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.

 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!


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.


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.

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.

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.

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).

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


Add sugar and combine.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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


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


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


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.


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


So if you live in Otago you can get great hazelnuts from Roy Johnston at 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.

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

In search of Brussels Sprouts at Otago Farmers Market

“Spring’s here” announced  the plum trees, the borage and the daffodils.

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A lovely spring bouquet created by Elke from our Broad Bay garden including calendula, jonquils, forget-me-nots, rosemary, kale and borage.

“Not so fast” screamed the Southerly on the Dunedin Railway platform of the Otago Farmers Market last Saturday.  I’ve found a particularly good recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts. This southern market should have plenty of sprout photo opportunities as Otago (especially North Otago) is renowned for the large sweet Brussels sprouts it produces.

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“We need bees. Bees pollinate one third of the food we eat, and life would be a struggle without them.” wise words from market chef, Alison Lambert. Today every dish she made included honey and she made a Brussels Sprouts salad,  Brussels Sprouts with Honeyed Walnuts.

The Otago Farmers Market stall holders all joined in the spirit of National Bee Awareness Month by wearing a variety of bee headwear and costumes.

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Paul and Karen from  Steamer Basin Brewing.

New boutique beer brewers Paul and Karen from Steamer Basin Brewing went a step further by creating a Honey Bee beer for the occasion. I caught up with my husband Peter who said,  “This  platform must be the coldest place in the South Island”… but he did manage to stay for a taste of the beer and to chat with Paul and Karen who confirmed  it was 1° Celsius.

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Peter purchased a Honey Bee beer made especially for the market’s Bee Awareness month for us to try.. it was delicious.

Brussels sprouts Brassica oleraceae, variety gemmifera are only grown commercially in two regions of New Zealand.

The first is Ohakune, in the Central North Island with it’s cool mountain climate.  Ohakune sprouts tend to be the smaller hybrid variety with compact heads and are available early in the season. They have a higher mustard oil content than the larger, looser leaved, and sweeter sprouts produced in the South Island around Oamaru in North Otago.

Sometimes at the farmers market you can buy the complete stalk.  The sprouts will keep the best and for longer if stored on their stalks. These sprouts I purchased in Auckland are from Ohakune.

Brussels sprouts are a curious looking plant with mini cabbages growing up long tough stalks. Just like broad beans, the formed sprouts are picked from the bottom of the stems up, leaving the plant to continue growing. Brussels sprouts will not grow good “sprouts” in warm areas – they remain open and floppy and most likely will be infested with aphids.

Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This simple recipe makes the sometimes “dreaded” Brussels Sprouts moreish with the addition of honey, chilli sauce ( a mild sweet chilli sauce if encouraging children to eat them) and rice wine vinegar.

The marinade is in the same proportions as most dressings, double the oil to the vinega. Use as many roasted sprouts as you wish using these proportions.

Consider doing what I do.  make more than what is needed for one meal, as they are delicious the next day when part of a salad, like a warm lentil salad.

This recipe uses approx 750 g of sprouts and preheat the oven to 180°C.

750g Brussels sprouts, ½ cup olive oil (or a mix of olive and rice bran oil), ¼ cup of brown rice vinegar (you can replace this with apple cider vinegar), 1 tbsp of honey, 2 tsp of chilli sauce (or to taste).

Before cutting in half, remove any untidy stalk ends but careful not to cut too close to the sprout or you will lose the outer leaves.

Mix the marinade in a bowl, add the sprouts that have been cut in half and mix to cover the sprouts with the marinade. Lay the sprouts cut side down onto a large oven dish – big enough for every sprout to fit cut side down.


Tip any remaining marinade over the top of the sprouts and cook for around 20 minutes until the tops begin to crunch (even slightly char if you like that) and the underside has begun to caramelize.

These were the first attempt and they ended up charred on the outside. They don’t look as good but when I read the original recipe again it was suggested to allow them to crisp on the outside. They did taste good and the crisp exterior leaves were a contrast to the soft interior of the sprouts.
Stuart Kelly is a beef farmer south of Dunedin at Taieri Mouth.  Stuart’s commissioned neighbouring stallholder Havoc Pork to make beef sausages for him to sell. I just had to try some Origin  beef sausages.

One stop I like to make at the market is Origin Meats. With Stuart I get to talk to the farmer and he’s passionate about the product he produces and sells here every Saturday morning. He told me that by talking to his customers he’s gained a better understanding of what they are looking for and is now making decisions on cattle breeds based on feedback.

Brussels sprouts and lentil salad with its cabbage green and muddy coloured lentils doesnt look wildly exciting but it sure is a good taste combination. This salad is best served slightly warmed.
Green Lentil, Brussels Sprouts and Walnut Warm Salad

French green Puy lentils are the main ingredient for this ideal winter come spring salad and if you have leftover sprouts make sure you slightly warm them or at least have them at room temperature.  You can slice up the sprouts or keep them in halves. Make a robust dressing with lemon juice, oil, mustard and a touch of honey to flavour the lentils.  I like to add a little crushed preserved lemon to salt the lentils after they are cooked.  Alternatively keep aside a little of the marinade to put through the lentils as a dressing.  I also like to add some colour like roast carrots or preserved red pepper.  Walnuts are in season now and add a delicious crunch. If you have time baking the nuts for a few minutes in the oven with a little oil and a sprinkling of ground cumin will really add to the salad’s flavour.

Valda and Otto Muller (NZ Nut Products) from Cromwell grow varieties of walnuts that the European market wants. Luckily we also get an opportunity to buy them at the Farmers Market. I have talked about their walnuts in a previous post Afghans – an old fashioned favourite in July 2014.

Valda is a seasonal visitor to the market and I was so pleased she braved the cold so I could chat to her about their walnuts. One of my favourites is the variety called Vina.

With my hand luggage allowance I couldn’t take the beer or the beef back to Auckland but I did take a pack of Vina walnut pieces to enjoy in salads over spring. It’s best to keep shelled walnuts in the fridge if not using all at once.

You don’t need to miss out on these walnuts if you live in Auckland as Valda said she will be having a stall at La Cigale French Market in Parnell. She promised to let me know when so I can alert you on Jeannieskitchen Facebook page.

The Brussels sprout season will soon be coming to an end, or may be hard to come by where you live, but kale seems to be everywhere.  I experimented a little by using this marinade with thinly sliced Cavolo Nero kale (thick stems removed) and roasting it in the oven.

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Kale with just enough marinade to moisten and add gloss to leaves.

I ended up with kale chips only with more flavour. It looked better before cooking than after but I enjoyed the crispy chips on top and the slightly more chewy bits underneath. I also sprinkled in a little seaweed seasoning and this taste of the sea would be great with fish.

The kale darkens a lot when it crisps up into crispy bits. I could have continued to make it all chip like or opt to cover with foil to have a softer greener outcome.
bee on brassica
Honey bee laden down with pollen on its legs after visiting some brassicas flowering at Sanctuary Community Garden.

In early spring it’s delightful seeing the flowers start to bloom, but there is still not the number and variety that occurs in summer for the bees. Spring is also the time when we want to start working the garden – getting rid of those winter brassicas that are starting to flower.  Think about the bees before you clear fell.  Bumble and honey bees ♥love brassica flowers.  That cabbage, Brussels sprout, rocket, brocoli, kale or mizuna can continue to provide food for the bees after we have finished harvesting them.  I see plenty of evidence of brassica pollen collection by bees at our community garden. In a warm spring day the place is literally buzzing.

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This young man of Waikouaiti Gardens was quite over being a bee sheltering in the van towards the end of the morning.

I was so busy talking with the brewers, the beef farmer and the walnut grower that I missed out on photographing Brussels sprouts…they had all gone.  We decided the bees were right to hide away from the last hurrah of winter in Dunedin – it was time for us to go and warm up by the fire.