Mom’s crescent Christmas cookies

These biscuits/cookies are a nutty shortbread rolled in icing sugar and are a divine texture and flavour – perfect to enjoy over Christmas or to give as a gift.

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 Lea Werner with a tin of Christmas crescent biscuits.

My friend Lea used to live in the United States and every Christmas makes her Mom’s Christmas crescent cookies. As a child Lea’s job was shaping the dough into the crescent shape so as with a lot of Christmas baking, these crescent cookies bring back fond childhood memories for Lea. She is being generous and is sharing the recipe with us. They are so delicious!

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Pecans

With such a traditional recipe I thought Lea wouldn’t be keen to experiment but she was excited at the idea of trying different nuts in the recipe and making our baking day a bit of an experiment. Nuts play a major part in the flavour and texture of the cookie and the original recipe had pecan nuts because they are plentiful in the US.

Here in NZ they are both difficult to find and expensive.  Lea suggested walnuts as a substitute and I have found a great source of fresh hazelnuts…so we conducted an experiment trying all three nuts; pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts. We also experimented with the shape.

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Mom’s crescent Christmas cookies

Makes approx 50 to share 

Cook at 200°C for 15-20 mins (180°C for fan forced ovens)

2 Cups Pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts (ground fairly finely but a few little larger bits are okay)

4 cups Flour

350 grams Butter (softened)

¾ cup Sugar

Icing Sugar

We dry roasted the hazelnuts for a few minutes to remove the skins and keep the biscuits a light colour.  Remove the skins by rubbing the nuts between two pieces of kitchen paper. It’s okay if there are some bits of skin left.

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Here we grounded 2/3 cup of each variety of nut for our experiment.

Grind the nuts in a food processor so that they become finely ground but still have some crunchy pieces in the mix.

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Handy Hint:  get the butter out and soften slowly on the bench so that its soft but not melted

These biscuits are not a low calorie option lots of butter and nuts but this is also why they taste so good.

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Lea was given this KitchenAid cake mixer as a wedding shower present from her mother-in-law 46 years ago…and it hasn’t missed a beat!

Work butter into the flour (using mixer or hands).

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Handy Hint: cover the mixer with a tea towel until the butter gets incorporated to avoid the flour spraying all over the place.

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Add sugar and combine.

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Add the ground nuts. Work into a soft dough. It doesn’t all come together like a pastry dough or shortbread – it’s quite crumbly.

The mixing part of the process is really easy and quick.  The time consuming part is shaping the cookies.  Just like Lea’s Mom, you could encourage either your child or grandchild to help with this task.

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20161207_121853Take one heaped dessert spoon full of mix and put into the cup of your hand.

 

Squeeze and the warmth of your hand will allow the butter to soften further and shaping can begin.

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Shape into small horseshoes or half moons.

We found the pecan and hazelnuts were the same to mould into the crescent shape but the walnuts must have a higher oil content so were very easy to shape.

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Bake at 200o C until very light brown (about 15-20 min.)  Check the undersides to make sure they are slightly browned.

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We tried making bite sized round cookies with a single nut on top but the nuts didn’t stick in the relatively dry mix.  It was handy for us though to identify each batch.

Cool on a wire rack.

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When cool toss them gently in a small plastic bag filled with icing sugar.

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Coat 2-3 at a time so they don’t break.

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Gently shake with your hand under them, lifting and tipping the bag so that they are all coated with icing sugar.

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Store in an airtight container and Lea lines her Christmas tin with plastic wrap because they aren’t as airtight as plastic…but they look so much better presented in a tin.

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They last a week or two (if you can resist them!) They also freeze well

 

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So if you live in Otago you can get great hazelnuts from Roy Johnston at crayznnuts@rivernet.co.nz at $23/kg.

After the tasting …we both agreed that the hazelnuts were the winner. Perhaps this is because I sourced nuts that had just been cracked from a local South Otago orchard.  Hazelnuts and walnuts both grow well in the south and I suggest for these biscuits choose the nut variety that is the freshest (not long out of its shell) and the most cost effective.

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Here we are at the start of the cookie making and Lea has some pecans she stores in the freezer.  If not using straight away it’s a good idea to store them in the freezer as nuts go rancid very quickly.

It has been a first for me to do Christmas baking with a friend and it was so much fun that Lea and I have decided to do so again next year.

I wish everyone who reads my blog a very merry and delicious Christmas. x Jeannie