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Traditional Canadian Christmas Cookies

When I was a child, every mother worth her salt made homemade traditional Christmas Cookies and Sweets!

It is December second! Time to get those traditional Christmas treats prepared for my loved ones this season! The once so familiar tradition of making and baking homemade Christmas sweets has diminished so dramatically that I am compelled to proselyte: Put on your aprons, get out your recipes, call your friends, and have some good old fashioned fun in your kitchen! The joy you will find sharing the stories about your cookies as you munch on them together gathered around your tree will edify you and enrich your family.

These are the staples that you will find on my family Christmas Cookie platter every year.

Inspired by my mom who made shortbread every Christmas cut into more traditional rectangles, these are my favourite. Buttery shortbread in the oven was the onset of Christmas in our house when I was a child. However, one Spring, I recall the most beautiful pink and green shortbread sandwiches on a tiered tray in the dining room. I had never seen anything so delicate and beautiful. I never thought of them again until many, many years later when I was a young mother going through mom’s cupboard to borrow her rectangular cookie cutter when I came upon a round cutter and the memories of those precious dainties flooded back. She gave me the cutter which I have in my cookie cutter vault and our favourite of all favourite family traditions was born.

My grandmother, Maude had Brown-eyed Susan flowers growing wild on her property when I was a child and when she first made these cookies, I was in awe. They were much bigger and flatter and so delicious. Everything grandma made was delicious – and big! I was captured by these because they looked nothing like the flower but always reminded me of it, just the same. It wasn’t until my first year of teaching school, thirty years ago, when a mom brought these cookies to a party that I remembered grandma’s. I got the recipe from Brenna’s mom, changed the shape and size to match all I make, and have made them every year since.

I like having a “positive” and a “negative” plated alongside each other: a dark cookie beside a white one. This cookie is the perfect counterpart to the Brown Eyed Susan and is my heritage cookie. I was born and raised n Red Deer, Alberta, just 100 miles South of Edmonton where I live now, and returned for a retirement party of a neighbour about twenty years ago and discovered this cookie on the treat table. It looked nothing like this as it was large and flat and round with ground pecans on top, but it was chewy and delicious. I learned that Red Deer had held an official cookie contest and this cookie was announced the winner. It has a surprise caramel centre which makes it extra delicious. Again, I changed the size and manner of shaping and garnishing the cookie and had to add my heritage cookie to our Christmas plate!

These evolved from my grandmother Maude’s sugar cookie recipe. Hers were thick and gigantic and the best in the world. I decided I needed a counterpart for the shortbread sandwiches and a cookie that had a winter theme and was not so specific to just Christmas.The crystal sugar makes them sparkle and we all love them!

An homage to one of my favourite cities in the world: Venice, these cookies have found their permanent position on our family Christmas platter. I have visited three times (so far), and still long to go back. I love marzipan and recalling the gorgeous sweets as I pressed my nose against the glass windows in all of the narrow winding streets there, I did a little research to find one I could make. This was it. It was not easy at first, but it is now. One batch is enough for the season and for gift giving. Everyone loves them!

Firenze used to be my favourite city. I was always going to live there until our most recent trip this fall (2011). Apparently, these cookies do not hail from that region, but they do in my mind. They remind me of the ones I found in the small crowded shops; they were also an homage to my future retirement home, but now more of a representation of a love for the entire country of Italy. My dear friend, Rae, found this recipe. We did cookie baking together a few Christmases and it is difficult to find a Florentine that is not so labour intensive. This one is not so easy to make, but so worth it, and so much easier than many we read about. I make two batches of these every year as they are sensational and one of my dad’s favourites.

Ah, the butter tart! This is a traditional Canadian tart and my particular recipe comes from my great grandmother: Maude’s mother. It has only currants in it and she changed it to add golden syrup when that came out sometime in the 1800’s. I have never tasted a butter tart recipe as good as this one. The tart shell shape evolved about twenty five years ago when one of my students brought butter tarts to school that her grandmother had made looking very similar to these. I had to find the cookie cutter and I did in an antique store! I remember Grandma Maude, and her mother, and my little student, Jenny, every time I make these.

I adore these! I squiggle and giggle every time I make them. The recipe is from the Western Canadian famous Best of Bridge series. Mom often had a lemon tart on her Christmas platter and dad really loved them. I wanted something smaller that packed a more powerful punch and did I ever find it. The shells are very labour intensive to make. Watch a good movie. The filling is puckery perfect. And the violet? My tribute to my travels in France: Oh, how I love thee! I grow my own violets and taught myself how to sugar them. They are not tasty, like the ones in France, but they are boo-ti-full! …and the tarts are deadly delicious!

Almost every platter from my childhood proudly presented rum balls. I hated them. They looked so yummy and were consistently dry and yucky. These are have graced our table for the past several years and are the best rum balls I have every eaten. I never made them as I never liked them. I also used to made several different kind of truffles every year, so it was just too much to think of another round chocolate morsel. Rae’s sister, Debbie, found this recipe. One batch makes enough for an army, so be prepared to gift some. They are extraordinarily moist, pack a powerful rum punch that are perfectly paired with the marzipan chunks and deep dark chocolate. Dramatically different that the old hard knobs and so worth making.

I discovered this only a few years ago from Helene at Super Kitchen Machine. I had seen it before on The British Larder’s site, but just didn’t find it as appealing until I saw Helene’s version of it. This is the best gift I can give at Christmas. I love everything about it! It is easy to make, delicious, and has an artisan appeal that I adore. I have seen them in the fall for sale in Italy (not nearly as good and outrageously priced), too! You might even say it is somewhat nutritious with all of the good nuts and grains that go into it! Did I say it was delicious? It is! It does help to have my favourite kitchen machine (The Thermomix) to make it with, but you can make it without one, too. If you don’t bake traditional sweets, this is the one treat that I would definitely encourage you to try!

The criteria for our Traditional Family Favourites is simple: each has to be spectacular in its own right to make it to the plate. In my circle of family and friends, each of these meets that criteria.

Each comes from a special place in my heart and as I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas this season, I would love to hear about your family cookie traditions! It makes me so sad that fewer and fewer of my friends carry this tradition on at all. It used to be that we could go from house to house and the pride on the face of the hostess beamed as she offered you her wares wrapped in love during the season. Far too often now, everything is purchased. It is too easy. Dalene is the only friend I have that still makes her own! Well, I “hear” Cathy does, too, but have never been over for a Christmas tea! (wicked grin)

But, is there a story to tell? Is there a connection to the past on that plate?

Please share your Traditional Christmas favourites! I will add them below! There is still so much to learn and explore… and more traditions to build.

Merry Christmas, everyone. The season has begun!

I found them! You can’t hide them from me! (Frozen cookies DO taste good!)

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

Join The Conversation!

  1. I do baked treats every year for the Holidays. Last year we moved to Ottawa and I am now close to my daughter. She came and helped me. That was such a good time. I will invite her this year again to bake more treats.

  2. Oh this brings back memories of Christmas baking and cookie swaps that we always did growing up. My favorites are shortbread, my Nana’s fudge and Nainamo bars. Now that I’m married and have my own girls, I made sure to get the recipes from my Mum so I can create the same memories with them as they get older.

    • Breanne!
      It does bring back memories, doesn’t it? It is so important to preserve these family traditions! My mom’s shortbread is my favourite, too, but I have never liked the whipped shortbread. Only mom’s. Ah, fudge! Now that is a sweet I haven’t made – ever. Truffles, yes, but fudge is still too sweet for me, and no one ever made it at home, but I recall most mom’s making it, for sure! Squares were really big when I was a child, but not for Christmas so much: for weddings, and funerals and teas and such. That’s when mom would make the Nanaimo bars. How I love the custard layer. I must say I was shocked to find the store bought kinds so tasty, but I can only imagine the preservatives in them.
      :)
      V

  3. Oh how wonderful, I can just imagine the beautiful aromas in your kitchen when you did this baking! My mother was of Hungarian origin and she created the loveliest baked goods, especially at Christmas time!

  4. Lizzy!
    What kinds of Hungarian sweets and treats are traditional from Christmas? Inquiring minds want to know!
    :)
    V

    • Hungarian Christmas cake is called Beigli and it is a dough like pastry filled with poppyseeds or walnuts and sultanas. To die for. My mother baked strudels and fried cookies dusted with icing sugar. Another Christmas one was Carnival doughnuts filled with jam. I miss my mum so much and would give anything to spend a day in the kitchen with her again xoxox

  5. These look so good especially the venetian ones but could I get all of them please

    • Polwig!
      hahaha – you can definitely MAKE them all! There are detailed instructions for each on my site – click on the title linking to each in the above post!
      ;)
      V

  6. I love the Sweet Christmas Platter! During Christmas we have the theme “Sweet Surrender”, preparation of sweets: cakes and cookies. Those who are on diet and restricted to eat sweets are tempted to indulge. Our family friends forget their food routines , some just get a pinch to satisfy their envy. But the children, couldn’t help to eat and bring them home.

    • Lyka!
      The Sweet Surrender theme is so appropriate! Any traditional family favourites on that platter every year?
      :)
      V

  7. Beavie likes your family favourites as well Valerie. I have really cut down on my baking this year but chocolate salamai is on list!!

  8. What a lovely selection of cookies. I love it how each one seems to have some kind of happy memory attached to it. I have always wanted to try making Italian rainbow cookies, but they look so difficult. Maybe I’ll try it one day as a challenge.
    *kisses* HH

    • HH!
      The rainbow cookies really were difficult the first couple of times. Not too sure why, but getting the layers out of the pan was the issue. I have it down now, and believe I have given really specific instructions to make it easier for everyone else, too. Making my own marzipan made these spectacular, and I love how I have 12 bars per batch and can wrap them individually and freeze them: guests arrive and VOILA!
      :)
      V

  9. What a beautiful tray of Christmas treats! My family’s favorite cookie is my candy cane cookies which I started making over 20 years ago and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

    • Susan,
      I love to hear that. I am headed over to your site right now to look them up!
      :)
      V

      • PS – I found it, and have added the link to my post for others to enjoy, too! It looks so pretty and sounds really tasty. I just may try it this year! :) V

  10. It’s amazing to see the variety of cookies that differ from household to household.

  11. We have tons of classic Indian Christmas sweets, and maybe one day I’ll get around to making them. So far I’ve baked my ginger cookies, the Indian spiced macaroons and have just baked the Canada Cornstarch shortbread cookies.

    I am planning to make sour cream cookies, and the classic sugar ones as well. Unfortunately, I have to bake everything last minute, as they just don’t last in my house :)

    http://foodfootballandababy.blogspot.com/2010/12/canada-cornstarch-shortbread-cookies.html

    http://foodfootballandababy.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-baking-indian-sweets.html

    http://foodfootballandababy.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-baking-snowy-ginger-biscuits.html

  12. Shortbread, butter tarts, mincemeat tarts, coconut balls and chocolate oat thingies (I don’t even think they have a name!) are some of the staples in my family. I would definitely go for some of that Chocolate Salami though!

  13. Shortbread and fruit mince tarts are big in Australia. In our family, other small, sweet favourites include coffee truffles (my Aunt’s recipe, and decidely wicked), pasta di mandorla, and homemade rockyroad. We’re loving our first Christmas season in Canada!

    • Kerryn!
      Thank you for chiming in! Welcome to Canada – where are you in this vast country? Do Australians make their own mincemeat or buy it from a jar. Mincemeat tarts were definitely a staple on the tray when I was young and I still do make them. My mom always made her own mincemeat. I didn’t as I made so few, but doctored up the bottle I bought. Like fruitcake, mincemeat is definitely not a popular treat for too many, but I have an old traditional palate and love it. I have learned to make my own, but a lighter version, and I actually make a mincemeat ice cream to go with our traditional Sticky Toffee Pudding, too! I have no clue what homemade rocky road is!
      :)
      Valerie

      • Hi, Valerie. I’m in Edmonton, too! You can buy mincemeat in a jar in Australia, but many make their own. Or, if you want to stretch out your hard work, mix half and half :) My mother-in-law is the chief tart baker, but since we’re here this year, I’m taking on the mantle. Wish me luck.

        Rocky Road is confectionery, I guess, and not a cookie: it’s a mix of toasted coconut, nuts (peanuts or pistachios), marshmallow, hard jellies (or turkish delight), and chocolate, set and cut into small squares.

        • Kerryn!
          Edmonton! Fantastic! Welcome to my hometown! If this is your first winter here, be thankful you were not here last year! It was the most harsh in over 20 years – but very reminiscent of every winter from my childhood. I know of rocky road ice cream and always wondered where that idea came from. You must be very homesick – and mixed up with the seasons being literally upside down for you here! Hopefully you got in a couple of summers when you moved, instead of the other way around! Good luck with your holiday baking!
          :)
          Valerie

        • Kerryn,
          I had to come back to reread our conversation today, now that I know who you are “sort of”. :)
          Love that!
          Valerie

  14. O what a fabulous collection of Christmas cookies!! With my mum not being into cooking at all we never baked Christmas cookies. How terrible really..:) I love baking for Christmas however !!

    • Simone,
      What is your favourite Christmas treat that you make every year now that you are starting this on your own?
      :)
      V

  15. I think that some foods have the power to bring us back to our childhoods and remind us of traditions we had growing up (for me, that’s handmade apple turnovers), and in this season of family and friends, isn’t that the most important things of all? :) Thank you for sharing all your favorite Christmas cookies with us, Valerie – they’re all so beautiful, but I think the glittering snowflake cookies are the best of all.

    Happy Holidays, Valerie! :)

  16. I used to make cookie baskets to give to friends at Christmas. Every day, for two weeks, I would bake a new cookie and freeze them, tightly sealed. Before I knew it – no room in the freezer…100’s cookies! My faves were always the rainbow cookies..they scream Christmas to me. Every single one of your cookies, including your rainbows, look and sound amazing! What a variety you put out! I want a Valerie cookie basket!! LOL Another tradition that died, and I need to revive, was my yearly buche de noel. I may be Jewish, but one cannot resist all the baking options Christmas brings :)

    • Lisa!
      What lucky friends you had – I used to do the same… but had them all over for a party – about a 100 people and fed them all night long and had such fun – with festive appetizers – a meal – cookies, sweets and treats – but the clean up from that scares me now – even if I hired someone to do it!
      Yup! Those were the days! And, I would LOVE to give you a Christmas basket. Only someone like you (and others, like Janet here, would really appreciate and understand the love worked into every bite!
      :)
      V

  17. Janet Howard says:

    the shortbread sandwich cookies are to die for. I cannot wait to make them. Valerie knows how much I love these. Janet

    • Janet!
      The girls are not going to be home for Christmas this year – both at their new inlaws the first year of the marriage (and I thought this was a matriarchal society!)! So, the baking will be very low key this year… very very low key… which is all good and fine, but I cannot wait until next Christmas!
      Did you see the wedding photos on facebook?
      I will have to do a post…. eventually.
      XO
      Valerie

  18. Hi Valerie! I know it’s been a while, but had to stop by and say hello and thanks for remembering me, though I’ve fallen off the radar. I don’t blog at Quickies anymore, but have a new virtual ‘home’ where I still do what I do. Bread Expectations is kind of on ice at the moment, but I do believe I will return to it. Been so busy, I don’t think there’s even a word for it. Your cookie post brings back wonderful kitchen memories and is making me miss my grandma (the one who made all the traditional Christmas treats in my childhood home). I hope to one day revive the traditions she bequeathed us, before they sink into oblivion – that would be so sad….

  19. What a wonderful spread of cookies you have there, and you are just so amazingly lucky!!:) Awww, Christmas is here a lil’ too early this year..hehe, reading so many Christmas-related posts :p

  20. Lovely to see all your Christmas cookies, Valerie. All so different and unusual too. They make a lovely tray. Your Brown Eyed Susans are adorable.
    When I was younger we always made cookies for the holidays, had cookie and recipe exchanges at church and gave them as gifts. Our kitchen always smelled like baking. My grandmother had owned a bakery so you can imagine the goodies she made each Christmas.
    Such a fun post!

  21. Now that is a heavenly assortment if ever I saw one, Valerie. I love your black-eyed Susans. My favorite Christmas cookie is the Swedish Rosette. I’ve made them every year since my tenth birthday. Without being specific, that’s a lot of years :-). I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  22. It is so nice to meet a fellow Canadian. Really love your blog. Can’t wait to poke around some more over the next few days. All these cookies are making me hungry. I have to say those butter tarts look spectacular. Look forward to spending some more time here. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

    • Kim!
      Lovely to “meet you”! Hope to do the same at your site! (The butter tarts are truly the best – ever!)
      :)
      Valerie

  23. Butter tarts are such a Canadian treat. I do miss them.

  24. You did a wonderful job.

  25. A bit late Valerie, but my favorite Christmas baked goods include shortbread cookies, Nanaimo bars, chocolate crackle tops and chocolate truffles!

    Blog post about my Christmas baking found here:
    http://www.marlowmoo.com/2011/12/marlows-mootreats-ie-christmasholiday.html

  26. What a wonderful collection of cookies! I have a Canadian friend here who is currently away for the holidays but once she’s back I’d love to surprise her with at least one out of all of these kinds of cookies.

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