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Saint Nicholas Day 2013

Today, December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. It’s a big holiday in Europe, mostly for children, but in the U.S., it barely rates a tiny blip on the Holiday calendar. I’ve always loved the story of St. Nicholas - a 3rd-century figure who was born to prosperous parents, raised a devout Christian, orphaned when he was young, and gave his wealth to the poor. Nicholas eventually became Bishop of Myra, in what is now Turkey. He was well-known for his love of children, sailors, and ships, and was the inspiration for Santa Claus.

I began observing St. Nicholas Day a number of years ago. In Europe, children receive small gifts on December 6th, but I prefer to mark the day by giving simple gifts-from-my-kitchen to friends and neighbors – generally in packaging that may be hung from their front doorknob. The fun of coming up with a new idea each year, and of quietly leaving the gifts on friends’ front doors to be discovered later in the day, gives me as much pleasure as those who receive the gifts.

This year, I was inspired by The Night Before Christmas and created sugarplum “lollipops” filled with Pink Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies. The lollipops are fashioned from white glitter foam squares cut into 5 1/2-inch circles, decorated with a swirl of glitter glue to resemble a large lollipop, secured together with bright pink, chenille pipe cleaners, and filled with cookies. I packaged the lollipops in cellophane bags with a pipe cleaner lollipop stick, and tied them at the top with curling ribbon. It’s an unexpected, clever bit of packaging for holiday cookies. I’m happy to share my recipe and step-by-step photos for your own holiday celebrations. Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Pink Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
4-5 drops red food coloring

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, and beat until they are well blended.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture with a large spoon to form a soft dough. Divide the dough in half and add peppermint extract and red food coloring to one of the halves, stirring well. Set it aside.

On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll the plain cookie dough into a 16-inch x 13-inch rectangle, and set it aside. On lightly floured parchment paper, roll the pink cookie dough into a 16-inch x 13-inch rectangle. Lift the paper and place the pink dough face down on top of the plain dough. Peel off the parchment paper.

Starting with the long edge, roll the doughs together to form a 16-inch log. Turn the parchment paper over and place it next to the log. Roll the log onto the paper and transfer the cookie log to a cookie sheet. Cover it with plastic wrap and chill several hours until the dough is firm, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the cookie log, place it on a cutting board, and slice it into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Place the pinwheel cookies on a lightly-greased cookie sheet and bake 8 to 9 minutes or until the edges of the cookies barely turn brown. Remove them from the oven, cool 1 minute, and transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 6 dozen cookies