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Cathedral Windows, formed with chocolate and multicolored marshmallows, are a favorite treat at Christmas time for the Hargett and Walters families. (Malea Hargett) Irma Vaccari-Belotti and Louis Belotti, known as Nona and Nono to their granddaughter Kristy Eanes, are seen in their Little Italy home at Christmas in the 1950s in this family photo. (Courtesy Kristy Eanes) Pecan Kolackies are pastry folded around a sweet filling in this photo from a 2015 baking session at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Slovak. The hand belongs to Aprille Hanson, associate editor of Arkansas Catholic and an inexperienced baker who was enticed to try her hand when reporting on the Slovak bakers. (Arkansas Catholic file) Jennifer Kilpatrick uses a scriber tool to spread the icing on a manger cookie for her Nativity set in a technique called flooding. She has specialized tools and products in her home kitchen for her baking projects. (Malea Hargett photo) Icing depicting Jesus in a manger sits to dry before Jennifer Kilpatrick can add other details. Working with royal icing, patience to let each section dry between colors is very important. (Malea Hargett photo) Jennifer Kilpatrick pipes blue icing onto her sugar cookie shaped like the Blessed Mother. She always encourages “cookiers” to make more icing than they think they need. (Malea Hargett photo) To create fluffy texture on a sheep cookie, Jennifer Kilpatrick adds thicker white icing with an offset spatula. She likes to add extra details like gold dust to give cookies dimension. (Malea Hargett photo) This Nativity scene includes Mary, Joseph, Jesus in a manger, angel, sheep, donkey and star, all made with Jennifer Kilpatrick’s homemade sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. (Malea Hargett photo)

Arkansans share secrets of their favorite Christmas sweets

Grab your pecans, butter and sugar and bake some memories

Published: December 11, 2020      
Malea Hargett
A manger scene made of home-baked sugar cookies is accented with a gold-dusted star. Jennifer Kilpatrick, a member of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, shares tips for making and decorating sugar cookies.

What is better than a Christmas cookie, bread or sweet treat that you waited all year to make, eat and share with your family and friends? We asked five Catholic women to share their favorite Christmas sweets and baking tips with us. As we spend more time at home this year, baking and sharing treats can be one way to bring a little more joy into our lives.

 

Cathedral Window Cookies 

This simple no-bake Christmas recipe has been loved by my family for years. Even when there wasn’t time or energy to make a lot of Christmas cookies, my mom always made these. With only five ingredients, it is simple and fast to make and relatively easy for a beginner.

— Malea Hargett, editor 

 

1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1 stick butter or margarine, cubed

1 package (10-1/2 ounces) multi-colored mini marshmallows (Kraft Fun Mallows)

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

2 cups flaked coconut (may be omitted)

 

In a saucepan or double boiler, melt chocolate chips and butter over medium-low heat. As soon as the mixture is melted, remove from heat, add marshmallows and nuts and gently fold in so all the marshmallows are covered. Be careful that your chocolate is not too hot or it will melt the marshmallows.

On a sheet of parchment or wax paper, spread half of coconut down center lengthwise. Spoon half of marshmallow mixture on coconut and lift sides of paper to form mixture into a coconut-covered log. Make sure the entire surface is covered in coconut. Cover in wax paper and twist at the ends. Repeat with the other half of the coconut and marshmallow mixture.

Refrigerate four hours or until firm. Unwrap and cut into 1/4 to 3/8-inch slices.

Tip: Can be tightly wrapped and stored in the freezer for up to three months. 


 

Christmas Loaf (Grandma Sladek's Fruit Cake)

For about 30 years, MaryAnn Sladek, 89, has been making more than 100 loaves of nut bread in 10 different varieties for family and friends, and for 15 years at the Cookie Walk at her parish, St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home. This year, she’s up to 133 loaves including about 30 that went to the Cookie Walk Dec. 5 (along with several dozen cookies she bakes) to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society. 

Her favorite is a recipe from her mother-in-law, a sweet nut bread made with maraschino cherries and raisins, “she didn’t go for any of that candied stuff.” 

“I like pleasing people. I’m always glad to see their happy faces,” she said. “... It gives me a lot of satisfaction to do this. I'm thanking the Lord all the time that they turn out the way they should.” 

 

1-1/2 sticks of butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

3 eggs

2-1/2 cups flour

1 cup sour cream

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup pecans

1 cup raisins

1 jar red cherries (10 oz)

1 jar green cherries (10 oz)

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 5” x 9” pans or 6 small 3-½” x 5-½” pans. Drain cherries, chop (in halves or thirds) and set aside. In a medium-size bowl, thoroughly mix sour cream and baking soda. Set aside and it will puff up. Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add flour and baking soda-sour cream mixture alternately. Fold in raisins, nuts and cherries. Grease pans.

Divide batter among greased pans. Bake large loaves for 90 minutes or smaller loaves for 55 minutes.

 

Pecan Kolackies

On Christmas Eve, Virginia Lisko and her husband Joe attend the children’s Mass at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Slovak and share a meal with their three children, five grandchildren and any friends who might join. It’s not complete without some traditional Slovakian pastries -- kolackies (sometimes spelled kolache, kolacky or kolaczki), cream cheese rolls, poppy seed rolls and nut rolls. 

“My family is very important to me, and it’s a joy to be able to bake or fix things they enjoy as well,” she said. “... Our faith, our spirituality is a part of our lives and the blessings we receive even with the ups and downs each day, you thank God for the blessings that you’re able to feed your family.” 

One of her favorites are pecan kolackies, a filled pastry that can also hold fruit. 

 

Dough

1 lb. butter

4 cups all purpose flour

4 egg yolks

1 cup sour cream (½ pint)

2 packages active dry yeast

 

Nut Filling

1 lb. ground pecans

¾ cup sugar

1/3 cup honey

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup melted butter

Mix well. You will use one teaspoonful to each square.

 

Mix butter into flour, breaking up lumps until well mixed as for pie crust. Dissolve yeast in sour cream. Beat egg yolks and stir into yeast mixture. Add to flour mixture, mix well with your hand and place in the refrigerator until well chilled. Sprinkle a board heavily with powdered sugar. Take a small amount of dough at a time and roll out thin. Cut into 2-inch squares using a pastry wheel. Fill each square with nut filling – 1 teaspoon per square. Pinch together two diagonal corners of each square and place on a greased cookie sheet (or a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper). Bake until golden light brown, about 15-20 minutes in 350-degree oven.


 

Fritole 

Kristy Eanes, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Little Italy, said her grandmother Irma Vaccari-Belotti, affectionately called Nona, began the family’s Christmas tradition of baking fritole, a sweet doughnut-type dessert from Venice dating back to the 14th century. 

“Typically it was served during the Venice Carnival, but my Nona made it every Christmas Eve,” Eanes said, who is the IT director for the Diocese of Little Rock.

“My special memory is the first time I made fritole and humbly presented them to Nona, the fritole master. I had forgotten to add the baking powder and they were as flat as pancakes,” Eanes said. “She and I had a good laugh.” 

Besides the connection to her Italian ancestry and to Nona, who died Nov. 12, 2005, at 91, Eanes said baking is a “uniquely human experience,” a special gift from God. 

“I am grateful to have the family traditions and recipes to recreate and share with those I love, which is all humanity, as it brings me joy,” she said. “And when something doesn’t bake right, I’ll always be glad to have a heaping helping of humble pie and learn to be patient in my mistakes so that I can be ready to try again with hopefully greater success.”

 

Vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup cornmeal

1-1/2 cup milk

1-1/4 cup sugar

3 Tbsp butter

2-1/4 cup flour

3 eggs

4-1/2 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp applesauce

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup raisins

Granulated sugar

 

Fill a large pot with oil as for a deep fry and heat (not too hot – this is very important). Cook cornmeal and milk over low heat until it starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add sugar, butter and flour. Mix well. Mix in eggs, baking powder, applesauce and salt. Stir in raisins.

Drop by spoonfuls in hot oil. Most will turn over when a golden color is on one side. When both sides are a golden color, remove from oil with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar.

Tips: If they brown too fast, the inside may not be done. Lower the oil temperature in this case. Powdered sugar may be substituted for the granulated sugar if you prefer, but wait for them to cool. Fritole are best enjoyed freshly made but can be warmed in a toaster oven.

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