How to Make the Best Holiday Cookie Assortment

holiday cookie assortment

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

The question of how to assemble a holiday cookie platter, care package, or gift basket may not seem that complicated: Just make a bunch of your favorite cookies and give them away!

But the reality can be a little more complex, especially when all the cookies wind up having a similarly short shelf life, leaving the recipient with a box of treats that go stale before the end of the week, rather than an assortment of goodies that can be savored throughout the holiday season.

For that reason, it's helpful to mix and match cookie styles to create a longer window of enjoyment—think tender lemon meltaways, soft and chewy no-bake cookies, delicately crisp gingerbread men, crunchy biscotti, and sandwich cookies with a creamy filling.

an arrangement of holiday cookies

Not only does this extend the overall shelf life of a cookie platter or care package, but opting for different styles generally results in a broader range of flavors and textures, as well as techniques, creating a tastier mix with greater flexibility if you want to do some of the prep in advance. (On that note, see our guide to make-ahead strategies for holiday baking.)

To help you get started, I've rounded up a collection of my favorite cookies for gifting. Remember, even if a cookie doesn't sound that festive, a one-two dip in tempered chocolate and seasonal sprinkles will elevate even the most humble slice 'n' bake shortbread.

Cutout Cookies

Sugar cookie cutouts.

With or without frosting, my holiday favorites are rolled sugar cookie cutouts and gingerbread cookies. Because their flavors and textures are so different (one tender and mild, the other crisp and spicy), I'll often include both when giving cookies as gifts.

The dough for this style of cookie can be refrigerated up to a week in advance, or frozen for several months, and it tends to produce cookies with a shelf life of a week or more.

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Drop Cookies

lacy ricotta cookies

Classic drop cookies are quick and easy, both to make and to customize. Plus, the dough can be made, portioned, and refrigerated or frozen in advance, then thawed and baked to order (more details embedded in each recipe). On the flip side, they tend to stale faster than crisper cookie styles, so they should be used to make up only a small part of a gift box.

My absolute favorite in this category would be my lacy ricotta cookies, because they have an exceptionally long shelf life for drop cookies—about a week, if kept in an airtight container at room temperature. And they make a sweet and simple counterpoint to an assortment of cookies loaded down with nuts, chocolate, or spices.

No-bake cookies are another major contender in this arena, because they're really just drops of fudge in disguise, which means they have an excellent shelf life as well.

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Cakey Cookies

homemade fig newtons

Where drop cookies are crisp around the edges, this style of cookie is soft and tender through and through. My top pick would have to be homemade Fig Newtons, because both the dough and the filling can be made in advance and refrigerated prior to assembly.

Once baked, these bar cookies actually benefit from an overnight rest, and beyond that, the moisture in the figgy filling helps extend their shelf life beyond what you'd normally expect from a homemade cookie. Their fruity flavor is a welcome note to offset all the hearty spices and nuts found in other seasonal treats.

Homemade Lofthouse Cookies are another holiday favorite in my family, especially since the frosting and sprinkles allow for customization.

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Sandy Cookies

Mexican wedding cookies

In the South, Mexican wedding cookies (sometimes known as snowballs or Russian tea cakes) are a Christmas staple. Done right, they bake up sandy like a good shortbread, rather than dry. Their tender, crumbly nature helps them survive extended periods of storage: perfect for care packages and holiday gifting.

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Extra-Crunchy Cookies

gingersnaps

Where gingerbread cookies are delicately crisp, gingersnaps have a near-seismic crunch. This gives them epic keeping qualities as well, a cookie that can go toe to toe with my other favorite long-lasting option: biscotti (which look especially posh when dunked in chocolate).

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Sandwich Cookies

ginger lemon cremes

Because sandwich cookies need a sturdy, low-moisture filling that won't squish out with every bite, they tend to have an excellent shelf life. My favorites for giving as gifts include homemade Oreos (especially when the filling is spiked with peppermint extract and a drop of green food coloring), tied with the bright and spicy flavors in homemade Carr's-style Ginger Lemon Cremes.

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Take It Easy!

Christmas cookie assortment

Despite all the technical considerations of shelf life and balanced flavor profiles, textures, and techniques, the goal of giving away a box of Christmas cookies is to spread some holiday cheer. And that's near impossible to accomplish if the baker in charge is exhausted and stressed—so set aside a moment to plan, pick recipes that match your skill level, give yourself plenty of time to get the job done, and have fun!