, or very little leavening agent, the cookies will spread more, so give them a little extra room. 


If left on the hot baking sheets for too long, cookies continue to bake and the bottoms can start to steam. Cooling racks allow air to circulate evenly on all sides of the cookie, preventing them from getting soggy. Look for racks that sit at least 1/2 inch above the counter, leaving enough space for air to move underneath. The best racks also have a tight grid to support soft or delicate cookies and keep them from falling through.