I met Kate in college. She was my first friend who liked to cook as much as I did, a rarity in the days before celebrity chefs, non-stop televised cooking shows, and internet recipe exchanges.
I haven’t seen Kate in ages, but I fondly think of her every year when I make Christmas cookies. Since the years Kate and I joined together for holiday baking binges, I’ve made Christmas Nougat Cookies (aka Angel Cookies), a recipe her mom sweet-talked out of a commercial baker in Seattle and scaled down for home use.
Christmas Nougat Cookies are sweet and crisp, nutty and almost like candy. Their flavor is similar to Torrone, the white Italian nougat that is my favorite candy. They're also a dead ringer for Archway holiday nougat cookies, a Christmas treat that, sadly, has disappeared from the grocery store.
Over the years, I’ve made Christmas Nougat Cookies with every kind of nut – cashews are my current favorites, but the cookies are also delicious with pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, macadamias, and peanuts. I make at least 15 dozen every year; Christmas Nougat Cookies are one of the most requested items on my annual holiday cookie tray.
Before I tasted Christmas Nougat Cookies, I questioned making them with pure vegetable shortening rather than butter. Even in those days, I was a believer in baking only with butter; shortening in cookies seemed just plain wrong. Tasting made a believer out of me; these cookies are amazingly good.
Christmas Nougat Cookies (Angel Cookies)
Makes 5 1/2 dozen cookies
The soft dough doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and rolls out easily. The cookies do not spread when they are baked, so can be placed closely together on the baking sheet. As a result, they are quick and easy to make.
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups roasted nuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 325°F (300°F for convection ovens).
In an electric mixer, cream the shortening and powdered sugar, scraping down the sides from time to time. Add the salt and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Using the mixer’s paddle attachment, mix in the chopped nuts. Add the flour, and mix just until it is thoroughly combined with the other ingredients.
On a well-floured surface, with a well-floured rolling pin, roll out the dough 1/4” thick. Using a 1 1/2” round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place 1/2” apart on a cookie sheet.
Bake 8 minutes, being careful not to let the cookies brown (they should still be white when you remove them from the oven). Transfer to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Store Christmas Nougat Cookies in an airtight container.