A pound of butter.
A pound of walnuts.
A whole Tablespoon of almond extract.
Some recipes are just made for the elitism of the once-a-year Christmas cookie.
With their rich, palate-pleasing flavor and complex, multi-step process, these cookies are decadent from beginning to end. They’re at the opposite end of the “fancy” scale from whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, and believe me, they don’t even need chocolate! 😉
They are my ultimate favorite Christmas cookie and the reason I have white flour in my house this season. My mother made kifli every year that I can remember, and as they crumble on my tongue, memories of childhood come vividly to mind.
They also might just be perfect for soaking grains, if I ever get bold enough to experiment and risk ruining a perfectly good nutrient-deficient cookie. I like the compromise of the pound of butter for healthy saturated fats, the four whole pastured eggs, the pound of properly soaked and dehydrated walnuts, and the relatively low sugar content that would be easily adaptable to a natural sugar. I did try half whole wheat pastry flour last year, and they turned out ok!
There are a lot of steps to this recipe, but at least I can tell you that it’s possible to make the dough on a Saturday, the filling on a Sunday and the cookies on a Tuesday…and a Thursday. They’re flexible enough for children to interrupt, and they have some really fun elements just perfect for pint-sized helpers. (Over the years, I’ve even taught my oldest to separate eggs! You can see that in our special Healthy Snacks videos.)
- Use a pastry blender or stand mixer to cut the butter into the flour.
- In another bowl, blend the egg yolks, water and white vinegar. (Be sure to reserve the egg whites for the filling.)
- Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix only until it holds together. The key to a flaky pastry is light handling. The more you move the dough, the tougher it will become.
- Refrigerate. (The dough will hold overnight if you need it to wait.)
- Whip the 4 egg whites into a meringue (I use my stand mixer).
- Add the cream of tartar, sugar, and almond extract.
- Mix well.
- Fold in the ground walnuts. (I use my food processor to grind them fairly finely.)
- Note: If you kept the dough overnight, keep the egg whites in the fridge too, but mix up the filling when you're ready to bake. Let the dough sit at room temp 30 minutes if it was chilled overnight.
- Building the Cookies:
- Divide both the dough and filling into 8 equal sections.
- Roll one piece of dough at a time on a lightly powdered sugared surface into a huge circle. This, by the way, can end up adding a decent amount of powdered sugar to the dough, which allows you to cut down on the sugar in the filling. If you use flour to roll, do NOT cut down the sugar in the filling.
- Spread with one part of the filling. Cut into ~12 equal wedges.
- Roll from edge to center.
- Bake on a cookie sheet 22-26 minutes at 350 degrees F.
- Hint: Bake two trays at a time by baking for 12 minutes, then switching top and bottom rack for 12 more.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar (through a metal sieve) while cooling on racks.
* They freeze great! Just don't freeze in bags because they will fall apart. Stiff boxes.
I would recommend reading on to see the photos of the step by step, even though the pics are from 2009, my first year of blogging – and it shows. 😉
Make the Kifli Cookie Filling
This was my first meringue ever! You could probably do this with a whisk by hand, but it was super fun (and a whole lot easier) to watch in my KitchenAid mixer with the whisk attachment. This is not quite finished:
See the peaks stand up by themselves in the shot below? Now you have a meringue! Mix in the sugar and almond flavoring. Any recipe that asks for a whole Tablespoon of almond extract will really turn a kitchen visitor into a real baker!
Grind the walnuts rather finely in a food processor or blender and fold them into the mixture. Be sure to lean in and inhale the filling; if you ate this bowl up, you’d be satisfied (sweet tooth and all!) for two days.
Roll the Cookie Dough
To help yourself keep enough filling for each round of dough, cut the dough into 8 more-or-less equal chunks, and divide the filling into 8 sections as well:
If the dough and/or filling has been chilled, give it an hour to warm up to make it easier to work with. Note: I recommend saving egg whites in the fridge but making the filling when you’re ready for it so the meringue doesn’t lose whatever lift it’s adding to the recipe.
Roll out one section of dough on a powdered sugared surface until it is quite thin, about a 14-16” circle. This dough is more forgiving than pie crust and doesn’t break as easily. If you do make a hole, it will get rolled into the cookie anyway, so don’t fret! A French style rolling pin is our favorite.
Spread filling evenly and thinly onto the entire circle. I found the easiest way to do this is to put little plops all over the circle of dough rather than one big plop in the middle, especially if your filling has been chilled.
Using a pizza cutter or butter knife, cut the circle into ~12 equal pieces, like a pizza or a pie:
Roll each cookie from the wide portion to the skinny center:Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 22-26 minutes. You can place the cookies very close together, unlike drop cookies. I find that it’s most efficient to bake one pan on the uppermost rack, one on the very bottom, and switch them halfway through.Then you get to make them even better by doing this:
Put powdered sugar in a metal or other fine mesh strainer. Generously dust the cookies as they cool on racks.
Real Food Adjustments – How I Made them Less Bad for Us
All butter: The original recipe calls for half margarine, half butter. I’m guessing that the original original recipe from long ago probably used all butter, and when butter went out of fashion someone changed it to incorporate the trendier “healthy” margarine. I’d also be willing to bet that it just wasn’t nearly as good or flaky if 100% margarine was used, so they compromised and went half and half. I took it all the way back to the real thing.
Crispy nuts: I used soaked and dehydrated walnuts instead of raw, so that the phytates are reduced.
Sweetener:: We’ve tried up to 1/3 sucanat (1/2 cup) and still delicious. Because so much sweet can end up getting in the dough by rolling out with powdered sugar, you might be able to cut out 1/4 or 1/2 cup BUT if you roll out with flour or don’t have children helping sprinkle the sugar, I would not recommend reducing the sugar. One year I did add a bit of honey into some of them and it tasted great. Depending on how much honey taste you enjoy, you might be able to substitute a half cup of honey for ¾ cup sugar, maybe more.
Half whole wheat: Trying half whole wheat pastry flour still worked (phew!) and I might even try 100%…I honestly couldn’t even tell they were half whole wheat, although I wonder if they’d be harder to roll out. If you need a special holiday gluten-free cookie, try these super cute peppermint twist cookies!
Other Sorta Healthy Desserts
- Cardamom Cranberry Christmas Cake (grain-free) — healthy enough for breakfast too!
- Berry Oat Almond Tart (gluten-free)
- Healthy Probiotic Fruit Pizza
- Instant Pot Cherry Compote (+ other Instant Pot Desserts)
- Salted Raspberry Honey Candy
- Chocolate Gingerbread Truffles (dairy-free, gluten-free)
- Chocolate Frosting for any occasion
- Cherry Almond Crepes
- 100% Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Many ways to make healthy apple crisp
- Soft Pumpkin Cookies (or gluten-free pumpkin cookies – hardly any sweetener at all!)