4 doughs, 20 fabulous Christmas cookies
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chill dough another 1½ hours. Continue with step 2, forming and baking cookies as directed. Makes 40.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sprinkle each crisp with 1 tsp. sliced skin-on almonds. Continue baking as directed. Makes 20.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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