Happy holidays, y'all
Floridians put a special spin on their holiday celebrations
Florida seasons are often out of sync with the rest of the country, but that’s even more apparent during the holidays. We’ve got all the celebratory spirit minus the cold weather it coincides with everywhere else. We adapt by putting a Florida spin on everything. Our decorations are a blend of traditional and tropical, with a hefty dose of kitsch mixed in. A giant inflatable snowman and Santa’s sleigh might look out of place on a lush green lawn among palm trees, but add sunglasses and a surfboard and they fit right in.
We put up festive lights all over town, but we don’t stop there. We also light up our boats and parade them around on balmy December nights. We won’t wake up to a white Christmas on the Treasure Coast, but our sunny holiday season is equally magical.
Even though it’s often too warm to have the oven on all day, that doesn’t stop me from baking cookies. It’s my favorite way to kick off the season. It brings back memories of helping my grandma bake hundreds of them each year. We arranged them on paper plates, always with the prettiest cookies on top, and delivered them to family and friends. Everyone loves a plate of fresh-baked cookies.
I make all the same classic cookies I made with grandma, but the pretty ones on top are now these distinctly Florida sand dollar cookies. They’re flavored with Indian River citrus zest, along with honey and tahini for amazing texture, similar to shortbread.
The best part is, the sand dollar design is extremely easy to pull off. Trust me, I’m terrible at decorating sugar cookies with icing, but this I can do. All it takes is to make a few small notches along the edges of a round cookie, then arrange some sliced almonds on top. Dust them with sugar for extra sparkle. They make a beautiful gift, but be sure to save some for yourself.
Wishing you all a happy holiday filled with sunshine and local flavor.
Sand Dollar Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup [1½ sticks] unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar, plus 2-3 tablespoons to sprinkle on top
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup tahini
¼ cup raw sliced almonds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, honey, zest and vanilla in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in tahini, then add dry ingredients in 2 batches, beating after each addition until fully combined. Dough will be slightly sticky. Divide the dough in half, wrap the batches in plastic wrap, and then flatten them into a disc. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
Sprinkle flour on the rolling pin and the surface. Roll the dough, adding flour as necessary, until it’s ¼-inch thick. Use a 3-inch cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out as many rounds as possible. Reroll the scraps and repeat with remaining dough.
Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, 5 to 6 cookies per sheet. Place 3 to 5 sliced almonds in the center in an overlapping flower pattern. Use a skewer or paring knife to make 3 small slits on the outer edge of each cookie.
Lightly sprinkle sugar over each cookie.
Bake 8-10 minutes, turning halfway and watching closely during the last couple of minutes. You want them lightly golden, but not too dark because they won’t look as much like sand dollars.
Cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before sliding the parchment onto the counter or wire racks.
Once completely cool, store in air-tight containers and share with friends.
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies
Danielle Rose is a seventh-generation Florida gardener and fisherwoman and descendant of the prodigious Summerlin family. A graduate of the University of Florida, she loves gathering friends and family around the table for homegrown food.