Melissa Elsmo

For years my family’s holiday season was filled with sugar plum fairies, evil mouse kings, and glittering snow scenes full of twirling ballerinas. My daughter was honored to spend several years performing in the Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theater. Nothing could have made our holiday season more festive than watching our graceful girl visit the land of the sweets on a nightly basis while Tchaikovsky’s familiar score echoed throughout the theater. Sure, multiple performances made our holiday schedule insanely hectic, but we always had time to attend a holiday soirée or two.

During my daughter’s first year performing in the Nutcracker we were invited to a holiday party hosted by the family of a children’s cast member. We were delighted to receive the invitation and like most appreciative guests do, I asked what I could bring to the party. After some coaxing, our generous hostess suggested I bring an appetizer. Before I thought better of it, I exclaimed, “Oh! I’ll bring my micro savory pancakes!” I instantly wished I had offered to bring some sort of predictable dip when the hostess tipped her head quizzically and said, “I not sure if my menu goes with something that fancy, but sure.”

I apologized, outed myself as a chef and explained that I’ve always been overly enthusiastic when it comes to holiday entertaining. I know most people are not as obsessive in the kitchen as I am, but I adore nothing more than the array of creative entertaining opportunities the holiday season brings. I just can’t help myself!

I must have been convincing, because my skeptical hostess found her inner entertaining confidence, ditched her carry-out fare and asked me to help her plan a new menu. We took inspiration from the Nutcracker ballet and created a spread of gorgeous homemade appetizers we affectionately referred to as “The Land of the Savories.” She threw a glorious party and I made a dear friend.

So find your sparkle and swagger; it’s time to get our holiday on! Visit the Land of the Savories and make a batch of my spiced ginger stars with unexpected Indian flavors.They are sure to be a hit at your next holiday party!

Spiced Ginger Stars with Chutney Cream, Apricots and Pistachio

Makes about 40 appetizers

For the Cookies:

  • 1 ½ Cup All-purpose flour
  • ½ Cup plus 2 Tablespoon light brown sugar
  • ½ Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • ½ Tablespoon Pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon Cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon Salt
  • 6 Tablespoon un-salted butter, cut into pieces
  • ¼ C plus 2 Tablespoons dark molasses
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon milk

For the Garnishes:

  • 8-ounces plain cream cheese mixed with ¼ Cup Mango chutney and 1/2 teaspoon Madras curry.
  • 10 Dried apricots, cut into ¼” cubes
  • 40 Pistachios, shelled
  • ½ Small red pepper, cut into ¼” cubes
  • 40 Parsley or Arugula leaves.
  • 1t Poppy Seeds

To Make the Cookies:

Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, cloves, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the butter chunks over the flour mixture and pulse 20 times until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Combine the molasses, vanilla and milk in a liquid measuring cup. While the machine is running gradually add the molasses mixture until a soft dough forms. With floured hands shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 days. Dough can be frozen for 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface roll the dough until ¼” thick and cut out with a 1-2” star (or shape of your choosing) cutter. Place cut dough on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cookies rest on sheets for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow cookies to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.

To Serve:

Place the cream cheese mixture in a Ziploc bag. Do not seal and cut a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag. Pipe a teaspoon of cream onto each cookie. Top with an apricot cube, pistachio, red pepper cube, and parsley leaf. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and serve.

*If the appetizers slide around on the platter use a little of the cream cheese mixture to “glue” the cookies to the plate.

*And hey, if you don’t feel like making tiny ginger cookies, serve this appetizer family style. Simply purchase pre-made ginger snaps, serve the chutney cream (garnished with pistachios, chopped apricots, and poppy seeds) in a bowl and instruct guests to spread it on the cookies.

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