A warm, freshly baked cookie, crisp on the outside with a chewy bite, is a thing of beauty all year long, but it's at Christmas that cookies really get their chance to shine. Unlike Thanksgiving pies, they're easily made in bulk for a horde (or portioned out for just a few), and most don't require a ton of work to do well—advantages that have helped make them a quintessential holiday gift. And then, of course, there's the fact that, while it's a dicey affair to pick out the right music or jewelry for your distant cousins or new in-laws, almost no one you know is going to turn down a cookie. If they do, well—we trust you'll know what to do with the goodies they reject.
When I was growing up, my family would make dozens and dozens of cookies each December for our friends and neighbors, and we'd get as many back from them. Decorated sugar cookies were the core of our holiday lineup, and they rarely disappointed. But you shouldn't feel limited to traditional offerings. Our collection of 21 recipes includes less conventional (but no less delicious) treats like citrusy almond and blood orange cookies and lard-infused biscochitos, in addition to classic chocolate chip and gingersnap recipes. Make a bunch to swap or give away; just don't forget to reserve a few (or more) for the chef.
The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
There are umpteen ways to make chocolate chip cookies, but after over 100 tests and more than 1,500 cookies baked, we've devised the ultimate recipe. It relies on browned butter to maximize the cookies' nutty, toasty flavors, and an overnight rest that enhances caramelization during baking. The result is chewy cookies with crisp edges, pockets of gooey melted chocolate, and a rich, toffee-like flavor.
Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies
It's not Christmas without sugar cookies, and a few simple tricks will help make yours perfect. We use a cold egg to make the dough easier to work with, and a healthy dose of salt to bring out their buttery richness and keep the sweetness in check. Decorate them any way you like; we have a special fondness for aromatic vanilla-infused sugar.
The Best Gingersnaps
Molasses and whole-wheat flour mellow out the fiery ginger spice of these snaps as they bake. Avoid the temptation to eat these straight from the oven—it takes a couple of hours at room temperature for the cookies to crisp up.
Easy One-Bowl Oatmeal Cookies
A resting period of 45 to 75 minutes before baking gives the oats in these cookies adequate time to soak up moisture, making the finished product thicker and chewier. In another unconventional touch, we swap out the raisins for dried cherries or cranberries, which add a little tartness to balance the sweet dough.
These sugar- and cinnamon-dusted snickerdoodles are incredibly simple—just a few ingredients all mixed together at once, with no need to cream the butter first or add your eggs one by one. They're also 100% gluten-free when you substitute a gluten-free flour blend for all-purpose flour.
Moist and Chewy Lebkuchen (German Spiced Christmas Cookies)
One of Germany's most iconic cookies is the soft, chewy, cake-like gingerbread called lebkuchen. We make ours extra moist by using molasses and brown sugar instead of white sugar, and more baking powder than baking soda. Their warm spice flavor comes from a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and cardamom.
Homemade Magic Middles
Rolling a sugar cookie dough over chilled chocolate truffle filling yields a special kind of magic. The resulting cookies look like normal sugar cookies, with crisp edges and a chewy center. But bite in, and you'll discover their secret: a rich center of melty chocolate fudge, just like in the old Keebler favorites.
Waffled Almond Sandwich Cookies
Lightly sweet almond cookies get perfectly crisp and take on a beautiful shape in a waffle iron. They're good on their own, but even better when sandwiched around fillings like ganache, lemon curd, or dulce de leche.
Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies
Though white sugar is standard for making sugar cookies, you can get great results with molasses-rich brown sugar, too. Not only does it give your cookies a mellow caramel flavor, it'll make them softer and chewier than a regular sugar cookie. A sprinkle of salt brings out their caramelly sweetness.
Cinnamon Wedding Cookies
Like traditional wedding cookies, these crumbly treats are made with ground toasted nuts—we use almonds, but pecans and walnuts work well, too. Less traditional is the powdered-sugar coating, which we spice with cinnamon to give the cookies a little extra holiday flair.
Soft Chocolate Molasses Cookies
To make these chewy chocolate treats, we create a hybrid that uses the backbone of a molasses cookie, but replaces the typical spices with cocoa powder. Slightly underbaking the cookies and pressing their centers after they come out of the oven will help yield denser, chewier cookies.
Chocolate Peppermint Snowflake Cookies
Festively decorated with icing and crushed candy canes, these cookies get their deep chocolate flavor from unsweetened cocoa powder and a fair amount of salt. Use any size cutter you want to cut them out, but if your cookies are on the smaller side, make sure to test them for doneness earlier.
Double Ginger Cookies
These intensely ginger-y cookies get their double hit from ground ginger and diced candied ginger, with cinnamon, molasses, and cloves rounding out their flavor. We recommend using Australian candied ginger cubes if possible, as they're softer and moister than the usual slivers.
Fiori di Sicilia Cookies
Fiori di Sicilia, a citrusy, vanilla-scented extract blend, is traditionally used to flavor panettone, but we love it in these soft, aromatic ricotta cookies. They're a standout in any holiday gift basket, but their bright flavor is delicious all year long.
Italian Almond Blood Orange Cookies
They look like simple almond cookies, but take a bite and you'll find a lovely, unexpected citrus aftertaste provided by blood-orange zest. Before baking, dip the cookies in egg white and sliced toasted almonds to give them their crunchy tops; a dusting of powdered sugar afterward adds a sweet finishing touch.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Despite their cracked shells, these are not crunchy cookies—underneath, they have a fudgy texture, almost like brownies. Unsweetened cocoa powder and instant espresso powder keep the dough from getting overly sweet.
Crisp, buttery spritz cookies flavored with vanilla and cardamom are as tasty as they are pretty. You'll need a dough press to form them, and getting them onto sheet trays takes a bit of practice, but eventually you'll establish a good rhythm.
Soft and Crunchy Peanut Butter Cookies
"Soft" and "crunchy" seem like they should be mutually exclusive traits, but these cookies manage to have it both ways. We start with a moist, cake-like base cookie and add crunchy peanut butter and whole peanuts, giving the cookies textural contrast and an intense peanut flavor.
Chocolate-Covered Caramel-Filled Shortbread Cookies (a.k.a. Homemade Twix)
If you think Twix are already pretty awesome, just imagine how good they could be when made with natural, high-quality ingredients. Now stop imagining! This recipe fills homemade shortbread cookies with a buttery homemade caramel and tops them with melted dark chocolate. A little sea salt brings everything together.
Cranberry Linzer Cookies
These striking jam-filled shortbread cookies are the perfect treats to impress everyone at your holiday cookie swap. Linzer cookies in the States often use raspberry jam, which leaves them a little one-note sweet; in this variation, we use a slightly tart cranberry jam to balance out the sugar. You can make these with standard cutters, but Linzer cutters make it easier to get the top and bottom cookies to match.
Rendered Fat Biscochitos
This one's a little off the beaten path, but hear us out. It's based on New Mexican biscochitos, which are traditionally made with lard—only finding leaf lard can be a challenge, so we go extra savory here and use rendered pork fat from roasts and bacon. Rum and anise seeds also flavor the cookies, but these are really all about the pork, and perfect for your bacon-obsessed friends and family members.