Every year as the Jewish High Holy Days approach, Amy Pollokoff goes shopping. She buys five dozen eggs, 30 pounds of sugar, 30 pounds of flour, 16 pounds of butter and two 4-pound bags of chocolate chips, among other things.
Then, three weeks before her annual cookie party, the Owings Mills mother of two starts baking. She makes strudel and candy-bar cookies, Austrian nut-butter cookies and cream-cheese cookies. In all, she makes 21 kinds of cookies, doubling and tripling most recipes. Next week, she'll serve them to friends and family on Rosh Hashana.
It's a party that's been going on for more than half a century. Starting in the 1950s, Pollokoff's grandmother, Bess Fedder, who was born in Baltimore in 1904, would have family members -- as many as 35 people -- over for lunch each year after Rosh Hashana services. Then she'd open her house to 100 or more friends and neighbors for the cookie dessert.
The cookie parties stopped for several years in the mid-1980s as Fedder suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Pollokoff and her husband missed the parties. So in the summer of 1992, Pollokoff met with her grandmother specifically to learn the cookie recipes and continue the family tradition. Pollokoff said her grandmother did not recognize her, but was happy to discuss the cookies.
Over the course of several days, the two women went through all 21 recipes. Then Pollokoff spent the next few months practicing before baking in earnest for the holidays. She's held the party every year since then.
"This is something that's going back virtually 60 years," said Pollokoff's father, Joel Fedder, 75, who now lives in Florida but will return to Baltimore for the Jewish holidays -- and the cookie party -- with his wife, Ellen, as he does every year. "I'm so delighted to see that Amy has carried on this tradition."
While cookies themselves bear no particular significance for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, sweetness does. Eating apples or challah bread dipped in honey are ways to usher in a sweet year. Teiglach, which are dough balls soaked in a honey syrup, are a classic Rosh Hashana treat, and happen to be Joel Fedder's favorite.
Enjoying a holiday meal with family and friends is also traditional. And Pollokoff, 47, believes in tradition. Some might say melting all that chocolate, creaming all that butter and positioning all those pecans is too much work, but Pollokoff said the effort is worthwhile. "I have always wanted the girls to grow up with tradition," she said of her daughters, Heidi, 21, and Alexa, 18.
Because she works full time, Pollokoff bakes in the evenings and on weekends. Some days, she starts at 6 in the morning and doesn't finish until 4 in the afternoon, she said. Over the years, she has destroyed two heavy-duty mixers. Her husband Bob, 47, helps by cleaning pots -- and staying out of the way, he said, jokingly. He's also in charge of making the punch, a confection of sherbet and ginger ale.
Also attending will be Joel Fedder's sister, Sue Garten, and her husband Herb, who live in Baltimore, as well as relatives from Philadelphia and Washington. Alexa and Heidi will return from college. "It's wonderful what Amy has done," said Ellen Fedder.
Now, said Joel Fedder, great-grandchildren of his mother's friends come to the Pollokoff party. The question, he said, is which daughter will continue the cookie party when that time comes. Both girls seem interested. Pollokoff takes the tradition so seriously that she even puts the cookies on the same platters and plates that her grandmother used.
She relies on a photograph of Bess Fedder, probably from the 1970s, standing in front of plates piled high with cookies, to set her table just right. "My table looks exactly the same," she said. The only thing she does differently is that she then puts the framed photo on display.
Over time Pollokoff has tinkered with the party's menu, but not much. She phased out a few recipes, such as rum balls, which were not popular. She's toyed with the idea of making some of the recipes lower in fat, but tradition prevailed. Pollokoff even stores the cookies in her grandmother's old tins, not in the plastic bins most people use these days. She layers the cookies with waxed paper and stores the tins in a cool place until the big day.
Bob, Heidi and Alexa know better than to open the tins, tempting as the cookies can be. But Pollokoff keeps out a plate of broken and misshapen cookies that the family can nibble. "The rule is we can only eat broken cookies," Heidi said.
Bess Fedder's recipes came from newspapers, magazines and friends, and were written on file cards and stored in a green box. Pollokoff still has that box, but she has rewritten the recipes so that she doesn't damage the originals. The candy-bar cookie recipe that follows came from a 1962 magazine clipping.
As Pollokoff created the toppings on the stove, and then assembled the cookies on the island in her kitchen, family members hovered nearby, waiting for her to finish so they could dip their spoons into the still-warm caramel and chocolate toppings.
For years, Pollokoff couldn't figure out how her grandmother crimped the edges of the butter cookies that form the base. Then, after Bess Fedder died, Pollokoff found the cutting tool in her kitchen drawer. "I started crying," she said. "I knew immediately it was for the cookie's edges."
Makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen
SYRUP: 3 cups honey
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
2 cups flour
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
Mix syrup ingredients and get syrup slowly cooking. Mix dough ingredients by hand in a large mixing bowl. It will be very sticky.
Dust hands with flour and pinch off pieces of dough and roll into balls. Set each ball aside on floured wax paper. After all balls are made, drop them into boiling syrup. Reduce to a simmer, cover pot and cook for about 25 minutes.
If balls are golden brown after 25 minutes, add 1 cup of boiling water. Pot will bubble. Set aside and cool. Store in a plastic container and turn every few days.
Courtesy of Amy Pollokoff
Per cookie (based on 4 dozen): 135 calories, 1 gram protein, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 30 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 26 milligrams cholesterol, 17 milligrams sodium
Austrian Nut-Butter Cookie Sandwiches
Makes 2 dozen
COOKIES: 1/2 cup soft butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
3 tablespoons hot milk
For cookies, mix butter and sugar well. Add flour, then walnuts. Chill batter for several hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough on a floured board to 1/8 -inch thick. Cut into rounds with floured 2 1/4 -inch cookie cutter. Put on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and milk. Mix well.
Make sandwiches out of every 2 cookies. Put a small amount of icing in the middle and some on top and cool well before storing.
Courtesy of Amy Pollokoff
Per cookie: 146 calories, 2 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 15 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium
Makes 2 to 3 dozen
DOUGH: 3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 pound light-colored caramels (about 28 pieces)
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
one 6-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 dozen whole pecans
Mix dough ingredients well. Let chill. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll out dough and cut into rectangles with a serrated pizza cutter. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, watching carefully; cookies should stay white and not overly brown.
For caramel filling, combine caramels and evaporated milk in a double boiler. Heat until caramels melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, powdered sugar and pecans.
For chocolate icing, combine chocolate chips and evaporated milk over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla and powdered sugar.
Once the cookies are cool, layer the toppings in the center of each rectangle with a heaping teaspoon of caramel filling followed by a heaping teaspoon of chocolate icing, then a whole pecan pressed into the chocolate icing. Let cool until chocolate and caramel mixtures have set up.
Courtesy of Amy Pollokoff
Per cookie (based on 3 dozen): 205 calories, 2 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 23 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 43 milligrams sodium