It's finally looking like the holidays in New York, even if it doesn’t feel like the holidays. Normally by this point in the month, we’d have done this dance 50 times: bouncing from holiday party to holiday party, cramming into tiny, sweaty NYC apartment kitchens, escaping with a couple of friends, and ending your night at whatever last-stop bar you hit on your way home. All that is incredibly hard to imagine right now.
So the few holiday traditions we can hold onto this year feel even more important. And in this household, that leans hard into baking traditions. So with that in mind, here’s a cookie for everyone. It’s a tender, not-too-sweet sour cream dough, filled with rum-scented date. It’s old, and it’s new, and it’s pretty damn good.
This recipe comes to me from MeMe (as in my mom’s mom, as in my grandma, as in the namesake of MeMe’s Diner), who got it from her mother-in-law, my great-grandma Drake on a cherry farm in Michigan. When I was writing this week’s newsletter, I did a quick Google of “sour cream and date cookie” to see if this recipe had any roots. As it turns out, my great-grandma wasn’t the only one with a version of this little cookie. See: here and here and here. Half of these recipes are even called “grandma’s [such and such.]” It’s so interesting how close some of the recipes are, measure for measure. In a pre-internet age, the grandma whisper network was at work!
This was THE Christmas cookie at MeMe’s house. Growing up, I remember her making dozens and dozens of these every year. Yet, neither my sister nor I would touch them when we were kids… I have literally no idea why. Maybe it was the dates? The point is, we were wrong, because they’re great.
When Andrew and I were figuring out our Christmas card/holiday letter situation this year, he asked if I had a recipe I would want to include. I immediately thought of this cookie. Honestly, I had never made them—MeMe always did—so I had to go to the source. I had my mother send me a few snaps of the original recipe card in my great-grandma’s handwriting, which include MeMe’s notes in blue ballpoint. The original recipe card offers an option for figs as the filling base, but that was crossed out in MeMe’s blue. It also gives the option of adding “chopped nut meats, if desired.” But MeMe never “desired,” so neither did I. The recipe also calls for shortening, but I’m using butter. Wouldn’t you?
I was all set to make my first batch, when I noticed a maddening note next to the measurement for flour: “5 ½ cups of flour, including flour to flour board.” So I jumped on the phone with MeMe, who promptly told me, “You know, when I make them, I just use... enough.” OK, fair! I told her I planned on adding some rum to the filling, for flavor, to which she replied, “No, no no! Just do it like I told you.” MeMe, when you read this: I am sorry.
Although, to be fair, I didn’t have to mess with the recipe all that much. I swapped in the butter, added a little kiss of rum to the filling, some lemon zest to the sour cream dough, and upped the salt. (I am always upping the salt.)
I ended up using the full 5 ½ cups of flour, btw. This recipe makes a lot of cookies. In 2020, it’s easy to forget just how much entertaining people do during the holidays. But this recipe was clearly written by a woman who entertained, dropped off cookies, and enjoyed eating cookies. You’re not making cookie dough for the day, you’re making cookie dough for the season. I haven’t even used all of the last batch of dough I made. It's been in the fridge for almost a week, and I just keep baking off a dozen cookies here and there. If that’s not a great holiday hack, I don't know what is.
Oh, and I made one more addition to the recipe: I drizzled the cookies in a little royal icing and topped them with some metallic sanding sugar because, you know... the holidays! The cookies were just nostalgic enough to make it feel like Christmas (and just different enough to make it feel like, well, me). I like to enjoy them with coffee in the morning, while I turn on the Christmas tree lights, but you do you.
Sour Cream and Date Crescent Cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups chopped dates
¾ cup water
¼ cup rum
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter, room temp
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
the zest of half a lemon
1 egg white
1 ⅓ cups 10x confectioners sugar
pinch of salt
Cook the chopped dates, sugar, water, rum and salt in a small saucepan until dates are soft. Be careful not to take it too far: you don’t want to make date candy. The cooled filling will be thick and sticky. If you want, go ahead and add 1 cup of toasted, chopped nuts, your choice of variety. (MeMe never did, so neither do I.)
Cool completely. It will keep in the fridge for a long time.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and powder, salt and nutmeg, and set aside.
In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, lemon until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and beat to combine.
Add the sour cream and vanilla.
Add the flour mixture and combine on low, pausing to scrape the sides and bottom. Mix until well-combined but not overly worked.
Form dough into a disc. Wrap in food wrap and chill dough for 30 min, or up to 3 days(or honestly more).
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Have parchment-lined sheet pans prepared on the side.
Cut the dough into thirds.
On a floured surface, roll one-third of the dough out to ⅛ inch thick.
Use a 3-inch ring cutter (or a rocks glass) to cut as many rounds as you can fit.
Brush each round lightly with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water).
Using two teaspoons, scoop a half a teaspoon dollop of filling into the center of each round.
Gently fold the rounds in half, making a little dumpling. You don’t need to press the edges too hard to seal, just be sure there are no gaps.
Note: Dip your fingertips in flour if the dough is slightly sticky, but if you're working relatively fast you shouldn't have a problem.
Place the cookies on parchment-lined sheets. They won’t spread too much, so you can fit a lot on.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops look dry and the bottoms are light golden brown.
Slide the parchment off the sheet pan onto the counter to cool completely.
Make royal icing glaze while they cool, beat egg white until frothy, add sugar and salt, beat until combined well
Drizzle glaze, either from a piping bag with a little snip off the tip, or right from a spoon. If desired, immediately sprinkle with turbinado (elegant!) or colored sanding sugar (festive!).
My friends Libby, Liz, and Ora are doing a Food Issues Group benefit dinner this weekend at (RIP) MeMe’s, 657 Washington. Libby even brought back meatloaf for it, and even a meatless version. This dinner sold out FAST, but follow them all for future events!
I finally got a copy of Kelly Fields’ The Good Book of Southern Baking (thanks, Andrew). On my first pass last night, one genius little tip (in a book full of them) smacked me across the head. When you’re cooking dulce de leche in the can, cook more cans than you need for one recipe. As in, now you’ve just got a bunch of dulce de leche in the can. Keep them still sealed in the pantry for later use. I’m thinking ice cream topping, or eating with a spoon alone in the kitchen at 1am. Needless to say, Kelly is major baking inspo. Get the book.
Finally, thanks again to Andrew for this BAGUETTE LAMP he picked up from Top Hat. It will be casting its warm and carby glow in our dining room. Hopefully someone other than Kate will get to see it at some point.
This is the last free recipe for this month! Next week’s recipe is our first subscriber-only recipe, and it’s also our first dinner recipe. If someone sent you this email, you can subscribe here. Oh, and tag me if you make these recipes!