The Best Holiday Cookies
What to make and give this year
Our favorite Christmas-cookie testers are at it again. You might remember reading about friends Adele Bentsen and Kathryn Wilson in last December’s The Great Cookie Tin Bake-Off: Two friends and their Christmas quest. Adele and Kathryn shared their favorite Christmas-cookie recipes, all of which went through rigorous testing before they made the cut to give in tins to friends and family.
This year, Adele and Kathryn have been busy baking and updating their list of favorites. Like everyone else who loves to bake, they are excited about the release of five-time James Beard Award winner Dorie Greenspan’s highly anticipated cookbook, Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple. While their current favorite recipes aren’t straight out of Dorie’s newest book, they do hail from a couple of Baking with Dorie’s 13 cookbook predecessors. Instructions are clear and accessible for bakers on any level.
If you happen to be on the list to receive a cookie tin from Adele or Kathryn, lucky you! But if not, we’re still lucky, because the bakers have shared a few of what they consider to be the best Christmas cookies around. Happy baking!
From Dorie’s Cookies
Kathryn says, “I loved using this cookie last year in cookie tins, sometimes in place of brownies for something chocolate. It is very chocolaty. It is easy to pull together and then have on hand in the freezer for quick slice and bakes.”
1¼ cups flour
1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2⁄3 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon fleur del sel or ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips (no pieces larger than 1⁄3 inch), or a generous ¾ cups store-bought mini chocolate chips
Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt, and vanilla extract, and beat for 2 minutes more.
Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour, and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek – if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough – for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together, and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking – let it warm just enough so that you can slice the log into rounds and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½-inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them – don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes – they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.
From Dorie’s Cookies
Adele says, “We love the Dorie Greenspan Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough. It is a great recipe for cut-out cookies or sandwich cookies filled with Biscoff. We like the spice blend addition [Christmas Spice Cookies]. The recipe makes lots of cookie dough. But you can freeze and pull out as needed!”
1 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
11⁄3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups flour
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes or until creamy. Stop once or twice to scrape down the bowl.
Reduce the speed to low and add the egg whites and then the vanilla extract; the dough may curdle, but it will smooth out once the flour is added.
On low speed, add the flour in 3 or 4 additions, beating only until it is almost incorporated before the next portion goes in. Stop to scrape down the bowl as needed.
At this point, the dough can be divided and flavored (see “Variations” below) and scooped or rolled out. To make plain cookies, divide the dough into quarters and shape each one into a disk. Working with one disk at a time, place it between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll out to a thickness of ¼ inch. Stack the disks with their parchment paper on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 3 hours; or you can freeze them for 1 hour.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Working with one rolled-out portion of dough at a time, peel away the parchment paper on both sides, then place the dough back on one of those sheets of paper.
Use the cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can, spacing them about 1½ inches apart on the baking sheets and rerolling scraps as needed. Sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired. Bake (upper and lower racks) for 19 to 21 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through or as soon as you see the cookies’ edges start to become golden. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
To make about 24 White Chocolate and Poppy Seed Cookies, stir 1⁄3 cup chopped white chocolate bar or white chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon black poppy seeds into ¼ of the basic dough (before you roll it out). Roll to a ¼-inch-thick disk, chill, cut out, bake and cool as in the recipe above. Melt 1⁄3 cup white chocolate chips; spread it over the cooled cookies and then sprinkle with more poppy seeds. Let set before serving or storing.
To make 20 Vanilla Polka Dots, use a small (2 teaspoons) scoop to create 20 level portions of dough, using one-quarter of the basic dough before it’s rolled out. Roll each portion into a ball, then dip it into a bowl containing about ½ cup pearl or Swedish sugar, and space the balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Wrap the bottom of a jam jar with plastic wrap; use it to flatten the balls a bit. Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back after 11 minutes. Cool the cookies as directed above.
To make about 20 Double-Ginger Crumb Cookies, stir together 1¼ teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger root and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until the sugar melts into a syrup. Stir that mixture into ¼ of the basic dough recipe (before you roll it out). Roll out and chill as directed above. Make the topping: Combine ¾ cup flour, 1⁄3 cup sugar, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, and 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, in a bowl, using your fingertips to work the mixture into crumbs that hold together. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut out the cookies as directed above, then sprinkle a generous amount of the crumbly topping on each one. (You will have leftover topping.) Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time, for 21 to 23 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back after 12 minutes. Cool as directed above.
To make about 18 Christmas Spice Cookies, combine ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, a pinch of ground cloves, and a pinch of ground allspice in a small bowl, then blend the mixture evenly into ¼ of the basic dough recipe (before you roll it out). Roll out, chill, and cut out as directed above, using a 2-inch snowflake-shaped cutter; sprinkle sanding sugar over each one, if desired, before baking (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 19 to 21 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back after 10 minutes. Cool as directed above.
From Dorie’s Cookies
Kathryn says, “I love this filling. So much easier to use and spread than straight Biscoff [Cookie Butter] from a jar.” Kathryn and Adele like to use this as a filling to sandwich between two Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookies.
½ cup Biscoff Cookie Butter
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1¼ cups confectioners sugar
1 Tablespoon milk, plus more if needed
Beat together the Biscoff, butter, and salt until light. Add the sugar and as much milk as needed to make it a spreadable consistency.
Kathryn says, “This is a ridiculous recipe that could just as easily be made with a box of chocolate cake mix, meringue frosting of any kind, and some fun sprinkles! I had fun with it last year, but it isn’t for everyone!”
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
6 Tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons water
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1⁄3 cup water
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Gold or silver cupcake papers
½ to ¾ cup white chocolate
12 miniature ice cream cones
White, silver, gold, and/or black sprinkles
Gold or silver prism or luster powder
For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 cupcake or muffin tins with papers, and spray the papers with non-stick vegetable oil spray, if desired. Use silver or gold cupcake papers, if available.
Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, oil, vanilla, and water, beating until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake cups; you'll pour a scant ¼ cup batter into each cup. A muffin scoop works well here.
Bake the cupcakes for about 25 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes in the middle of the pan comes out clean.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven. In about 5 minutes, or as soon as you can handle them, remove them from the pan, and place them on a rack to cool.
For the frosting:
When the cupcakes are cool, make the frosting. Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat until the egg whites are foamy and thick; they should mound in the bowl, without holding a peak. Set them aside while you prepare the sugar syrup.
Combine the sugar, cream of tartar, water, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently; the sugar should be dissolved. If the sugar hasn't dissolved, cook and stir a bit more, until it has. Once the sugar has dissolved, boil the syrup, undisturbed, for 2 minutes, or until the syrup registers 240 degrees on a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer.
Begin to beat the egg whites, and immediately pour the boiling sugar syrup into the egg whites in a slow stream, beating all the while. As you beat, the mixture will thicken.
Once all the syrup is added, stir in the vanilla, and continue to beat until the frosting is thick and will hold a peak. Put frosting in a piping bag filled with an open star tip.
Gently melt the white chocolate. Brush the miniature ice cream cones with the melted chocolate and then immediately cover the soft chocolate with sprinkles. Set aside on wax paper to set.
Pipe a swirl of frosting on top of each cupcake. Place ice cream cones upside down on top of each cupcake. Pipe a small star or dollop of frosting on the top of each ice cream cone. Dust the frosting with prism or luster powder.
For more fun, add a sparkler to each and light before serving!
Cupcake recipe adapted from King Arthur Baking "Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake."
Frosting adapted from King Arthur Baking "Favorite Fudge Birthday Cupcakes with 7-Minute Icing." Assembly inspired by Fancy Sprinkles and local company Sprinkle Pop Shop, both of which carry holiday blends and sparkly powders.
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