My brother has come to love baccalà stew as much as my father, but I’m sorry to say I remain unconvinced of its palatability. My little cousins and I survived the meal by picking the anchovies off the pizza, eating lots of salad and Italian sausage, and pretending we’d already eaten our share of the weird fish stuff. Mostly we were just biding our time until dessert would be served. The sideboard had been laid out with a feast of sweets from boring old-people stuff like dried fruit and nuts to the only-at-Christmastime stars like Grandma Rose’s “dog biscuit” cookies and chewy, honey and powdered sugar-covered zeppoly to cannoli stuffed with traditional sweet ricotta filling or Auntie Norma’s favorite, custard filling. Like every major holiday, the big box of See’s candy and torrone nougat made an appearance. Tins of aging cuccidati fig cookies and paper plates of Christmas cookies of varying pedigree filled in any leftover space. Wading through the strange fish dinner was amply rewarded by this spectacular, sugary array of delights.
These days, I have come to appreciate the other fish dishes quite a bit more and have added the love of oysters and most other seafood. With this in mind, my brother, favorite sister-in-law, and I are taking on the hosting this year. We are feeling confident that we can adequately host since the success of last year’s Christmas brunch. We have Aunt Rose’s beautiful Lennox holiday dishes and lots of silver and crystal from catering to set a lovely table and many good cooks to shoulder the cooking of the many courses. Our Christmas Eve dinner has always been a collaborative effort, more focused than a potluck, with family members usually bringing their specialty year after year. Our menu will be a mix of traditional favorites and new seafood to get to the magical 7 fish quota. And we will be serving “too many” desserts, as if such a thing exists.
Antipasti Tray with fresh fennel, roasted peppers, olives, cheeses, and cured meat
Chris’ Big Green Salad
Oysters on the Half Shell or Oysters Rockefeller
Fritto Misto or Smoked Trout Spread on Baguette
Peter’s Linguini with Clam Sauce
Anchovy Pizza and Italian Sausage Pizza
Norma’s Squid in Pink Sauce or Regina’s Stuffed Squid
Jesse’s Line-Caught Tuna
Rudy’s Baccalà Stew
Zeppole, Cannoli, Tiramisu, Fruitcake
Tiffany and Molly’s Christmas Cookies
Cuccidati (Spiced Fig Cookies)
Grandma Rose’s “Dog Biscuit” Cookies
See’s Dark Chocolate Nut and Chews, Torrone Candy
And of course, lots of wine, brandy, eggnog, coffee, and possibly even Wassail!
But being loyal grandchildren, we waited all year for her “dog biscuit “ cookies. They are hard, as the name implies, but have a pleasant lemony taste that pairs well with tea or coffee. They taste best when they have aged a bit in a tin. Grandma Rose usually formed hers into a twisted shape but sometimes she’d make them into wreaths. It’s a good dough for children to help with, as it takes over-handling in stride. None of us cousins got the recipe before she passed on, and we didn’t know if we’d ever have our beloved, dry cookies again. Luckily while I was making a batch of lemon biscotti at the inn, I nibbled the end piece before it went in the oven for its second bake: they tasted just like hers! I immediately made the recipe again, this time shaping the cookies into individual cookies before baking. The only difference was these were too fresh tasting, but I knew they would age into proper dog biscuits my cousins would love. I gave them copies of this recipe so we can all bake and eat the dog biscuits and think of our darling Grandma Rose.
- 5 ½ cups flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- Grated zest of 1 to 2 lemons
- Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
- 4 eggs
Preheat oven to 350˚F
Special equipment: 2 large mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer, silicone spatula, baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone baking mats
Makes 4 to 5 dozen, depending on size
- In mixer bowl, beat butter and sugar until thoroughly combined. Stir in lemon zest and juice. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping bowl as needed. The mixture may look curdled but will come together when dry ingredients are added.
- Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, scraping bowl between additions. Add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, until a stiff dough is formed.
- Turn dough onto floured work surface and knead briefly, for about 30 seconds.
- Take a portion of dough and form into a “snake" shape by rolling it with both hands until it’s about 7 inches long. Twist the two ends together or tie into a knot or make a circle with pinched ends. They should look rustic so don’t stress too much about the shape.
- Place on prepared baking sheets, about an inch or two apart and bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. They should barely color, take care to not over bake. Let cool 5 minutes then transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely. Store in airtight containers (we like cookie tins) and let age a few days before serving. They keep at room temperature for quite awhile.