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It’s cookie baking season! The holidays are coming. December’s whirl of office parties, school events, family gatherings, friendly visits is nearly upon us. [In 2020, most of this will be virtual. Stay safe.]
These are some of my favorite holiday cookie recipes—the treats that I love to share with friends and family and coworkers (back when I worked in an office). They go beyond the ordinary, and I think you’ll find there’s something for everyone in this mix.
Before you get started, I’m going to offer some cookie-baking advice.
Get a scale! It makes measuring easier and more accurate.
But if you don’t have a scale (or all your recipes are in cups), whisk your flour in the container before measuring, spoon it into your measuring cup and sweep the top level with a knife or straight edge of some kind.
That will help prevent you from adding too much flour, which is likely to make your cookies heavy and dry.
It’s so much easier than using spoons and it will make it easier to keep your cookies the same size which will make them bake more evenly.
If you have the time, make your cookie dough the night before you bake them–it’ll improve the flavor of your cookies.
Onto the the cookies!
Here is a collection of some of my favorite holiday cookies.
From soft gingerbread cookies, to white chocolate raspberry cookies, to truffle-like chocolate rye cookies, there's something for everyone here. The mint chip cookies only need one bowl and no mixer, so they're great to make with kids.
The soft and chewy citrus molasses spice cookies taste like Christmas. And the orange cardamom snowflakes are showstoppers (though they're the fussiest of the lot). There are also chocolate chip cookies and brownie variations if that's what you're looking for, and some honey walnut bars that are amazing.
These gingerbread cookies are soft, spicy, thick, and cakey. They have a generous amount of ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. The original version of these cookies calls for black pepper, but I prefer these without it so I haven’t included it here. You could certainly add some in if you’d like some extra heat. The dough, after it has rested in the refrigerator overnight, is a dream to work with. It rolls out easily and holds shapes well. Note that these are thicker than most cookies, and be sure not to roll them too thin. The dough should be about 1/3 inch thick. The yield on these will vary depending on what cookie cutters you use. I used a gingerbread person cookie cutter about 3 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ and got about 22 cookies out of it.
These mint chip cookies are so easy to make. They use oil instead of butter, which means there's no mixer required. You can use any mint or mint chocolate chip you like here. I think they look prettiest with the green mint chips Guittard makes (not sponsored, just a fan). You can find them online and they're often available at World Market. This recipe calls for slightly less than one bag (annoying, I know)--don't be tempted to use the whole bag because the dough won't hold all the chips and you'll be left with oily chips at the bottom of the bowl. While they don't require any special equipment, I do recommend lining your baking sheets with parchment paper. And your life will be easier and your cookies will bake more easily if you use a disher/cookie scoop.
These cookies go by many names: Russian tea cakes, butterballs, snowballs and more. They are all buttery cookies made with ground nuts and coated in powdered sugar.
They're incredibly tender, melt-in-your mouth cookies that are beloved by many cultures for a reason. They're simple and delicious.
You can make these with pretty much any nut, but pecans are the classic nut for Mexican wedding cookies. Walnuts are also wonderful in these cookies. And there are devotees of almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and even Brazil nuts for these. So use what you like.
You can grind the nuts in a food processor or put them in a zip-top bag and bash them up with a rolling pin or the back of a skillet.
These crisp chocolate sandwich cookies benefit from a good Dutched cocoa powder, such as Valrhona or Droste--it really makes a difference. The white chocolate filling is flavored with essential oils--in this case clove, orange, and lime--which makes for a spicy tropical flavor combination that works beautifully. If you don't want to invest in three oils, feel free to choose one of these or any flavor you like, but only use an oil-based flavoring as anything water or alcohol-based will make the chocolate seize into a grainy mess. The tops of the cookies get cut out after the cookies are baked. You'll need a mini cookie cutter that's 1-inch or smaller, or you can improvise with a bottle cap (or skip the cutting-out altogether). You can use any white chocolate baking bar you like (I usually use Ghirardelli) but look for something that has cocoa butter in the ingredients and avoid white chocolate chips, which have additives that prevent them from melting smoothly.
These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are chewy, oaty, and so packed with chocolate the dough barely holds it together. I like to use dark brown sugar in these for its deeper flavor, but light brown sugar will absolutely work as well. You can either chop a chocolate bar or use chocolate chips for these, but whatever you do use a chocolate you like to eat on its own. It's worth splurging on the better grocery store chocolate chips like Ghirardelli or Guittard or chopping some Trader Joe's Pound Plus. I like to sprinkle the tops with a flaky sea salt like Maldon. If you don't want to buy that, you can skip it or sprinkle the tops very judiciously with kosher salt. You can scoop the dough ahead of time and freeze it if you want to bake them later.
These brownies are one of my favorite easy-to-make desserts. They manage to combine the decadent pleasure of a fudgy brownie with the crisp, buttery, nutty texture of almond shortbread. You can pulse almonds in a food processor to make almond meal if you don’t want to buy it separately. Or you can omit the almond meal completely if you want to avoid nuts. These are quite rich, so cut them small. You can always have a second one.
These crisp, buttery cookies get a sandy texture from the buckwheat flour, which is increasingly available at regular grocery stores from brands like Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills. Cocoa nibs (bits of roasted cocoa beans, sometimes called cacao nibs) can be a little trickier to find, but are available online and from specialty food stores. Valrhona cocoa nibs are my favorite, but I also like Sharffen Berger and there are plenty of other brands available that I haven't tried. These cookies get better with age. I like to let the dough rest overnight (though a few hours is fine) and I like to bake the cookies at least a day before I plan to eat them. The flavor and texture improve as they sit.
These buttery, nutty, herby little cookies melt in your mouth. I’ve significantly simplified the method of making these cookies from the original version. I’ve also cut the amount of pine nut nougatine in half. These are delicate, sophisticated cookies–great for adults but maybe not quite right for the little ones in your life. The base cookie is so nice I’m thinking of using it for other things in the future. The original recipe calls for polenta, but I used corn flour because I had some on hand and I love the way it incorporates corn flavor without so much gritty texture, but the amount here is small enough that I’m sure even a courser grind of polenta would work. You could use also use cornmeal if that’s what you have on hand.
These orange cardamom cookies manage to taste both familiar and surprising at the same time. The combination of citrus with the warm baking spice flavor from cardamom says “Christmas” to me. They do take a bit of work. Be sure to make the dough at least two hours before you’re ready to bake the cookies to give them time to chill–and they’re even better if you let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. You can, of course, make these with any cookie cutters you like. I love how they turn out with snowflake cookie cutters. If you want a shortcut, you can roll the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter, wrap it well in plastic wrap, chill for a few hours until firm, and slice them about 1/8-inch thick and bake as directed. They won’t be quite as pretty but they’ll still taste spectacular.
I love the way that orange and vanilla round out the spices in these soft, chewy cookies. If you want to take these in a more southern direction you can use sorghum syrup or Steen’s Cane Syrup in place of the molasses. I like a milder molasses here, but you can use whatever you like. I’ve made these with a blend of sorghum flour and all-purpose flour with great success (I imagine a combination of sorghum and rice flour with a little xanthan gum would make a great gluten free version of these cookies), but they also work well with just all-purpose. My favorite tool for streamlining drop cookies is a cookie scoop (I use the small size for these cookies).
I love these cookies. They call for three kinds of sugar: light brown sugar, turbinado, and granulated sugar, but you can skip the turbinado if you don't have it and just use more brown sugar in its place. I love the toasty oat flavor that oat flour brings, but you can use all all-purpose if you don't want to bother. You can make these with all chocolate chips or any mix of chocolate and butterscotch chips you like, just use a pound total (I recommend looking for good quality chocolate chips like Guittard or Ghirardelli, but use whatever you like). So I'm saying these are incredibly flexible. They get even better if you let the dough rest overnight, but if you want cookies right now (and who doesn't) you can go ahead and scoop them and bake them right away. They really benefit from a generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt on top before they go into the oven (I'm partial to Maldon). Also, your life will be easier and your cookies will all be the same size (and pair up easily for ice cream sandwiches) if you use a medium cookie scoop (aka #40 disher).
These cookies have a whole pound of bittersweet chocolate in them. The result is an intensely chocolatey, not-too-sweet cookie with a truffle-like texture. The rye flour here is subtle, but it brings in warm malty notes. Note that while these cookies are wheat free, they are not gluten free (rye contains gluten). Muscovado sugar is a dark unrefined cane sugar with complex molasses notes. It’s available at specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods and online. You can substitute dark brown sugar, which is similar, but not as complex. For the sea salt, go for something with big flakes that will be perceptible as little salty nuggets of flavor. My favorite brand is Maldon, but you can use any flaky salt you like. Robertson recommends Valrhona chocolate, I used Guittard, but you can use any bittersweet chocolate you like in the 68-72% range (don’t use chocolate chips, which have coatings that won’t let them melt properly here). This dough is quite sticky–your life will be easier if you use a disher/cookie scoop and parchment paper.
These blondies get depth of flavor from brown butter, graham cracker crumbs, instant coffee, and double the usual amounts of vanilla and salt. They have what might seem like too much chocolate, but I think it’s just right. The chocolate pictured is a mix of Guittard milk and semisweet baking wafers, but you can use any mix of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate you like. If you’re at the grocery store, keep an eye out for Ghirardelli or Guittard chocolate chips. I like to bake these in an 8×8-inch baking pan to keep them thick and soft. These are quite rich, so I cut them small to keep them manageable.
This recipe, as it was originally written, comes from an era when margarine and shortening regularly appeared in baking cookbooks, before the pendulum had swung back to butter as an acceptable fat. I’ve updated it to reflect our current thinking about cooking with real foods. You can use any white chocolate you like, I usually use Ghirardelli, but this year I used Lindt with equally good results. Avoid anything labelled white baking chips or with oil in the ingredients list as they won’t melt smoothly. If your seedless raspberry jam is on the looser side, you don’t need to heat it, but if it’s on the thicker side you’ll want to heat it in the microwave or on the stove until it relaxes into a spoonable consistency. As with any drop cookie, your life will be easier if you use parchment paper and a small cookie scoop or disher.
These are a worthy entry into the broad category of cookies with a hodge podge of add-ins sometimes called “kitchen sink cookies” or “garbage cookies.” The add-ins are flexible and can be adjusted to suit your tastes. These cookies need to chill at least an hour before baking, so plan ahead. I prefer to chill them overnight. These are big cookies, more along the lines of the size of cookies you often find at bakeries than those that usually come out of home ovens. Be sure to give them plenty of room to spread in the oven–only 6 cookies fit on a half sheet pan. These make amazing ice cream sandwiches.
These espresso shortbread cookies are rich but not overly sweet. The coffee flavor is perceptible, but not overwhelming. The sweetness of butterscotch glaze balances out the bitterness of the espresso in the shortbread. The espresso shortbread is a simple pat-in-the-pan job and all it takes to make the glaze is throwing the ingredients into a saucepan, stirring, and boiling for a little over a minute. Braker tops these with chocolate covered espresso beans, which feel, to me, like the wrong scale for these delicate cookies. I topped them with snowflake sprinkles from King Arthur Flour. You can leave them unadorned or top them with any simple sugar or chocolate decoration you like. The glaze on these stays soft, so it’s best to store these cookies in a single layer to avoid a sticky mess.
THIS IS MY OFFICIAL barter recipe. If I ask anyone for a recipe, I hand over this one in exchange. Everyone needs a good nut bar, and this one comes together quickly. The shortbread base is baked all the way through while the nut caramel iscooked on the stove and then poured onto the cooled base. After it has cooled, it’s ready to be cut. (Do not refrigeratebefore cutting or else the nut caramel becomes rock-hard.) While using a knife to cut the bars is best for yield, sometimesI punch the bars out using a rectangular cookie cutter to get a cleaner edge. Any kind of nut can be used for these bars,but honey and walnuts are naturals together.
These unfussy cookie bars have a base of rich, buttery brown sugar cookie, then a layer of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, all topped with a layer of caramelized rice cereal.
Caramelizing the Rice Krispies (or whatever puffed rice cereal you choose) involves making a simple caramel in a wide skillet and tossing the cereal in the caramel to coat it. It's an optional step (you can just use plain cereal if you don't want to bother with the caramel), but it makes the bars extra special if you're willing to do it.
I like to use bittersweet chocolate here to help balance the sweetness of the cookie base and the topping, but semisweet chocolate works well here. You can get away with using chocolate chips if you want, though I think chopped chocolate melts a little bit easier.
These oatmeal raisin cookies are soft and chewy and delightful.
The brown sugar and honey help to keep these cookies soft, while the overnight rest in the refrigerator allows the oats to hydrate and soften, further improving the flavor and texture.
If your raisins were scrounged from the back of the pantry and are on the dry side, you can plump them up by soaking them in warm water for about 30 minutes and draining them before adding them to the cookie dough.