The holiday season is in full swing, and in my house, that means baking cookies.
The tradition was handed down from my mother to me, and hopefully, my daughters will follow suit.
I have so many fond memories of Christmas baking, thanks to my mom, an inventive woman who had a knack for turning whatever happened to be in the pantry into an amazing meal in no time flat.
I’ve always had a passion for cooking and baking, no doubt the result of the countless hours spent watching Mom at work in our homey kitchen. Her go-to reference was her Betty Crocker classic cookbook, a gift she received when she and my dad “set up housekeeping.” The vintage tome is now a priceless part of my cookbook collection, its worn pages poking out from the fraying ringed binder along with the myriad recipes she’d clipped from newspapers and magazines.
After her passing, I came to learn, through trial and error, that she’d used that cookbook more or less as a guide to create those wonderful dishes for our family, always improvising and “doctoring,” as she so enjoyed saying.
I’ve managed to perfect a few family favorites, but try as I might, I’ve not been able to duplicate her specialties: oh-so-light and flakey pie crust; fluffy dinner rolls the size of my head (I swear!), and thick egg noodles that she’d roll out by hand, slice and line up like perfect little soldiers on kitchen tea towels to dry overnight on our dining room table. After countless attempts, I’ve settled for my own passable versions of her perfection.
But it was her nut roll recipe that continued to vex me every Christmas. Every holiday, I’d crack open her old tin recipe box to pore over the hand-written notes inside, futilely searching for clues to the pastry’s tender exterior and sweet, nutty interior that melted in your mouth. Alas, I came up short year after year.
Then I met Peggy Tinkey.
It happened rather serendipitously about 15 years ago. I was writing a story about Christmas cookies and had asked readers to share their favorite recipes. Well-known in local county fair circles, the Cecil Township woman had won hundreds upon hundreds of ribbons for her baked goods, jellies and jams since she’d started entering competitions in 1993.
She had baked a tray of assorted cookies to be photographed for the story and offered the photographer and myself samples afterward. There, tucked alongside the Pecan Tassies, Lady Locks and little cherry cheesecakes were nut rolls.
One bite and I was transported back in my mother’s kitchen.
Peggy not only gave me her recipe, but she graciously offered me a lesson in baking them, too.
I’ve shared her recipe with readers a few times since and thought it was time to do it again to assist a new batch of bakers.
Now, if only I could nail down my mom’s egg noodle recipe...
Hungarian Nut Horns
1/2 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cake Fleischmann’s yeast
2 cups Crisco
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
4 egg yolks
1 can evaporated milk or 1 pint cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds ground nuts
1 stick margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
To make the dough: Dissolve sugar in warm milk and crumble in yeast. Stir in 1 cup flour to make a soft sponge and let rise for 1 hour.
While sponge is rising, cut salt and shortening into flour. Beat egg yolks and add canned milk and vanilla. Stir this mixture into sponge, and combine shortening and flour mixture with sponge and egg yolk mixture.
Knead dough until it no longer sticks to hands, wrap in wet cloth and store in refrigerator overnight. Next morning, divide dough into pieces that will roll into a 12-inch circle. Roll out very thin onto sugar-coated surface. With knife, cut dough into pie-shaped pieces about 3 inches wide and fill with desired filling. Roll up into crescent shapes. May be dusted with colorful decorative sugar prior to baking. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets at 375 degrees about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
To make the filling: Combine milk, sugar and margarine in pan. Let it come to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in nuts.
Liz Rogers is the executive editor of the Observer-Reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com.