Happy New Year! We spent the last week celebrating the holidays with our families back in Idaho. It was such a treat to be with them since we hadn’t actually been home for Christmas in 4 years. The trip was just what I needed to finish off 2013 and jump head first into 2014.
As you may have guessed, I spent the majority of my time at home in the kitchen with my mom. We cooked up a storm, making all sorts of old and new recipes. While we have lots of food-related traditions around the holidays, the one that stands out the most and is closest to my heart is making my Great-Grandma’s German New Years Cookies.
Just to give you a bit of family history, my Grandmother grew up in a German immigrant family in a South Dakota Mennonite community with 10 brothers and sisters. From what she’s told me, she didn’t learn to speak English until she was 9. This recipe came from her mother and was always made near New Year’s Day. After doing a bit of research I found that these cookies, which aren’t really cookies at all but more like a doughnut or fitter, are actually called Portzelky, and are common amongst German Mennonite households.
This recipe has been passed down through my family for generations. It’s the tradition and the history that makes it so important to me. It’s the idea that not only am I making it, but my cousins, and Aunts and Grandma are all making it as well and have been for decades.
Cookie making day is usually spent on the phone with my Aunt, my Mother or my Grandmother as we each put together our own batch. Most of the time, we’re calling one another to make sure we’re doing it correctly despite the fact that we’ve all made them dozens of times.
While I would like to tell you that there’s an exact science to making these, I’m afraid that every year our cookies turn out a little bit different. Some years are better than others, and while I’m sure I could spend hours perfecting the recipe, part of what I love is that each batch is truly it’s own. Though the final product, perfectly golden brown and rolled in cinnamon or powdered sugar, always seems to taste the same.
Grandmother’s German New Year’s Cookies
2 ½ cups milk
1 15oz box golden raisins
1 15oz box golden raisins
1 package fresh yeast (about 1 heaping tbsp.)
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs, mixed
4 tbsp. softened butter
4-5 cups flour, sifted
Crisco for frying
Cinnamon sugar and confectioner's sugar for rolling cookies
To Make New Year’s Cookies
Preheat oven to 200° F for 10-15 minutes then turn off.
Heat milk until lukewarm either on stove or in microwave and then allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl add raisins and cover with bowling water. Let sit for 5 minutes to plump. Then, strain and coat with ½ to 1 tsp. flour.
In a small bowl, add yeast, to ½ cup of the heated milk and dissolve. Let sit until it bubbles.
In a separate bowl, add remaining milk with butter, cup sugar, salt and eggs.
In an extra large mixing bowl, add 4 cups of flour and carefully, stir in yeast and egg mixture. Mix until everything is combined. There may be a few chunks of butter but that’s okay. You may want to add another ½ cup to 1 cup flour. You want the dough to be sticky but not stiff.
Cover the dough with a tea towel and put in the warm oven to rise until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Fill a deep cast iron pan, Dutch oven or deep fat fryer with Crisco. Turn on high and allow Crisco to melt. Test to see if oil is hot enough by dropping a small bit of dough into it.
Once the dough has risen, it should be bubbly. Using a 1-2 large tablespoon, scoop the dough from the sides of the bowl and carefully drop into the fryer. Turn over once until golden on outside. Using a slotted spoon remove the cookies from oil. Place on baking sheet lined with paper towels and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes.
Roll cookies in powered sugar, cinnamon sugar or eat just plain.