When Bernadette Ruof grew up in Lackawanna, born to an English father and a Polish mother, it was the Polish holiday traditions that reigned.
“So we had every kind of Polish food that you could imagine,” she said, from the swieconka blessed baskets at Easter to a proliferation of cookies at Christmas.
One of Ruof’s earliest Christmastime memories is helping her mother, Charlotte Washburn, make kifle, a cookie that’s rolled around a filing into the shape of a small crescent. It’s not unique to Poland, Ruof noted; many European cultures have their versions.
“Every tradition does it differently. Some people will make the kifle with cream cheese. My mother’s is made with yeast.”
That recipe, below, was one of many offered when readers were asked to share favorites. This week before Christmas, we’re sharing it and more from other Western New York families.
Helping her mother make the kifle is “one of my first memories, so I was seven or eight,” said Ruof. “She did let me roll them, and I was the one who did the sugar at the end, while it was still warm.”
She involved her son Damian and daughter Laura in making them, “a little bit,” she said – “they liked the tasting more than the work.” But they’re part of the family tradition for another generation, and perhaps her granddaughters Gigi and Lucy will take them up.
“I hope some day they’ll actually make them, but I don’t know that’s true,” she said. “I think my best bet might be my granddaughters.”
In a mixing bowl, add 3 cups of flour
1 cake yeast, broken up
¼ pound soft butter
½ cup Crisco Butter flavor (original recipe called for lard)
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sour cream
3 egg yolks
Mix well in a standing mixer and divide into 5 or 6 balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate overnight.
2/3 cup apricot preserves
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups walnuts, chopped fine
Put apricot preserves in a food processor, process until smooth. Set aside in a bowl.
Mix sugar and cinnamon and set aside in a separate bowl.
Chop walnuts and set aside in a separate bowl.
When dough is ready, take a ball and roll out to about 10-inches circle. (Charlotte would sprinkle sugar on the board before she rolled the dough.)
Lightly cover dough with preserves. Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Sprinkle the walnuts over the circle of dough and lightly press into the dough.
Use a pizza cutter or a knife to divide the circle into 8 triangles.
Roll each triangle into a crescent and lightly press together
Space two inches apart on a parchment or Silpat covered cookie sheet.
Freeze 15 minutes.
Brush with egg white and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes. Look at them around 18 minutes so they don’t burn.
Remove from oven and place on a rack immediately to cool.
. . .
"This recipe was a favorite from my mother from Italy. (She came from Foggia.) They call them the “bones of the dead.” The cookies are very hard when done. Old Italians dipped them in wine." - Anthony Russo Jr., Orchard Park
1 pound (4 cups) flour
¾ pound toasted almonds (whole)
1 pound (2 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
1/3 cup white wine, or more as needed
Wine (like zinfandel)
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and baking powder.
Add slightly beaten eggs.
Stir in almonds.
Add more wine, slowly, while stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture holds together.
Then start kneading, until all almonds are in dough. (This takes a long time.)
Roll a tube on a board and flatten with a hand or fist. Cut in pieces on a slight angle. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven, on a generously floured cookie sheet.
First on bottom rack, about 10 minutes, until light brown.
Then, on second from the top rack, about 10 minutes. Keep watching, and lift one, because they burn on the bottom.
When cookies are cool, wipe off the flour with a brush.
. . .
"My family is quite a cheap, I mean frugal, bunch.
"Years ago my aunt used to work at a children’s summer camp, in the kitchen. At the end of the season, her supervisor allowed her to take home some of the food items that were left over.
"Among these items were commercial size cases of Saltine crackers that were starting to get stale. My aunt found this recipe but it had no name on it. She copied the recipe. Then she gave me and probably twenty of my cousins a copy along with a very large quantity of Saltines.
"I made them and immediately fell in love. They taste like Heath bars. Everyone kept asking for the recipe and asked what they were called. I had no idea, so I came up with Saltine Delights.
"The rest is history. Every time I make them, usually at Christmas, I think of my frugal aunt who just couldn’t stand the thought of throwing out all those crackers." - Marilyn Fazio, South Buffalo
1 ½ sleeves of Saltines or similar crackers
2 cups margarine or butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 12-ounce bag chocolate chips (or butterscotch, or white chocolate)
Crushed walnuts or cashews
Cover a cookie sheet with foil. The style with the 1-inch sides works best. Line with fresh or stale crackers.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a pot, melt margarine or butter, and add sugar.
After mixture comes to a boil, let boil for two minutes.
Pour mixture over crackers. Bake for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and pour bag of chips over pan. As chips soften, spread to cover in a frosting-like manner.
Sprinkle crushed walnuts or cashews over top.
Refrigerate 20-25 minutes until cooled. Break into pieces like peanut brittle.
. . .
"My late mother, Rita Messore, was a fabulous cook. She would make an extraordinary array of cookies every Christmas (mostly for entertaining, as we always had holiday parties and plenty of guests), of course, with selected recipes made throughout the year for any occasion.
"She was a scratch baker and always put her own 'spin' on recipes collected from cookbooks of any ilk.
"One favorite was a recipe shared from her late best friend, Josephine Giglia. They were friends since 1941 until my mom's death in 2006. This was Jo's take on the traditional Italian chocolate cookie. There were very strict instructions to bake them for 8 minutes "and not a second more!"" - Cherie Messore, West Seneca
2 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
½ cup oil
½ cup Concord grape jelly
½ teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients.
Then add egg, oil, jelly and vanilla, and stir together. Dough should be very stiff and shiny. You may need to add a little more flour to get it to the right consistency. Dough should hold its shape and not stick to your hands too much.
Roll into small balls (or at Easter, small egg shapes). I use my smallest cookie scoop: it’s 1-inch across.
Put on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for no more than 8 minutes (“not one second more,” says my mom’s friend).
Cool cookies on a rack. Frost with buttercream. Store in one layer in an airtight container. One recipe yields approximately 75 cookies (depending on how much raw dough you eat).
1 stick of butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt if you’re using unsalted butter
Milk to make it the right consistency
Food coloring, if desired
Beat all ingredients, and pipe or spread on cooled cookies.
. . .
"Many years ago when my children were in Little League baseball, one of the moms brought some chocolate chip cookies to the ball game. She was kind enough to pass them around to the moms in the bleachers. I had never tasted such a delicious chocolate chip cookie. I asked if she would share her recipe and, thankfully, she did. I have made them ever since.
"They have been requested for birthday parties, christenings, Christmas cookie exchanges, baby showers, etc. In fact, at one bridal shower I attended, I gave the bride-to-be a lovely cookie jar with the recipe tucked inside. She was thrilled!
"It always gives me joy to know that they make people so happy. In fact, I made some today to bring to a football party tomorrow. My daughter has the recipe now as well as my daughters-in-law. They have made them for their friends and relatives as well. Still making people happy." – Gerri Michalski, Amherst
Chocolate chip cookies
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup Crisco shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce package chocolate chips
Mix first six ingredients together in large mixing bowl with electric mixer.
Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl, except chips, and add to wet mixture. Stir with large wooden spoon. Add chocolate chips and mix well.
Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop onto parchment lined cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 8 - 10 minutes.
Remove from oven when edges start to brown. They will continue to brown after you take them out of the oven. Don’t over bake. Makes 3 - 4 dozen.