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Czechoslovakian nut bars

Czechoslovakian nut bars
Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Beyond the colorful decorations and after the initial rush of sugar, holiday cookies are about memories, tradition and sharing with those close to us. Be they humble or ornate, our baked goods are used to celebrate and give thanks — thanks for our childhoods, the blessings of family and friends and the magic that can be found only this time of year.

This fall, we again asked L.A. Times readers to share their special cookie recipes with us for our fourth annual Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and then to help us narrow down their favorites to the top 50.

We received more than 250 submissions, and more than 3,700 votes were cast. We took the top vote-getters to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, where students spent one Saturday morning baking batches of cookies. L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons, Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock and Times Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter joined KCRW's "Good Food" host, Evan Kleiman, to taste and test each cookie, narrowing it to our 10 favorites.

Earlier this week, the L.A. Times Test Kitchen was jammed with happy bakers and their helpers for this year's photo shoot. Amazing cookies, memories and traditions were shared. The Czechoslovakian nut bars bring back memories of a finalist's Slovak heritage. The holiday crescent cookies bring sisters together one afternoon each year to bake in their mother's honor. The frosted orange crispies were given to a finalist years ago by a military wife; she would serve her cookies on a silver tray at the officers club. The candy cane chocolate mandel bread is a merging of holidays for one family, Hanukkah and Christmas honored together.

As much as holiday cookies might keep memories and tradition alive, they also help to share memories and traditions with new friends in new places. One family is known far and wide for its chocolate peppermint snaps: "Everywhere we have lived — Madrid, Nairobi, Suva, SoCal — we've given these cookies as Christmas gifts to friends."

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Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus cooling time | Makes 30 bars
Note: "This is a recipe handed down to me by my grandmother. It brings back many memories of my Slovak heritage. It is easy peasy to make and is a favorite of everyone." — Mary Martin
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups (8.5 ounces) flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), chopped
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam

Step 1Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch-square baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper and grease again.

Step 2In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks until combined. Beat in the flour, then the salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts by hand.

Step 3With lightly floured hands, divide the dough in half. Pat one half evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the jam over the dough. Pinch off small pieces, about three-fourths inch in diameter, of the remaining dough and drop it over the jam; do not pat the dough down.

Step 4Bake the dough until golden, 45 to 50 minutes, rotating halfway for even coloring. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then cut lengthwise into three strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 10 pieces.

Each of 30 bars:
Calories 148; Protein 2 grams; Carbohydrates 17 grams; Fiber 0; Fat 9 grams; Saturated fat 4 grams; Cholesterol 29 mg; Sugar 10 grams; Sodium 11 mg
Found a problem? Let us know at cookbook@latimes.com
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