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 cookie.
In rich, palate-pleasing flavor and complex, multi-step process, these cookies are decadent from beginning to end. 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 with whole grains 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 grain sugar or a combination of honey and granular sweetener.
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.
- 1 lb. (4 sticks) butter
- 5 c. flour
- 4 beaten egg yolks
- ¾ c. cold water
- ¼ c. white vinegar
- 4 egg whites
- pinch of cream of tartar
- 1 ½ c. granulated sugar
- 1 Tbs. almond extract
- 1 lb. ground walnuts
- Use a pastry blender 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.
- Whip 4 egg whites into a meringue.
- Add the cream of tartar, sugar, and almond extract.
- Mix well.
- Fold in the ground walnuts.
- Building the Cookies:
- Divide both dough and filling into 8 equal sections.
- Roll on lightly powdered sugared surface into a pie shape.
- Spread with filling and cut into ~12 equal wedges.
- Roll from edge to center.
- Bake on a cookie sheet 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar (through a sieve) while cooling on racks.
I would recommend reading on to see the photos of the step by step.
The dough will hold in the fridge for as many days as you need it to, within reason.
Make the Filling
I’ve never made a meringue before! You could probably do this with a whisk by hand, but it was super fun to watch in my KitchenAid mixer with the whisk attachment. This is not quite finished:
See the peaks stand up by themselves? 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 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.
Roll out one section of dough on a powdered sugared surface until it is quite thin, about a 14-16” circle. (I used a floured surface in this photo – serves me right for skimming the recipe card. That would explain why they don’t taste *quite* as sweet this year as I remember!) 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!
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 not been freshly prepared.
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 20-30 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
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.
I used soaked and dehydrated walnuts instead of raw, so that the phytates are reduced. I would not recommend reducing the sugar, but I added a bit of honey into some of them and it tastes great. Depending on how much honey taste you enjoy, I’m sure you could substitute a half cup of honey for ¾ cup sugar, maybe more.
A Real Food Question
What do the grain soakers among you think? (See Why Soak Grains? for more info.) If I used whole wheat pastry flour and/or white whole wheat for this recipe, could I soak it with the vinegar and water at room temp, even with the egg yolks in? I leave my mayo out to lacto-ferment for 7 hours with raw egg yolks. If they’re pastured eggs, would it be safe? It would be easy enough to do!