9 Midwest Heritage Cookies and Treats
What would it look like to tell the Midwest's story through Christmas cookies? The author of a cookbook celebrating the Midwest's baking heritage finds out—and shares 9 of her recipes.
Sandbakkels means "sand tarts" because the cookies (which, flipped over, can double as tiny shells to hold cream and fruit) have such a fine, crisp texture. Find them in Shauna Sever's book Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland.
In Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, Shauna Sever describes this kitschy, candy-like classic as "the unicorn of the cookie tin" -- irresistible, elusive, and mysterious.
Apricot and Orange Blossom Kolacky
This tender pastry cookie, a cousin to Jewish rugelach, has Polish origins. In her book Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, Shauna Sever's apricot filling nods to Hungary.
Peanut Better Blossoms
In her book Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, Shauna Sever ramped up the nuttiness and opted for a creamy ganache filling in her take on this Midwest favorite.
This shortcut fudge—from Shauna Sever's cookbook Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland —gets a 21st-centery boost with bittersweet chocolate and flaky sea salt. If you want to streamline a little, use high-quality chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli.
Gramma's Sugar Cookies
Shauna Sever grew up thinking this beloved recipe was special to her family with its unique additions of vegetable oil, confectioners' sugar and cream of tartar. So you can imagine her bewilderment when she found this exact recipe in a vintage Illinois state cookbook. This recipe is in her book Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland as well.
Polvorones are Mexico's crispy, airy answer to shortbread (you may know them as Mexican wedding cookies). Food writer Shauna Sever coats them in cinnamon sugar for a churro-like effect.
The secret to perfect lebkuchen is in the resting phase after glazing. An apple wedge in the storage container provides moisture that softens the cookies. This German classic is from Shauna Sever's book Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland.
"Anisettes feel so Italian because it's about abundance," says Chicago food writer Shauna Sever, of these deliciously soft, cakey cookies with a licorice flavor. "Small bites, but a huge yield."
Shauna Sever's story
When food writer Shauna Sever moved her family from California to Chicago in 2015, she landed at O'Hare with an urge to bake. Not to whip up muffins, but to bake, with the hunger and heart of someone chasing her roots. So she made her grandmother's sugar cookies for Christmas. "When my kids grabbed two at a time from the tin, thinking no one saw them, just as I had at their ages, it sent me straight to the Kleenex zone," she recalls. "I was home, with my people, our food, our traditions—and so much more to learn with new eyes as a baker, writer, mother and human."
That moment sparked Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, Shauna's most personal cookbook yet (Running Press, $30). For two years, she traveled to small-town bakeries and pored over newspaper clippings, church recipe collections and community cookbooks. Then she hit the kitchen and perfected 125 new (or blessedly, not new at all) recipes for pies, Bundts, bars and more. If she learned one thing from the endeavor, she says, it's this: "Without immigrants, our unique culinary landscape simply wouldn't exist. One glance at a Midwesterner's holiday cookie tin tells all you need to know."