It’s the hap-happiest season of all and nothing gets me more in the holiday spirit than a good cookie exchange party. How can you beat an entire evening centered on sweet treats and copious amounts of eggnog? So for all of you eager bakers in need of some cookie inspiration this December, check out our roundup of simple, flavor-forward recipes that are sure to be a hit.
I’m of the opinion that the best way to take any baked good to the next level is with booze. It is the holidays after all. Bourbon is the spirit of choice in White on Rice Couple’s Dark Chocolate Crack Cookies. These fairly traditional chewy chocolate cookies take on a spackled appearance from a dusting of powdered sugar, highlighting all of the random cracks and crevices formed during baking. An easy one-bowl recipe and decadent grown-up treat. Get the recipe on White on Rice Couple.
I don’t know about you, but I am always drawn to shortbread-style cookies during the holiday season. Maybe it’s because they are nearly fool-proof or that they serve as an ideal blank canvas for a variety of flavor combinations. These jeweled butter cookies from Love Comma Cake put a Christmas spin on traditional butter shortbread with the addition of pistachios, dried apricots, and dried sour cherries. After baking, the cookies take a brief dip in a bittersweet chocolate glaze for that extra elegant look. Get the recipe on Love, Cake.
I am a sucker for a good peanut butter cookie, and while it might not be the most “holiday”-esque of the items on this list, I guarantee these will fly off your platter come party time. Kristin Rosenau of Pastry Affair takes a classic peanut butter cookie base and turns it gluten-free by swapping out the flour for cornmeal, which also gives the final product an addicting, crunchy texture. Also, major bonus, this recipe is only six ingredients long and takes a mere 20 minutes to come together. Win-win! Get the recipe on Pastry Affair.
It wouldn’t be the holidays without a few snow-themed baked goods and these snowball cookies from Sprinkle Bakes are just the ticket. The recipe is very similar to that of a Mexican wedding cookie, which is essentially just a shortbread base enhanced with lots of chopped pecans, rolled into balls, and coated in a healthy layer of powdered sugar. Be sure to avoid dark colored tops when eating these as you are sure to be covered in powdered sugar “snow” with every bite. Get the recipe on Sprinkle Bakes.
When I think about holiday flavors, warm spices like cinnamon and clove are always the first thing to come to mind. Eat the Love’s Orange Cookies with Cinnamon and Cloves put these flavors on full display while accentuating them with orange zest, a bit of cocoa powder, and, surprisingly, some extra virgin olive oil to highlight all of those fruity notes. Post-baking, these little gems get covered in a Cointreau-spiked orange glaze for even more flavor and a bit of creaminess to counter all of that sugar and spice. Get the recipe on Eat the Love.
Sesame seems to be having a big moment in the food world right now, especially in the form of desserts. When ground into a paste (also known as tahini), these familiar seeds take on an almost peanut butter-like nutty flavor that is hard to beat. A Cozy Kitchen’s Black Sesame Thumbprints feature black tahini paste in the base of the thumbprint cookie, giving it a dramatic black color and distinct not-too-sweet flavor. The baked cookies are then filled with a homemade Meyer lemon curd for a pop of tartness and a striking yellow color contrast. While this recipe is a bit more involved than its counterparts on this list, the final product is well worth the effort. Get the recipe on A Cozy Kitchen.
Anytime a recipe has the words “1-Bowl” in the title, I’m pretty much sold, and when said recipe is for Ginger Cookies, I’m all in. These seasonal showstoppers from Minimalist Baker check the gluten-free, egg-free, and dairy-free boxes and include a newly discovered vegan ingredient called aquafaba (otherwise known as the brine from canned chickpeas), which helps provide body to the cookies (in place of eggs) while not imparting any additional flavor. The dough receives a big punch of flavor from a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and molasses, giving it that quintessential Christmas feel. Get the recipe on Minimalist Baker.
One of my most vivid cookie memories from childhood is making batches of jam sandwich cookies come December to give out to all of my teachers in school. I may be years past that time in my life, but the tradition has carried through to today and never ceases to satisfy. These particular jam sandwich cookies from If You Give a Blonde a Kitchen are very classic, taking two vanilla shortbread discs, sandwiching them between a hardy layer of tart jam, and dusting the top with powdered sugar. Feel free to punch out fun seasonal shapes from the top cookie disc for a real festive look. Get the recipe on If You Give a Blonde a Kitchen.
Ways to Give Back With Baking This Holiday Season
Got the holiday baking bug and looking to give back this holiday season? Here are a few ways to get involved in your own neighborhood and the city at large.
1. Chicago’s Misericordia provides services to adults and children with developmental disabilities. They’re looking for volunteers to assist at their holiday pop-up bakery. Responsibilities range from scooping, mixing, baking, packaging, and displaying a variety of baked goods to be sold through December.
2. Deliver some sweet treats to a homebound neighbor.
3. Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly offers housing and programs to serve the elderly community of Chicago. Come December, they put out a call for holiday helpers to help cook/bake for the residents during celebratory seasonal events.
4. Invite a new friend who might not have anywhere to go during the holidays over to your house for a cookie swap.
5. The Lincoln Park Community Center serves as a safe living space for those in need, offering not only housing, but literacy services and peer mentoring programs. The center is always looking for eager volunteers to help prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to be served to residents.
Maddie LaKind is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers.