Every year, on Christmas Eve, my cousins and I sit around the kitchen table for dessert – yes, it's still cool to hang together at the "kids' table" when you're 27. In the holiday afterglow of the merriment that comes from dinner and a gift exchange, we chat about whatever arises over an array of bakery-quality cookies.
My grandma, Vivian Gombert, bakes dozens upon dozens of cookies and each recipe has been perfected by years of experience. Intricate spritz cookies, sand tarts, butter balls, chocolate chip cookies – the list goes on. Nestled among the variations are my favorite Christmas cookie: almond sticks.
My grandma has been making almond sticks for six decades. She started making them after she married my grandfather, whose mother passed the recipe and tradition to her. The recipe is either of Swiss or German origin, we think. My grandmother got it from her mother-in-law who got it from her mother – where it came from before that is murky. Either way, the recipe has been in the family for around a century, if not longer.
"We feel this recipe is special as it has been passed down and enjoyed by five generations of our family," she says. "Also it is quite different from any cookie I’ve ever made."
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My grandmother still uses the original recipe card, which is 62 years old. That tiny piece of card stock has been around longer than my mother and is more than double my age. With the years have come tiny stains, maybe from vanilla, and annotations in her small, clear handwriting. Glancing at the recipe, you don't see the dozens of Christmases this recipe has enhanced or the children and grandchildren who have savored the cookies that come from it.
Since my grandmother has been making almond sticks, she has added her own notes like placing the cookies on parchment paper as opposed to on a pan directly makes the process of removing the finished almond strips much easier.
The cookies which are made thin, in strips with a puffed, hard, frosted top. Almond sticks have the perfect crunch when you bite into one. They can be a little messy if they crumble and they're sweet but not too sweet that you can't eat a ridiculous amount of them in a sitting (I had probably 8 in the hour they came out of the oven, oops).
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I'd venture to call almond sticks "the family favorite" but my grandma says that's up for debate. The almond sticks, though, have always been at the top of my list. And, they're gluten-free.
Ahead of the holiday season, I wanted to learn to make almond sticks. So, I spent an afternoon with my grandma, who taught me how – in turn, passing on the tradition once more. It might've been mid-November, but we threw on matching red gingham aprons (and some Christmas spirit) and got to work.
The process was more labor-intensive than I had anticipated. While the recipe only calls for four ingredients, they take a lot of work. After we used a stand mixer to combine the crushed almonds with the egg whites and confectioners' sugar, we had to roll it into a very thin sheet, which took a lot of muscle and three sets of hands (grandpa jumped in). But these cookies are definitely worth the effort.
She shared the recipe with USA TODAY.
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Makes: Around 7 dozen cookies
4 egg whites
1 pound confectioners' sugar (plus some extra)
1 pound ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat egg whites until stiff.
Add confectioners sugar and beat.
Remove 1 cup of mixture and reserve for top.
Add 1 pound ground almonds to remaining mixture.
Once combined, remove from bowl and place onto a flat surface covered with extra confectioners' sugar (cutting board works well).
Knead dough and roll thin.
To reserved portion of egg white and confectioners' sugar mixture add 1 tsp vanilla and mix.
Spread the reserved portion over the almond dough base.
Cut into strips approximately ½ inch wide by 3 inches long.
Place the strips on parchment-covered cookie sheets.
Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Family cookie recipe: Baking almond sticks with grandma for Christmas