These cookies are my Bubby’s. They are her specialty, her legacy. No family gathering is complete without them, and special occasions are marked by the presence of these, tangible signs of her love. At family events, my cousins and I gather around a tray of these cookies and chat about life while snacking on them as my Bubby watches us, smiling.
Today, my Bubby is sick. With the same sweet smile, she tells me she no longer bakes. It isn’t healthy, she says. She isn’t tempted by cookies that aren’t around. But I know the truth. She isn’t well and cookies are low on the list of priorities.
So now I make the cookies. I bring the dough along to her house, roll it out there, spread it with sweet meringue and all the while, I tell her what am I doing. I tell her how lovely and pliable the dough is, what a wonderful recipe she has created. She smiles and tells me they were her mother’s creations first. When I put the cookies in the oven, I go to sit with her. I ask her about when she was young, and she tells me about her parents coming to America, how she was named Shulamit, the Hebrew word for peace, when the war was over. She tells me about the time she went to the city with her father to buy a coat. “He bought me the nicest one,” she reveals, reminiscing. “Even though it was expensive, he bought me the nicest one.”
I get up when the timer beeps, signaling that the cookies are ready. Mine are not as perfect as hers. Bubby’s cookies were always impeccable, neat little spirals with even swirls of meringue that browned so beautifully. But when I point that out to her, how mine will never look like hers, she smiles and tells me they are perfect.
And they are, if not in looks then at least in taste. They are sweet with fluffs of meringue, heady with cinnamon and dark with cocoa, and they have a crunch from the walnuts that is imperative. I eat one, then more than one, and I am brought back to childhood, when I was younger and more carefree and we were all a little less worried about things.
I think that life will keep on changing, and so will we. But I know that these cookies will always be here, full of memories and sweetness and my grandmother’s love.
Yields: approximately 60 cookies
Why I love this recipe: made with a yeasted dough, these hybrid bun/cookie swirls are crunchy, filled with soft meringue, and spread with a heady mixture of cocoa and cinnamon. Walnuts give these cookies irresistible texture- don’t leave them out- and add a faintly nutty flavor to the mix. Best of all, the recipe makes a large batch, which is perfect for Chanukah parties this time of year.
Notes: the dough is only minimally sweet, and since the cocoa and cinnamon mixture is kept unsweetened, it’s important that you use all the meringue, which is what gives these cookies their wonderful sweetness and soft, almost marshmallow-y inner texture. Be sure to divide the meringue evenly so that there is enough for each piece of dough. I often double this recipe as t he cookies freeze well, when tightly wrapped, for a month.
For the dough:
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 eggs, separated and whites reserved for meringue
- 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
- 3 cups all purpose flour
For the meringue + chocolate filling:
- 3 egg whites, reserved from above
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons dutch cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- Combine the water, yeast, and one tablespoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit, covered, until the yeast is proofed and bubbly, ten minutes.
- Add the rest of the sugar, salt and the egg yolks to the bowl. Mix well to combine.
- Add the butter and flour to the bowl and again, mix well to combine. Refrigerate the dough overnight.
- The next day, let the dough come to room temperature. Meanwhile, whip the reserved egg whites and the cup of sugar together until stiff, marshmallow-y peaks form.
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Divide the dough into four sections. On a floured surface, roll each section into a long rectangle (the exact length doesn’t matter, so long as the dough is rolled thinly, to its capacity.)
- Spread each rectangle thickly with meringue, leaving a 1″ border around the sides. Mix the cocoa and cinnamon to combine and divide the mixture into four, sprinkling it onto each rectangle, on top of the meringue.
- Top each portion of dough with 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts. Then, roll the dough up, starting with the side nearest you, to the side across from you.
- You will now have four long, thin logs. Slice each log into 1/2″ sections.
- Place the cookies on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake each sheet for approximately 25 minutes, or until the cookies are browned. Let cool and enjoy!