Didn’t get your fill of cookies with our last round-up? Neither did we. We’re not sure what is it about a cookie that demands celebration. Perhaps we enjoy the act of making cookies, spending the day in a hand-me-down apron while sipping hot tea with Mom. It could be the gifting—a tin of homemade treats makes for a wonderful present.
Regardless, who are we to break with tradition? Cookies have been enjoyed since the seventh century, when small cookie-style cakes became popular in Persia (now Iran) and then spread throughout Northern Europe. Since then, cookies have sprung up all over the world, with different ingredients and techniques expressing the culture of their respective origins. For victims of “cookie wanderlust”, this couldn’t get any sweeter:
Italy—Whole Wheat Anisettes
When it comes to Italian baking, it doesn’t get more traditional than anise cookies. Pagan legend tells us that anise was often used to ward off bad spirits, but many love these little guys for their rich and fluffy flavor.
There are several variations on anise cookies, all varying in shapes and sizes. Some recipes might use a liqueur to flavor the cookies, while others use anise extract. Many Italian grandmas will argue over their anisette recipes; you may have to taste quite a few before finding the best one.
OK, so it’s not a cookie, but who’s going to complain about eating a jelly donut? Commemorating the miracle of Hanukkah, these pastries originated in Israel, but are often consumed in Jewish households around the world. They’re deep-fried, filled with jelly or custard, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar.
A strawberry filling is traditional, but modern renditions substitute flavored creams or blackberry jams. For a healthier take on the classic treat, try a recipe that calls for baking rather than frying, which will yield a lighter donut with all the holiday flavor.
Germany—High Protein Lebkuchen (Gingerbread)
While ginger cookies are popular all over the world, food historians generally agree that the act of decorating said cookies into people and houses began in Medieval Germany as part of a Christmas celebration. Crafting Lebkuchen was a highly respected art, and the finished products were often used as decorations. Medieval doctors also claimed these spicy cookies contained healing properties.
Molasses, a key ingredient in most gingerbread recipes, has plenty of health benefits. It has a lower glycemic load than refined sugar, as well as high levels of magnesium, calcium, and iron.
Jamaica—Gluten-Free Coconut Praline Cookies
Coconuts were introduced to Jamaica by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and have since nestled themselves into Jamaican cuisine. In fact, coconuts are so highly valued that coconut trees are often identified as “The Tree of Life.” Not only does coconut help create a refreshing drink or nutritious meal, but it can also be used as roofing material, as a skin care treatment, or woven into bags.
And, as an added bonus, coconut can be used in cookies! These coconut praline cookies are naturally gluten-free, and require few ingredients. In addition to coconut treats, Jamaican families often enjoy curry, stewed oxtail, fried plantains, rice, and peas to celebrate their December holidays.
With a name as fun as kringla, you know these holiday cookies have to be good. Their shape has earned them the nickname “Nordic pretzel,” but unlike the salted variations, this baked good includes fruit, marzipan, or a sugary glaze.
The shape supposedly symbolizes praying hands, and the cookies were initially used as rewards, gifts from monks to students as token of good behavior. As the idea migrated across Europe, bakers caught on, and many Scandinavian pastry shops display the kringla symbol outside of their shops.
Peru—Whole Wheat Alfajores
You can find alfajores in South American bakeries throughout the year, but they are most popular during the holiday season. Alfajores originated in Spain, and eventually came to Latin America as a Christmas cookie. Somewhere along the journey, the traditional almond and honey cookies met up with dulce de leche, and the melt-in-your-mouth sandwich cookie was born.
There are multiple versions of the alfajores, all of which are enjoyed throughout various Central and South American countries (Argentina, Chile, Bolivia Paraguay, and, of course, Peru). We found a whole wheat take on the recipe, which still includes the drool-inducing dulce de leche. While you can buy it premade, making your own is highly recommended.