Take time off from politics, and bake something for those you love

December 12, 2011

Roger Freberg


Here we are in the midst of the holiday season. Most people who bake from scratch measure this season from the first thought of a Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin Pie to the last chip and dip at a Super Bowl Party and all the celebrations in between. Every family has a set of favorite items they make during this holiday season and ours is no exception.

By the way, if you have a favorite holiday recipe that you would like to share, feel free to post it in the comment section.

I’ve had the opportunity to be on local radio personality Dave Congalton’s radio show, sometimes the topic was politics, books or even holiday cooking. A few years back, we were talking about culinary marvels. Thinking back, someone asked me after the program what my five favorite sweets for this time of year were. Here they are:

1) Laura’s Mushroom Cookies

Laura and I have been making these since Christmas 1972. I remember my Swedish father-in-law remarking that we could skip the shape of the cookie if that would make the process easier and if that would mean he could have more, more often. There was a time when we had a virtual family assembly line with someone making cookies and others filling homemade baskets to deliver to friends and family.

Today, I reserve most of these for any potential upcoming famine as these wonders keep almost forever.

As proof, my mother kept some we made in a tin that she remembered months later and became excited that there were two left. They do seem to last forever as long as no one knows they are around.

In Scandinavian countries and the surrounding areas, many people make a small spicy gingerbread-like cookie that is very popular served with tea and coffee. Since Scandinavians drink more coffee than anyone, this cookie is worth looking at. In
Lithuania, they are called ‘Grybai’ which – I believe — means ‘mushroom.’ They are called mushroom cookies because of the shape in which they are formed. Balls of dough and stem shaped dough are baked, joined and frosted. This is one cookie people ask for over and over.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup honey
3 tsp ground cardamom
3 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
3 tsp grated Lemon Peel
1 tsp grated Orange peel
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp sour cream frosting (powdered sugar/confectioner’s sugar and water)
Poppy Seeds

How to Prepare:

Step 1: Heat the honey in a medium saucepan until it bubbles around the edges. Remove from heat and add: sugars, peels, spices and eggs.

Step 2: Measure the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the honey mixture alternately with sour cream. Knead the dough for 5 minutes and roll into a ball. Let rest for about 20 minutes.

Step 3: Heat oven to 375°F. Roll 1/4 dough into ropes of about a pencil’s width. Cut 100 stem pieces and smooth the ends. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 7 minutes.

Step 4: Roll 100 balls from the remaining dough. Make an indentation in each ball (I use the rounded handle of a wooden spoon). Bake the indented side down for 10-12 minutes.

Step 5: With a small knife, enlarge the holes in the baked caps (to accommodate the stems). Dip the stems in thickened frosting and insert one end of the stem into the caps. Invert and dry (stem side up)

Step 6: Dip the caps into a thinner frosting and sprinkle with poppy seeds! Let dry on their sides on foil…. then enjoy.

2) Karen’s & Kristin’s Indulgent Mud bars

We really have to credit my onetime employer Nestle for this great recipe … although we have tweaked it quite a bit to fit our own particular tastes. I also have tried to save some of the great recipes from those days of “spare no expense” that are really hard to find today. Although many commercial cookies are wonderful in their own way, they suffer from having to fit a certain economical cost parameter and unfortunate compromises are made. This was a relatively “expensive” recipe, but well worth it.

So here is one of my daughters’ many versions:

1) Ingredients
4 cups bread flour
1  teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla ( or if you prefer Almond )
2 eggs or 2 tablespoon yogurt
2 12 oz. packages of Milk Chocolate Chips
1 cups nuts ( I like diced Almonds)

2) Preparation – step by step

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Mix together bread flour, baking soda and salt into a large bowl and set aside.
3) In another smaller bowl, combine the brown sugar, vanilla (or almond) and butter.
4) Gradually add everything to the larger bowl.
5) Stir in 2/3 of the chips and all the nuts.
6) Bake for 23 – 25 minutes in a 9×14 inch greased pan.
7) Immediately after removing the pan from the oven, sprinkle the remaining chips over the top of the cookie bars.
8) When the chips are soft and shiny, spread them evenly over the bars… like frosting.

Other Ideas…

Karen suggests adding peanut butter chips and milk chocolate chips or even nuts.

3) My personal Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

People don’t think of a chocolate chip cookie as a Christmas cookie, but the reality is that more than half the cookies made at this time are chocolate chip. So indulge me a bit by allowing me to share with you some history.

Years ago (say around 40), many of us who were afflicted with the chocolate lover’s gene, witnessed the phenomenon of Famous Amos and his wondrous chocolate chip cookie. Although Famous Amos — as I understand it — used the “Ambrosia Chip” as a lower cost alternative (which still can be bought at Smart & Final in large quantities)… I have a sentimental love for the delicious Nestle’ Tollhouse morsels.

What famous Amos did to folks like me was to open our minds to the possibilities of natural combinations in cookie making. So, what better thing to do than to mix the three most popular ingredients in cookie making: peanut butter, oatmeal and chocolate chips? So, I spent my time hanging around test kitchens… trying to soak in ideas of wonderful combinations. My cookie is more cake than cookie… but I think it is yummy… I hope you enjoy it.


2 cups — Nestlé’s Semi Sweet Chocolate  Chips (1 ½ – 12 oz. bags)
5 Eggs
1 cup butter
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup Peanut Butter
1 cup diced Pecans
2 ½  cups flour
2 cup uncooked Oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Baker’s sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda

Assemble as follows:

1) Soften butter
2) Mix in Peanut Butter – preferably a   smooth homogenized style
3) Mix in Vanilla
4) Mix in Baker’s Sugar
5) Mix in Brown Sugar
6) Mix in Salt
7) Mix in 5 eggs
8) Mix in soda, baking powder and oats
9) Mix in flour
10) Mix in nuts
11) Mix in Chocolate Chips (Nestle’)
12) Roll into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on un-greased cookie sheet

Bake at 324 degrees for 15 minutes

Enjoy with a tall frosty class of whole milk.

4) The Best Lemon Squares for Laura

If you take a biological psychology class from my wife Laura Freberg at Cal Poly, you will discover that not all of us see alike (some women have a 4th photopigment in their eyes which is why some can see shades of red better than men) or taste food in the same way (for a “supertaster,” the last tasting experience is as vibrant as the first).

In a new psychology book coming out next year, my wife has placed a picture of my tongue in the book. Why? Well, I have more taste buds than is typical and she needed a picture of a “supertaster.” Supertasters love food as you might expect, but they shy away from things like citrus and coffee (unless we add heavy cream). The point is that I tried to make a lemon square that Laura would love, but that wouldn’t pucker me up too much.

It’s amazing how many recipes there are for the humble lemon square. Many of them reflect the rationing of expensive or hard to find ingredients. Some have a pie crust, some have only a hint of lemon and others seem to be little more than a lemony glaze over cookie dough.

Personally, I think that the crust needs to be as good as the custard and I use quality short bread for the base. I have been experimenting with adding more custard and I think this works out fairly well now. I can’t imagine that anyone could get a tangy lemon taste without ample amounts of lemon zest (I add about 1/3 the amount of lemon zest with orange zest).

Here’s how I make them for Laura:

The crust

1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups flour
2 1/4 cubes of butter (.6 lbs)
3/4 tsp salt

Combine and cook at 350 degrees F. for around 20 minutes

Note: Often I only lay the crust on the bottom and not the sides, but if I put dough on the side, I do not allow the dough to go higher than the filling. Personally, I don’t like overly browned crust so keep an eye on it while baking.

The filling (the filling may be more than you need, so do choose a deep dish)

1 1/3 cup lemon juice
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
8 eggs
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2/3 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon baking flour
350 degrees F. for 30 minutes

You can modify this recipe for pans with steeper sides and proportion the ingredients and make a thicker layer of custard…


5) Gingerbread for Kristin

There are many claims to gingerbread. Both the Romans and the Chinese were fond of a honey cake with ginger. In middle age Europe, gingerbread was viewed as a medicinal aid to digestion with curative powers. In pre-Christian Europe, gingerbread was part of the winter solstice ceremonies and continued on to help ring in Christmas. The ancient Greeks and the Egyptians were said to use it in their ceremonies.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) has often been quoted as a fan of gingerbread:

“Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread.”

In colonial America, gingerbread was a favorite from the very beginning. It is said that President George Washington’s mother served gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette on his visit to America in 1784.

The ingredients and preparation styles of gingerbread have always reflected the times. When stoves didn’t have ovens, gingerbread was cooked very much as you would Boston Baked Bread in a container surrounded by boiling water. The availability of spices and cost considerations also limit the recipe construction. I have even found recipes for gingerbread where the addition of ginger appears to be an afterthought and much reduced.

Fortunately, we won’t bother ourselves with trivial concerns for time, effort or expense in our recipe. Besides, I like to send folks what they really want. However, it becomes a bit of a challenge sending food a long way. During my daughter Kristin’s two tours in Iraq, she requested Gingerbread.  Any food sent far has to be made to travel and not spoil. Packaging can help… but the key is in the ingredients we choose.

My Gingerbread Cookie Recipe for Kristin in Iraq:

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup molasses
5 teaspoons spice blend*
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2/3 – 1 cup water
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
7 cups flour

Sugar sprinkles for topping

My blend: eight parts ginger, four parts cinnamon, one part cardamom, one part allspice,one part cloves, one part nutmeg, one part mace, four parts orange zest.

Bake: 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes

Here’s to you, Kristin.

6) Spartan Baklava

There are many places and cultures that claim this extraordinary dish… but to me, there is no baklava without the phyllo dough of the Greeks. Somehow, honey and nuts within two pieces of bread isn’t the same. And what is baklava without pistachios, or almonds, or pecans? Here is an easy — though not inexpensive – recipe that will impress and delight anyone who is lucky enough to get some.

Baklava is a simple layered pastry with an intermittent filling with a penetrating glaze.



2 heaping cups finely chopped pistachios
( from 1 1/2 lbs roasted, salted in the shell)
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon Allspice
1/8  teaspoon salt


2 cups melted butter
1 one pound phyllo dough


1 1/2 cup honey
1 cup rosewater
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup baker’s sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 vanilla beans (slit bean and scrape insides into glaze)
1 whole cinnamon stick
½ tsp cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt


1. In a food processor, pulse until finely ground: nuts, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt.

2. Unfold phyllo dough. If not already provided, you will need to construct 40 – 9-by-12-inch rectangles. Cover with moist cloths.

3. Brush bottom of a 9-by-12-inch baking pan with melted butter. Place a leaf of dough
in the pan, it will fit perfectly! Brush a sheet of dough with butter. Repeat with seven more sheets, eight total sheets per layer. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the nut mixture.

4. Repeat until you have a total of four nut fillings and a plain top.

5.  Leave the top layer unbuttered for now.

6. Gently flatten and smooth the top of the pastry with your hands. Brush an additional ¼ cup melted butter over top layer.

7. Slice baklava into diagonal strips (as shown in the pictures below). Repeat in
horizontal direction, forming a diamond pattern.

8. Bake until golden , 50 to 60 minutes  at 350 degrees.

9. In a saucepan, combine honey glaze ingredients with 1 cup rose water. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved for about 10 minutes. Strain mixture into a vessel used for pouring.

10. While baklava is hot, pour syrup into cracks, reserving a small amount for the
top of baklava. Cover with foil and let sit overnight. They say Baklava tastes even better after a week…but ours never last that long … so I think that this may be a rumor.

There really isn’t a better way to show someone you care than to take your time to make something for them. So, what’s special on your cookie baking list this year?

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I am NOT taking time off from politics, because YOU are a FASCIST JERK !

Take that , DIMWAD!

Thanks for the recipes Roger. I made the mushroom cookies and the baklava. They were both a big hit.

I altered the baklava a bit and used some fresh New England (Rhode Island to be specific) maple syrup that had been tapped. I brought it to a long boil and it thickened up perfectly in place of the honey mixture. Yummy, Yummy, Yummy………