Aunt Fran's Kiffles Redux From the Kitchen Window column
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Aunt Fran's Kiffles Redux

Kiffles are a traditional Hungarian holiday cookie filled with fruit preserves such as apricot, cherry or prune. Ground walnuts are also a popular filling. This version goes Caribbean with mixed essence, a traditional West Indian flavoring available from Caribbean markets (or make your own; recipe below), in the dough and tropical jams such as guava, mango or pineapple.

This version of the Hungarian kiffles has prune preserves and a decorative edge that's achieved by using a pastry wheel to cut the dough. hide caption

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Makes 5 dozen

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon mixed essence (see Trinidadian Mixed Essence recipe below)

8 10-by-12-inch pieces wax paper

1 cup pineapple, mango or guava jam (see Pineapple-Angostura Cookie Filling recipe below)

1 cup powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Cream the cream cheese and butter and sugar together until pale yellow and fluffy, about 6 minutes in a standing mixer, 10 minutes using a hand-held electric mixer or about 12 minutes by hand.

Stir in the mixed essence and whisk about 1 minute more so it is completely mixed in.

Add the flour mixture in three equal batches, stirring until just combined after each addition. The dough will be quite soft but should not be sticky.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces and form into a square. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour or until firm. Dough will keep for up to three days refrigerated or may be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to one month.

When dough is thoroughly chilled, liberally flour one of the pieces of wax paper set upon a work surface, and place a square of dough on it. Flour the dough square liberally and place another piece of plastic wrap on top of it. Roll out the dough to a square that is 1/4-inch thick. Using a sharp knife or pastry wheel, cut the dough lengthwise into four equal strips and crosswise into four equal strips so that you have 16 small squares. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Spoon about 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of jam in center of each square. Pinch together two opposite corners in the center and then fold the point over to one side and smooth down gently so that the jam doesn't ooze out of the open sides.

Arrange the cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly.

Dust the cooled kiffles thoroughly with powdered sugar by placing the sugar in a fine mesh sieve or flour sifter and shaking over all the cookies. Cookies may be stored in an airtight plastic container in layers with parchment paper between each layer.

Trinidadian Mixed Essence

Makes 1 cup

1 cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons dark rum

1/2 cup pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup pear essence

1/4 cup almond extract

2 drops orange blossom water

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the cinnamon stick into small pieces about 1/3 inch long.  Place the cinnamon in a small, sealable container with the grated nutmeg and the rum. Set aside in a cool, dark cupboard for at least one week and up to two. Check the mixture every couple of days to ensure the rum is not evaporating. If necessary, add a bit more rum and reseal to reduce airflow.

Strain the rum mixture into a sealable, dark-colored glass jar and add the remaining ingredients. Seal and shake gently.

Store in a cool, dry place. Use in baked goods in place of vanilla.

Pineapple-Angostura Cookie Filling

This filling also can be used as jam to fill thumbprint cookies. Other fruits such as guava, mango or passion fruit may be substituted for the pineapple.

Makes 1 cup

1 cup crushed pineapple

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine the pineapple, sugar, cinnamon stick and bitters in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and mix well.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to low. Allow the mixture to simmer until it is nearly dry, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully so that it does not burn.

Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool completely.