RECIPES: Spread a little holiday cheer with these festive cookies

The best cookie boxes include a combination of cookie types: nutty, sugary, crunchy, chewy, sparkly, boozy and filled. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
The best cookie boxes include a combination of cookie types: nutty, sugary, crunchy, chewy, sparkly, boozy and filled. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Christmas cookies are an ingrained holiday tradition. Popping the lid off a tin of cookies and seeing the assortment inside ranks right up there with making our wish lists.

The best cookie boxes — for giving or snacking — include a combination of cookie types: nutty, sugary, crunchy, chewy, sparkly, boozy and filled.

We collected five recipes ideal for sharing with options suitable for specific dietary restrictions — sorry, none of these are remotely low sugar — including a gluten-free cookie, an egg free and a couple of nut-free cookies.

If you're planning to bake a lot of cookies (or cakes, for that matter) this Christmas, knowing these numbers could save you a trip to the store.

• A 5-pound bag of flour contains about 18 cups.

• A 5-pound bag of granulated sugar contains about 10 cups.

• A 2-pound bag of confectioners' sugar contains about 7 ½ cups.

• A 2-pound bag of brown sugar contains about 5 ½ cups.

• A 1-pound box of butter contains 2 cups.

• An 11-ounce package of chocolate chips contains a scant 1 ½ cups.

• A 1-ounce bottle of extract contains 6 teaspoons (2 tablespoons).

Most of the following cookies will withstand at least a week of storage, making them ideal for shipping — but to arrive by Christmas you'll need to get them in the mail in the next few days.

To make sure they arrive safely, in her book "The Flying Brownie," Shirley Fan suggests wrapping baked goods well with plastic wrap — using two or three layers — and then placing the wrapped items in a zip-close plastic bag.

Fan also suggests using corrugated cardboard boxes for shipping, and packing according to the "4-foot drop rule," meaning the contents should be packed in such a way that they will survive a 4-foot drop. To do this, create a 2-inch cushioned perimeter inside the box. Bubble wrap, packing peanuts and shredded paper make good cushions. Once packed, give the box a shake and listen. If the contents rattle around, more cushion is needed.

  photo  Almond Clouds are showered with confectioners' sugar before baking, creating a crisp exterior. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  

These gluten-free almond cookies are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.

Almond Clouds

(Gluten Free)

  • 1 recipe homemade Almond Paste (recipe follows; see note)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ cup almond flour/meal
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon or orange extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, crumble the almond paste and blend with the sugar, salt and almond flour until the mixture is uniformly crumbly. Add the egg whites, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the lemon or orange extract and continue mixing until mixture comes together into a soft, sticky dough.

Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared pans; a level tablespoon cookie scoop works well here. You should have about 24 cookies.

Dust the cookies generously with confectioners' sugar.

Bake the cookies for 18 to 22 minutes, just until they're brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan on a rack.

Store almond cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days; freeze for longer storage.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Note: King Arthur says this recipe is specifically formulated to be made with its homemade almond paste. If you choose to use purchased almond paste, you'll need to make some adjustments as follows -- omit the ½ cup almond flour in the recipe; use 16 ounces of purchased paste, and refrigerate the scooped cookies for 2 hours, or as long as overnight, before baking. Exception: If using American Almond's "Love 'n Bake," omit the ½ cup almond flour; use 10 ounces Love 'n Bake, and don't refrigerate the cookies before baking.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Baking Co.

  photo  Homemade Almond Paste (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  

Almond Paste

  • 1 ¾ cups almond flour
  • 1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract, to taste

Combine the almond flour and confectioners' sugar in the work bowl of a food processor or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Process or mix to blend briefly, just to combine.

Add the egg white, salt and almond extract, processing or mixing until the mixture comes together and forms a malleable ball.

Remove the almond paste from the processor or mixer, scraping any residue from the sides of the bowl.

Shape the paste into a log or round. Double wrap it in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use. Almond paste will keep refrigerated for about 1 month or frozen for 3 months.

Makes about 14 ounces.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Baking Co.

  photo  Buttered Rum Sugar Cookies (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  

Named after the cocktail, these cookies are rich with the flavors of brown butter, rum and molasses. We think they have the perfect texture, with crispy edges and rich, chewy centers.

Buttered Rum Sugar Cookies

(Nut Free)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 ¾ cups spooned and leveled all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 2/3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue cooking, stirring often to prevent burning, until the butter foams and then darkens in color slightly and is very fragrant. Immediately pour the butter, scraping up all the browned bits, into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer (or other heat-safe mixing bowl) and let cool in the refrigerator until mostly solidified, about 1 ½ hours.

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Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a hand mixer, beat the cooled butter and the brown sugar until smooth and fully combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Turn mixer off and add the egg, molasses, rum and vanilla extract. Mix on medium speed until very fluffy and light in color. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Place the granulated sugar in a wide, shallow bowl. Using a medium cookie scoop or two spoons, scoop dough into 1 ½- to 2-tablespoon portions. Roll each portion into a ball and then roll in granulated sugar. Place balls at least 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets, fitting no more than 12 per pan.

Bake, rotating cookie sheets top to bottom midway through baking, until lightly browned, 10 to 13 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 24 to 32 cookies.

Recipe adapted from "Cookies: The New Classics" by Jess Szewczyk

  photo  Jam-Filled Lebkuchen Hearts (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  

While most Americans don't associate hearts with Christmas, in Northern Europe hearts are nearly as common as snowflakes, wreaths and candy canes. We filled these lebkuchen hearts with tart cherry jam, but plum, red currant, raspberry or blackberry would be good choices as well.

Jam-Filled Lebkuchen Hearts

(Egg Free and Nut Free)

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup PLUS 1 ½ tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 cup minus ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup PLUS 2 tablespoons rye flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon lebkuchen spice mix (see note)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 ounce mixed lemon and orange zest
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons jam/jelly (any flavor)

The glaze:

  • 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon boiling-hot water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and honey, stirring until butter is melted. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, spices, salt and citrus zest. Pour in the honey-butter and stir with a wooden spoon. When the mixture becomes too difficult to stir, use your hands to bring the mixture together into a dough. Knead until smooth.

Divide the dough into two equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thick rectangle. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut into hearts -- how many will depend on the size of your cutter.

Arrange the hearts on the prepared baking sheets, spacing the hearts about an inch apart. Spoon about ½ teaspoon jam in the center of half of the hearts.

Dip your finger in a bowl of water. Run your fingertip round the edge of the jam-covered hearts. Place a second heart on top and seal edges by pressing lightly.

Re-roll all the scraps and assemble more hearts.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until firm to the touch and slightly golden.

While the cookies are baking, make the glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, hot water and lemon juice.

Transfer the baked cookies to a wire rack and brush with glaze while still warm. Let cool completely before storing. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 month.

Makes about 12 (3-inch) cookies.

Note: Can substitute 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon and ½ teaspoon ground cloves.

Recipe adapted from "Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas" by Anja Dunk

  photo  Vanilla Crescents (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  

Depending on their shape and where they're made, these cookie are known by a variety of names including snowballs, wedding cookies and crescents. This version is made with hazelnuts and shaped into crescents.

Vanilla Crescents


  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup almond flour OR hazelnut flour OR walnut flour OR pecan flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk

Combine the all-purpose flour, almond (or nut) flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and gently work the dry ingredients into the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal or breadcrumbs. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until evenly combined. Add the vanilla and egg yolk and bring the mixture together using your hands. Knead for about 3 minutes or until a soft, pliable dough forms. (Or, combine all the ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the dough comes together.)

Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide dough into teaspoon-size portions. Working with one portion at a time, roll each portion into a sausage shape about 2 inches long with tapered ends. Form each into a crescent and gently place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake 12 minutes or until just starting to color. Let cookies cool on the baking sheets for a minute and then transfer to wire rack. While the cookies are still hot, liberally dust them with confectioners' sugar. Let cool completely.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 3 weeks.

Makes about 50 cookies.

Recipe adapted from "Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas" by Anja Dunk

  photo  Crunchy (Christmas) Confetti Cookies (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  

Red and green sprinkles add a seasonal touch to these super sweet crispy-in-all-the-right-ways sugar cookies.

Crunchy (Christmas) Confetti Cookies

(Nut Free)

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup PLUS 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup tablespoons sprinkles (we used red and green)

Heat oven to 275 degrees. (Yes, 275 degrees.) Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars on medium-high for 4 minutes or until well combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and add the egg and vanilla and mix for 4 minutes. Add the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the sprinkles and mix 10 seconds more.

Scoop dough into 1- to 1 ½-tablespoon balls onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 to 3 inches apart. (We baked six cookies per sheet.)

Bake at 275 degrees for 25 minutes or until cookies are set and edges are crispy. (If it's raining or very humid, you may need to add 2 to 3 minutes to the baking time.) The cookies won't change color much. Let the cookies cool briefly on the cookie sheets and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week.

Makes 20 to 28 cookies.

Recipe adapted from "Milk Bar All About Cookies" by Christina Tosi

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