This year’s cookie swap involved creative friends with varied family traditions. Actually, it was a first-time swap, as the participants would normally be scattered far and wide for holiday gatherings. The setting was a cozy outdoor arrangement (no real stretch for the Swiss host who would usually be hiking and skiing in the Alps this time of year) and the goodies involved stars, horses, and a snake! All served with Holdrio, a hot toddy of rosehips tea with a splash of schnapps. Swapsters offered:
Torciglione — Not officially a cookie, but rather a traditional Umbrian holiday cake that’s coiled in the shape of a snake. The recipe relies on ground almonds. Why a snake-shaped confection appears on holiday tables is a bit murky, although one theory traces its origins to celebrations of the winter solstice by Etruscans who worshipped snakes. The coiled shape represented the continual motion of the seasons, and life. Or then again, it could be derived from the nuns who, as legend holds, were unable to retrieve an eel from the nearby lake for a meatless Friday meal and made an inventive substitution.
Cavalluci di Siena — The name of these ancient cookies derives from the word cavallo, or horse. It’s thought that the nut, candied fruit and anise cookies were originally stamped with images of horses or horse hooves, or perhaps they referenced rocking horses. These cookies keep well, making them great for gift-giving.
Buckwheat Linzer Cookies — A gluten-free take on the familiar treat uses rice, oat and buckwheat flours.
Cherry Rugelach with Cardamom Sugar — New Yorkers who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or both, all have these cookies from the Jewish tradition in their arsenal. Cream cheese in the dough makes them extra tender.
Chräbeli — An anise-flavored cookie that’s a tradition in our host’s family. The deceptively small list of ingredients yields a cookie with real depth of flavor, one that keeps well. It’s also adaptable and can be shaped or molded as desired.
Zimmsterne (Cinnamon Stars) — The spicy aroma of these moist little cookies is a potent reminder of the holiday season.
Basler Brunsli — A Swiss brownie-like cookie hit with cherry brandy (kirsch).
Mandelhalbmonde (Almond Half Moons) — Delicate little bites layered with jam.
Ingwer Guetzlí (Ginger Cookies) — Two types of ginger give a spark to these almond-based cookies.