Christmas Cookie Spectacular: A Sweet and Sparkly Guide
Hark the herald angels sing: It’s time for cookies! These delightful sweet treats bring the razzle-dazzle to your holidays.
Photograph by Nader Khouri
Everyone wants the holidays to be sweet: with the ones we love, the shimmering twinkle lights at night, and especially the dizzying array of edible joy that Christmas cookies bring. ‘Tis the season for bakers to don their finest aprons, grab their sparkliest colored sugars and dragées (those little shiny balls you really can eat), and fill the kitchen with the warm scents of vanilla, spice, and good cheer.
The recipes below were carefully chosen to dazzle the eyes as well as the mouth, stir up some holiday fun in the kitchen, and bring bright eyes and merry spirits to each home. Especially this year, as many of us find ourselves at smaller tables than before, a bright cookie plate has the power to buoy spirits, connect us to happy memories, and deliver both comfort and joy.
Wondering how many to make? This is no time to skimp, especially with so many types of Christmas cookies. Take a break from the sourdough starter and bake one batch more: Do your cookie exchange through the post office (they’ll appreciate the business), give a lonely neighbor a delicious surprise, and ship your best home-baked batches to loved ones you miss most. And there’s never been a better time to support first responders and firefighters; why not safely drop off a dazzling plate of holiday cheer to say thank you this year? It’s amazing what good a package of beautiful cookies can do.
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Cookie how-to’s: North Pole edition
The good news about making Christmas cookies is that unless you’re a contestant on a cooking show, each cookie doesn’t have to be perfect! In fact, some of the sweetest cookies are the ones with a goofy gingerbread smile or the sprinkles just a little askew. However, there are some tips and tricks for planning ahead, making icing, plus storing or shipping them properly.
How do you make icing for Christmas cookies?
Not all recipes call for icing, but in this article's collection below, the instructions are simple — usually a quick whisk of powdered sugar with a few spoonfuls of milk, water, or freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice, and occasionally a bit of vanilla extract. Then stir in a drop or two of food coloring for the holiday shades you desire.
Some recipes require royal icing, which is similar but also includes egg whites and a bit of lemon juice; this icing hardens once it dries to retain its shape.
How long can you store Christmas cookies?
The general wisdom is about a week. Keep them in a sealed airtight container, with wax paper separating each layer; homemade cookies have no preservatives (yay), but that means they won’t last forever … but is that usually a problem? These will likely go fast!
Can you freeze Christmas cookies? For how long?
Some cookies freeze well, but it can be hard to keep decorated cookies from getting dinged or smudged. But those without additional adornment on top, like the stamped shortbread cookies below, can be frozen for up to a month. However, there is another option: Many of the cookie recipes in this story have dough that can be frozen up to three weeks in advance. Then simply thaw, slice, or shape, and bake! You'll have freshly baked cookies before you can say, “Kris Kringle!”
How do I ship cookies?
The key to avoiding breakage en route is to not give the cookies much space to jostle inside the box. Wax or parchment paper in between layers also helps minimize shifting and bumping, and plenty of padding generally means most cookies will arrive intact … and even any broken bits still taste good!
Traditional Christmas cookies
Do you have visions of classic cookies dancing in your head? Make all your sugar plum dreams come true in a twinkling with these time-tested recipes.
These traditional Christmas cookies are fun to decorate and sure to charm all who see them. The dough comes together easily, and the icing is simple and can be customized to include your most merry holiday colors.
These traditional ginger Christmas cookies are chewy and soft, but with a little holiday heat from the ginger and cloves. The white chocolate icing recipe and design are simple enough for beginner bakers — but they’ll look and taste like they came from a bakery.
These Mexican wedding cookies are also known in certain regions as Russian tea cookies, but whatever you call them, they are certain to delight: Like a fluffier shortbread, they are delicate, studded with pecans, and coated in powdered sugar so you can pop them like sweet winter snowballs.
Royal icing, dragées, and colored sugars make decorating these Christmas cookies a seasonal celebration for bakers great and small. The light molasses in the dough provides depth without overwhelming the warm spicing.
Simple. Buttery. Spritz are traditional Christmas cookies that rarely get the applause they deserve: They’re the Bob Ross of the holiday cookie plate, and in this recipe they’re happy little trees. As he noted on his show, The Joy of Painting, “There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.” Especially when you can eat it.
These charming cookies use a simple vanilla dough and the recipe provides easy-to-follow decorating instructions; these darling wreaths will fill all with good cheer.
Ooo la la! Unique Christmas cookies to steal the show
Embrace the spirit of the season while strutting your cookie stuff with these foodie-forward recipes. Red and green ombré fades, edible gear for snow day fun, funky 80s holiday sparkle, and snowball cookies with a surprise inside are but some of the treats that await you below.
These charming, easily shaped and decorated Christmas cookies are a perfect addition to your edible winter wonderland.
These choco-tastic winter treats capture what’s best about the Christmas cookie season: a deep chocolate flavor in both the cookie and decadent drizzle on top, plus a piquant chill from the peppermint flavor layered into the cookie and as a cool crunch on top.
‘Tis the season for festive almond cookies scented with matcha and raspberries, in a glorious red and green ombré fade. You’ll want to post these.
Everyone has munched on a jam-filled thumbprint cookie, but these buttery shortbread wonders bring the razzle-dazzle to your holiday dessert table with caramel! Purchased salted caramel sauce makes them a snap to prepare, and quicker to disappear than the shake of a reindeer’s tail.
Embrace your inner 80s Christmas with these red and green glittering zebra-striped shortbread cookies. The best part? Creating the black and white stripes is easy, even for new bakers who don’t have an ugly Christmas sweater. And like, duh. They’re delicious.
Mint and chocolate are a classic holiday combination, and these are one of the more charming types of Christmas cookies: a dark chocolate sandwich cookie around a snowdrift of peppermint and white chocolate ganache, rimmed with icy shards of peppermint sweets.
The classic snowball cookie gets a decadent upgrade by swapping out pecans for hazelnuts, plus a festive surprise filling of Nutella.
German Christmas cookies … and thereabouts
The culture that invented gingerbread people understood the joy of decorating tiny figures, pretending they exist in a snow-dusted world and then, well, off with their heads! — in a delicious approach to relieving holiday stress.
Create a sweetly-spiced gingerbread family with these classic holiday delights. These traditional Christmas cookies date back to the Middle Ages, when gingerbread was elaborately designed and occasionally decorated with gold leaf. Our modern take is still redolent with molasses and fragrant spices, but the icing and styling can be as fanciful or simple as you choose.
Inspired by the Austrian Linzer tart from the 1600s, these cinnamon-scented hazelnut cookies look like a stained glass window in the late winter sun.
These crisp, slim, deep brown cookies hail from the Netherlands and are a treasured Dutch treat often made in the shape of a windmill. For the holidays, a German springerle mold is used to press the elaborate images into the dough — but you can also use cookie cutters in a pinch.
Italian Christmas cookies
Buon Natale! Italy is a country of many regions, cultural distinctions, and differing climates; as a result, their Christmas cookie offerings are varied and delightful, from snowflake-shaped pizzelle to stirring in sunny ingredients like figs, pistachios, and olive oil.
Christmas tree cookies make any holiday table sing with good cheer. With ingredients inspired by classic Italian Buon Natale cookies like olive oil, pistachios, and lemon, they’re sure to add to any holiday feast. Mangia!
Figs, chocolate, orange, and nuts form the filling of these Sicilian holiday cookies that are a more ebullient version of a Fig Newton, dipped in a vanilla glaze and scattered with colorful sprinkles.
These anise-scented Italian Christmas cookies are crisp, delicate, sweet wafers, and are almost like eating a giant snowflake. A sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar completes the snow-powdered scene. (Feel free to swap in vanilla if you’re not a fan of anise.)
Crunchy cranberry and pistachio biscotti are the perfect accompaniment to a Christmassy espresso or cup of tea, and these gild the Italian lily with a final brushstroke of white chocolate.
Easy Christmas cookies to make and share
This year, sharing the Christmas spirit in a tangible way that people can touch, smell, and feel will perhaps matter more than ever before. When getting on a plane or giving a hug isn’t an option, a gift of something made by your hands can still touch a heart.
These stamped shortbread cookies require only three ingredients! (Though you could go rogue and add a dash of salt for good measure.) Cookie stamps make elegant decorating simple, and it’s easy to add a drop or two of food coloring if pale gold is not your Christmas cookie ideal.
Citrus comes into season in the winter, making these delicate orange cookies dipped in chocolate fresh and bright in the mouth. Only eight ingredients, plus no need to chill the dough, means you can get them into the oven quickly.
A sprinkling of coarse sugar atop each star gives these chocolate Christmas cookies a sparkling holiday shimmer. The dough comes together easily to make three batches at once; each can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge for a few days, or frozen up to one month.
Put down that tube of cookie dough and step away! Escape to a frosty 1950s winter wonderland with these charming slice-and-bake cookies, boasting cheery maraschino cherries, a dusting of coconut, and a drizzle of white chocolate. The dough can be made in advance and kept in the fridge or frozen, so you can slice the exact number you need. They’re also great for baking fun with Santa’s littlest elves.
Is it a cookie? Or a truffle? It’s somewhere jubilant in between. Best of all, these no-bake, snow white cream cheese cookie truffles can be made in advance and frozen for whenever the moment calls for minty magic.
Two kinds of dark chocolate ensure a depth of flavor in these chocolate Christmas cookies, a worthy match for our depth of desire for peace: in our homes, our families, across our nation, and for all humankind.
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