There are times I want to hold onto things from the past, although that’s not my norm. This was actually my very first post nearly six years ago, and I chose it, not because I’m a cookie blog (far from it), not because I tend to like sweets (not really), but because it’s one of the cooking memories I have from childhood that could have been in one of those Christmas card posters. I didn’t have a lot of those. Six years later, I’m a lot more transparent about my life, and I’m a much better (actually pretty great) baker.
This particular Christmas cookie is my favorite and special to me because my mother didn’t make Christmas cookies or do any baking back then. I’m not sure where she was the Christmas I learned to make these, as she wasn’t living with us that year.
It’s hard to be a teenage girl without a mother in your everyday life. It’s lonely because that’s the time when you hear a lot of stories about other girls enjoying those last years where mom takes their daughters shopping, helping them with broken hearts and getting ready for college. It’s also a precious time of transition to adulthood, one hand wanting to be held, protected and babied, one hand wanting to open the door to “see what’s out there.”
I was always torn between these, but my clear spirit of adventure saved me because I never had the umbrella in the rainstorm.
I did, however, have Christmas spirit. Always. No matter what. It was born into my brother and me. We craved what I call Christmas happiness.
One year when we when I was 9 years old, we dressed like Mary and Joseph and used a doll in a basket for Baby Jesus, and performed a skit for the family, singing “Away in the Manger.”
The person we could always count on to exude Christmas happiness was our next door neighbor. Toots Gruber was her name and she was our grandmother’s age. She collected angels and cooked a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch food like corn pie, chicken and noodles, and cookies.
One December Saturday night she decided to come over and show us how to make pecan tassies. I can still remember my brother cutting the pecans, and mixing the cream cheese with the butter. As silly as it might sound in today’s world, that night meant everything to us. Someone took the time to give us a piece of their life, and every single Christmas since then, I’ve taken out her recipe and made these cookies.
Pecan Tassies are sometimes referred to as mini-pecan pies, but I tend to disagree with that. Pecan pies seem to be 90% sweet filling and 10% pastry, which is overly sweet for my taste. Pecan Tassies have more pastry than sweet filling, changing the bite altogether; and while I am not a fan of pecan pie, I am crazy for these cookies.
The pastry is made with cream cheese and will be perfect every time, as long as you use real butter and don’t over bake. They also freeze very well, but we never have any left over.
The dough for the cookie is soft and crunchy and the only tricky part. Make sure to refrigerate the dough in a plastic bag. Form into a round. Cut in half. Cut in half again. Cut in half again. You will have 8 pieces. Cut each of those pieces into threes. Roll each into a ball and press into a mini muffin pan.
I want to ask you to do something this year. If you have a special recipe (or just one you make all the time), please find a child or teen to pass it down to. It’s not enough to hand out a recipe card. You have to engage, show them, help them make something they love and then give them the recipe. You may not realize just how much this might mean. Let me know about it. I love to hear a good story that happens in your kitchen.
- 12 oz. cream cheese
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- FILLING INGREDIENTS
- 2 cups pecans, divided 1¼ cup and ¾ cup
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1½ cups brown sugar
- Cream butter and cream cheese. Add salt to flour and mix together to form pastry dough.
- Roll into 48 small one inch balls. Refrigerate for at least one hour. In the meantime, make filling.
- FILLING INSTRUCTIONS
- Lightly toast 2 cups pecans.
- Chop ¾ cup and grind or finely chop remaining pecans. I used a magic bullet nut grinder, but be careful not to make into a paste.
- Mix “ground” nuts into filling mixture. Reserve chopped nuts.
- Press pastry balls into non-greased mini-muffin pan. I use a pestle to make room for filling and press in. Assemble by putting a a tiny bit of chopped nuts first and then top with filling.
- Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.