4 doughs, 20 fabulous Christmas cookies

Get our easy master recipes and make all the holiday cookies you crave

A variety of shortbread cookies

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Master recipe No. 1: Shortbread

You can fill all your holiday gift bags and cookie jars this season with just 4 basic dough recipes.

Print out your favorite master recipes from the following pages and try them with our tasty variations.

Shortbread, for example, has a deliciously buttery style that can carry a wide range of holiday flavors, from nutty to herbal to sweet. Get the master recipe below, then click ahead for 4 gorgeous variations.

Master recipe:  Shortbread Cookies

A triangular Honey Caramel Nut Bar

Photos by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Honey Caramel Nut Bars

Prepare Shortbread recipe through step 1. Press dough evenly into the bottom of a greased 9- by 9-in. baking pan. Bake 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring 3 tbsp. butter, 1/3 cup honey, and 1/3 cup sugar to a boil. Remove from heat.

Stir in 3/4 cup each toasted whole almonds, pecan halves, salted cashews, and salted pistachios.

Carefully spoon mixture over shortbread and continue to bake until nuts are toasted and liquid is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let cool.

Use a serrated knife to cut into 16 squares; cut each square diagonally to make 32 triangles.

A Lemon Rosemary Button made using our shortbread cookie recipe

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Lemon Rosemary Buttons

Prepare Shortbread recipe, adding finely shredded zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary in step 1. Form dough into a disk; chill 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough 1/2 in. thick. Cut dough into circles with a 1½-in. cookie cutter. Arrange cookies 1 in. apart on baking sheets and chill 15 minutes.

Bake until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

Mix 1½ cups powdered sugar with 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice and the finely shredded zest of 1 lemon. Spoon 1/2 tsp. glaze over each cooled cookie, spreading with back of spoon, and press 1 rosemary sprig into glaze. Makes 32.

An Apricot-Pecan Crumb Bar made from our shortbread cookies recipe

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Apricot-Pecan Crumb Bars

Prepare Shortbread recipe through step 1, reserving 1 cup dough.

Press remaining dough into the bottom of a greased 9- by 9-in. baking pan. Spread 1 cup apricot preserves over dough.

In a bowl, combine reserved dough with 1/4 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 cup pecan halves and crumble mixture over preserves.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 50 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into 16 squares.

A Raspberry Window Shortbread made from our classic shortbread cookie recipe

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Raspberry Window Shortbreads

Prepare Shortbread recipe through step 1, form into a disk, and chill 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough 1/8 in. thick. Use a selection of 1½-in. decorative cutters to cut as many shapes as you can, making sure you have an equal number of each shape to form a top and a bottom, and rerolling scraps as needed.

Arrange cookies 1 in. apart on baking sheets. Use a variety of smaller cutters to remove center from half of cookies (the tops). Chill on sheets 15 minutes; then bake until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Spread each whole cookie with about 1/2 tsp. raspberry preserves. Sprinkle powdered sugar over cut-out cookie tops, or glaze them with a mixture of 1 cup powdered sugar and 21/2 tsp. milk. Set tops on jam-topped bottoms. Makes 26.

Chocolate Decadence Cookies

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Master recipe No. 2: Chocolate Decadence Cookies

Don’t overbake these! They’re best when slightly gooey.

Master recipe:  Chocolate Decadence Cookies

Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies made from our Chocolate Decadence cookie dough recipe

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

Prepare Chocolate Decadence Cookies recipe through step 1. Continue with step 2, forming cookies into balls and setting on prepared baking sheets.

Press your thumb into center of each cookie ball, making a small well. Fill a resealable plastic bag with about 1/2 cup peanut butter.

With scissors, snip off 1 corner of bag; squeeze about 1/2 tsp. peanut butter from bag into each well. Bake as directed. Makes 40.

Hazelnut Nutella Sandwich Cookies made from our Chocolate Decadence Cookie recipe

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Hazelnut Nutella Sandwich Cookies

Prepare Chocolate Decadence Cookies recipe, mixing 1 cup chopped hazelnuts into dough in step 1.

Continue with step 2, using your palm to press dough balls into 1/4-in.-thick rounds. Bake as directed and let cool. Spread the flat side of 1 cookie with about 1 tbsp. Nutella and sandwich with another cookie. Makes 20.

Double Chocolate Cookies made from our Chocolate Decadence Cookie recipe.

Photos by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Double Chocolate Cookies

Prepare Chocolate Decadence Cookie recipe, chilling dough 30 minutes in step 1, then mixing 1 cup white chocolate chips into dough.

Chill dough another 1½ hours. Continue with step 2, forming and baking cookies as directed. Makes 40.

Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies made with our Chocolate Decadence Cookie recipe

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies

Prepare Chocolate Decadence Cookie recipe through step 1. Continue with step 2, using your palm to press dough balls into 1/4-in.-thick rounds. Bake as directed and let cool.

In a bowl, mix 3 cups powdered sugar, 4 tbsp. milk, and 3/4 tsp. peppermint extract. Spread 1 heaping tsp. peppermint icing onto the flat side of 1 cookie.

Top with flat side of a second cookie to form a sandwich, pressing together to squeeze filling to the edge. Roll edge of cookie in crushed and sifted candy canes. Makes 20.

Sugar- and Spice-dusted Ginger Cookies

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Sugar-and Spice-dusted Ginger Cookies

Prepare Gingersnap recipe through step 3. In a bowl, mix 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Pull off dough in 1 tbsp. portions from disk, roll each into a ball, and drop into sugar mixture.

Swirl to coat in batches of 3 or 4, then transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake as directed. Makes 100.

A Gingersnap recipe that can be used to create various types of cookies

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Master recipe No. 3: Gingersnaps

This is a big-batch recipe, so we recommend using half the dough for gingersnap sandwiches and the rest for the dots or snowflakes.

Master recipe:  Gingersnaps

Lemon Meringue-filled Gingersnap Snowflake Cookies

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Lemon Meringue-filled Gingersnap Snowflake Cookies

Prepare Gingersnap recipe through step 4, using snowflake cutters. Bake as directed.

Put 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, and 3 large egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Set bowl over a pan filled with 1 in. simmering water. Whisking constantly, heat mixture until egg whites are warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved, about 4 minutes.

Put bowl of warm whites on mixer and mix on medium speed until cool and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Stir in finely shredded zest of 1 lemon.

Fit a gallon-size resealable plastic bag with a 1-in. star tip, snipping hole in corner of bag for tip to fit snugly (or use a pastry bag).

Half-fill bag with meringue. Gather bag at top and gently pipe about 2 tbsp. meringue onto flat side of 1 cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies. Dust cookies on both sides with powdered sugar. Makes 50.

Make-ahead tip:  Chill dough (step 3) up to 1 week. Store baked cookies airtight up to 3 days. Cookies can be filled up to 5 hours ahead.

Dulce de Leche Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Dulce de Leche Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies

Prepare Gingersnap recipe.

Spread 1 tbsp. prepared dulce de leche (find at well-stocked grocery stores and Latino markets; you’ll need 3 cups of filling for 50 sandwiches) on the flat side of 1 cookie and sandwich with another cookie.

Makes 50.

Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwiches

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwiches

Prepare Gingersnap recipe.

Scoop about 2 tbsp. caramel or vanilla ice cream onto the flat side of 1 cookie and sandwich with another cookie.

Freeze airtight until firm. Makes 50.

Honey Lace Crisps

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Master recipe No. 4: Honey Lace Crisps

These cookies look delicate but are extremely forgiving to work with―which makes them easy to shape and fill.

Master recipe:  Honey Lace Crisps

Honey Almond Crisps

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Honey Almond Crisps

Prepare Honey Lace Crisps recipe, through step 2. Bake until batter starts to bubble and spread, about 3 minutes.

Sprinkle each crisp with 1 tsp. sliced skin-on almonds. Continue baking as directed. Makes 20.

Honey Sesame Crisps

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Honey Sesame Crisps

Prepare Honey Lace Crisp recipe, mixing 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds into batter in step 1.

Bake as directed. Makes 20.

Salted Honey Crisps

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Salted Honey Crisps

Prepare Honey Lace Crisp recipe through step 2.

Bake until batter starts to bubble and spread, about 3 minutes.

Sprinkle each crisp with a large pinch of coarse sea salt. Continue baking as directed. Makes 20.

Orange Cream-filled Honey Crisps

Photo by Leigh Beisch; food styling by Dan Becker

Orange Cream-filled Honey Crisps

Prepare Honey Lace Crisp recipe through step 3, forming cookies into a small cylinder shape around the handle of a wooden spoon and holding until firm (a few seconds); slide off when cool.

Whisk together 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and the finely shredded zest of 1 orange until firm peaks form.

Fill a large resealable plastic bag with cream, then snip a 1/4-in. hole in 1 corner. Pipe cream into cookie cylinder from each end.

Serve immediately. Makes 20.

Stick of butter

Photo: Thomas J. Story

Butter 

This is the most important ingredient in baking. Smooth and slightly sweet, it adds moisture, body, and flavor to whatever you make.

And unlike shortenings and artificial fats, butter does literally melt in the mouth.

Our top butter: Straus Family Creamery, Marshall, CA

The only California milk producer that runs both an organic dairy and an organic creamery, Straus makes outstanding butter. It’s crafted in small batches and has incredible flavor.

The butterfat content is 85 percent, similar to European butters (American butters are typically about 80 percent). strausfamilycreamery.com  or 415/663-5464.

Bar of chocolate

Photo: Thomas J. Story

Chocolate

With nuances that can range from floral to nutty to tropical, chocolate is the most complex of baking ingredients.

It comes in a variety of forms―block, bar, powdered, chips, and nibs; all can be used in baking, as can milk, white, and dark chocolates.

Our top chocolate: Guittard Chocolate Company, Burlingame, CA  

Family owned and operated for four generations, Guittard sources the highest-quality cacao beans, from South America to West Africa to the South Pacific. Then Guittard’s blenders combine the beans to create chocolates perfect for both baking and eating straight from the package. guittard.com  or 800/468-2462.

A mix of baking spices

Photography by Thomas J. Story

Spices

Just a pinch or two of pale powdered ginger, toasty cinnamon, or deep brown cloves can transform the simplest cookie into an extraordinary experience.

Our top spice source:  Savory Spice Shop, Denver


On the shelves of this store is a staggering variety of exotic seasonings (for instance, 20 kinds of salt) and dried herbs.

The shop grinds spices weekly and sells them in quantities ranging from a half-ounce to a pound, making it easy to keep your pantry stocked with the freshest inventory. savoryspiceshop.com  or 888/677-3322.

A jar of honey

Photo: Thomas J. Story

Honey

The character of any honey depends on the source of the nectar that the bees sip, and on the season; both contribute to color and flavor.

Honey used in baking adds moisture and a haunting yet robust taste.

Our top honey: McClendon’s Select, Peoria, AZ

In the desert of southern Arizona, McClendon’s harvests honey from beehives set among its many citrus trees (the farm’s other business is growing 200 kinds of organic produce) and from the wildflowers in the area.

We like the mild-tasting orange-blossom honey and the desert-blossom honey, which is darker and heartier. mcclendonsselect.com

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