It’s Christmas! What a wonderful time of year to bake 4 dozen cookies for no reason other than you love a logistical kitchen time-puzzle, all attempts at healthy eating have flown out the window, and there’s just something about sticking a box of cookies and some cold homemade nog* in someone’s mailbox that gives me immense joy. It’s like meals on wheels but instead of actual meals for needy elderly, it’s just baked goods and spiked eggnog for suburbanites. The joy of giving. It’s contagious. Pass it on. *spoiler alert: Driveway Drinks!
For the past few years, a friend and I have gotten together and armed with spreadsheets, prepped ingredients and my favorite Christmas Cookie special edition “book-azine” (their term, not mine) from Cook’s Illustrated, we’ve committed a day to mixing, creaming, filling, dipping, and baking dozens of cookies to deliver to friends, teachers, bus drivers, postal workers and more. This year our schedules just didn’t want to align and so we were left to our own devices.
Bummed that I was in the kitchen alone, but presented with a more relaxed schedule than cramming it all into one afternoon, I set to work. Three years into using the Cooks Illustrated “bookazine” we have some VIP cookies that always make it in the box, but this year I added a few new faces. Let’s take a peek inside:
Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
These. Are. The. Best. Intensely spiced, these cookies remain soft and pliable and a simple powdered sugar frosting is a welcome bit of sweet when you bite in. The dough itself is almost….supple (ew?), but it’s so soft and easy to work with– I love it. Not really a fan of the classic gingerbread MAN himself, I have done snowflakes in the past, and this year mittens were calling my name. Inspired by the Faux Martha’s nordic cookies, I googled “Fair Isle” sweaters and tried to mimic some of the patterns. The trick with iced cookies like this is to max out at less than 24 cookies. More than that and you start to resent the icing. Nobody wants to resent icing!
Florentine Lace Cookies
These are part confection/part cookie– and I thought it was a delightful addition to the cookie box. Made on a stovetop with ground hazelnuts, orange marmalade, sugar, and butter, they spread out in the oven and create a delicate “lace” pattern. Scented with orange and hazelnuts, and drizzled with bittersweet chocolate, they are definitely the most sophisticated cookie this year.
Pistachio Cardamom Shortbread
I’ve made no secret of my love for cardamom. This one is no exception. A super simple shortbread cookie made with (obviously) pistachios and cardamom are rolled and sort of pressed/forced into a rectangle shape, chilled, and then sliced and baked. Does not get any easier than that. They bring a little savory touch to the box- and I like their shape!
Vanilla Icebox Cookies
These are such a fun and easy go-to for a quick sugar cookie. Nothing fancy here, just a classic butter/sugar cookie chilled in log form and rolled in sprinkles. I feel like it’s important to include a kid-friendly cookie, or at the very least– a cookie you can recognize– in case anyone took one look at the lace cookie or the shortbread and wasn’t really sure what to make of it. This one is like the gateway drug into the Christmas Cookie Box.
Pierre Hermé & Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies
This was CLEARLY the year of the slice-and-bake cookie in my kitchen. I had heard stories about how this cookie can blow minds and make you want to mainline milk after eating one. They were all true. These cookies were developed by cookie goddess Dorie Greenspan and Pierre Hermes and earned the title they have because if everyone had one, there would very likely be world peace. They are probably the perfect intensely chocolate cookie. Kind of sandy like a sable, but the chunks of bittersweet chocolate and SLIGHT chew make you just come back again and again. Milk required.
Sparkling Coffee Stars
Another VIP in the cookie box, I made these one year and just never looked back. Nothing fancy, just a butter cookie– but with a heavy hit of espresso powder that comes to LIFE when you bake these. Take a bite of the dough and you think ehh kinda coffee-ey, but whatever. Bake them and that instant espresso really kicks it up. Drizzled with white and bittersweet chocolate and then sprinkled with crunchy turbinado sugar, this is a cookie you WILL eat with (for??) breakfast.
And that’s it! In years past, I’ve also added candied nuts or caramels, but this year I stuck with good ol’ fashioned cookies. Later tonight I’ll drive around delivering goodies to mailboxes and then wrap up more for teachers and ya know, maybe my family might even enjoy some!
Most of my recipes come from my trusty Cooks Illustrated Best Ever Christmas Cookies special edition magazine from 2014. Obviously that is now out of print. However! You can buy the 2016 edition which I assume probably has many of the cookies listed. Nevertheless, here are links to the recipes I could find online, plus I’ve re-posted the Coffee Stars recipe out of the magazine:
Sparkling Coffee Stars
Makes about 40 cookies | ever so slightly modified recipe from Cooks Illustrated
2 C (10 oz) All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C packed (3.5 oz) light brown sugar
1/4 C (1.75 oz) granulated sugar
1 Tbsp instant espresso powder
1/2 C (3 oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (or chips)
1/2 C (3 oz) white chocolate, chopped fine (or chips)
1/4 C coarse sanding sugar
MAKE DOUGH Combine flour and salt in medium bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and espresso powder until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into 5-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.
ROLL AND CUT Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll each chilled dough disk into 11-inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. Using 2-inch star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies, gathering and rerolling dough as necessary.
BAKE COOKIES Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets and bake until set, 18 to 22 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
DECORATE COOKIES Drizzle cookies with melted semisweet and white chocolates and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Let sit until chocolate hardens, about 15 minutes. (Cookies can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 4 days.)