The Stress-Free Holiday Cookie Guide (With Recipes)

‘Tis the season to share joy — and for many of us, that means giving gifts of our favorite holiday cookies out to friends and loved ones! Sharing seasonal treats is a terrific way to make connections through decades-old family recipes, fun “surprise and delight” moments, and ditching the shopping craze with an edible gift. 

With the help of our favorite celebrity video host and New York Times bestselling author Claire Saffitz, we’ve put together a go-to guide for making the perfect cookie gram (with some of her delicious recipes) that also helps you stay eco-friendly in the kitchen.

How to Prep and Plan

According to Claire, there are many ways to prepare for baking that will take the stress out of it. But if there’s one tip to take home with you, it’s this: get ahead as much as you can by making cookie dough in batches and freezing it. In fact, you can even make and store some recipes weeks in advance — especially with the help of a freezer-safe Stasher bag! Claire recommends portioning out dough as the recipe states on a baking tray, flash freezing, and then transferring to a Stasher reusable until you’re ready to bake them. 

Now, what about before you start baking? Claire specifically says going through your pantry or fridge and “clearing the runway” of ingredients past their prime helps leave room for the things you’ll really need. This is also a good time to replace your staple baking soda, powder, and spices if they’re more than a year old. 

Next, ensure you have the right tools and ingredients. According to Claire, these three gadgets are the GOAT for easy, stress-free baking: 

  • A kitchen scale: Weight is faster and more accurate than measuring by volume, plus saves the hassle of washing measuring cups! 
  • Spring-loaded scoop: This will help you portion cookie dough quickly and uniformly.  
  • Oven thermometer: The right temperature is essential for successful baking, so get a thermometer to confirm your heat setting is accurate. 

      She recommends considering where you want to splurge and where you want to save (like investing in heavy-duty aluminum cookware instead of non-stick) to promote more even baking. Or spending extra cash for European-style butter, which will elevate a simple butter cookie. Just make sure to balance your baking with simple desserts alongside the complicated stuff to save you from burnout.

      Tips to Bake More Sustainably

      One of the best ways to be more eco-friendly in your cookie-filled kitchen is to be mindful of food waste. Be sure to plan ahead of time so that you know exactly how much flour, sugar, and other ingredients you need to avoid excess waste. 

      For the actual baking process, try optimizing your appliances — like pre-heating the oven only as long as necessary or using energy-efficient cookers (like a convection oven) if possible.

      Don’t forget about the disposables! Choose reusable piping bags over single-use plastic ones, silicone baking sheets instead of parchment paper, and bee’s wax wraps instead of plastic wrap. You can also use Stasher bags to store your cutters and sprinkles (bye, plastic baggies!) and chill dough in them without resorting to plastic wrap.

       Metallic Sandwich and Snack 2 pack with cookies inside.

       

      Homemade Cookie Gifting

      We love gifting yummy treats in Stasher bags for everything from cookie exchanges to office holiday parties. And the best part? It’s a two-in-one gift! Plus, decorating your reusables for cookie gifting is easy with chalk markers, ribbons, and even helpful recipe notes. No matter how you plan to package your cookies, Claire recommends ordering supplies in advance (e.g., cookie tins, jars, labels). Check out this guide for more tips on cookie gifting.

      Lemon wreath Christmas cookies

      Piped Lemon Rosemary Wreath Cookies

      makes 15 cookies

      Ingredients: 

      (Dough) 

      1½ cups all-purpose flour (7 oz / 200g) 

      ¼ cup cornstarch (1.1 oz / 32g) 

      1 tablespoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary  

      ¾ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or ½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt 

      1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz / 113g), at room temperature 

      4 ounces (113g) cream cheese, at room temperature 

      ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar (2.9 oz / 83g) 

      2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest 

      2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

      2 teaspoons vanilla extract

       

      (Glaze and Decorations) 

      1 cup confectioners’ sugar (3.9 oz / 110g), sifted if lumpy 

      2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

      1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted 

      Thinly sliced lemon zest and fresh rosemary sprigs

       

      The step-by-step: 

      1. Preheat oven and prepare sheet pan. Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
      2. Mix the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, rosemary, and salt to combine. Set aside. 
      3. Make the dough. In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and zest on medium speed until combined, then increase the speed to high and continue to beat, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth and slightly fluffy, about one minute. Add the lemon juice and vanilla and beat on medium speed just until combined, then reduce the speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and mix just until combined. Switch to a flexible spatula and fold the dough several times, scraping the bottom and sides, to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed.  
      4. Pipe the wreaths. Fit a pastry bag or resealable plastic bag with a star tip and transfer the dough to the bag, doing your best not to create any air pockets. Push the dough to the bottom of the bag, press out the air, and twist the bag to seal. Applying constant, even pressure to the bag, pipe the dough onto the prepared sheet pan in circles measuring about three inches in diameter. Continue to pipe the cookies, spacing them about one inch apart (they won’t spread much), until you’ve used all the dough. Transfer the sheet pan to the refrigerator and chill uncovered until the dough is firm to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes. 
      5. Bake the cookies. Bake until they’re golden along the ridges and pale across the surface, 18 to 22 minutes. Let them cool completely on the sheet pan. 
      6. Glaze the cookies. In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and melted butter until completely smooth. Lift a cookie off the sheet pan and — holding it around the sides — dip it upside down into the glaze so the entire cookie is submerged except the bottom, then wiggle it gently for a few seconds to encourage the ridged surfaces to pick up the glaze. Lift the cookie and let any excess glaze drip back into the bowl for a moment, then transfer it to a wire rack, glazed side up. While the glaze is still wet, top with lemon zest and rosemary sprigs. Repeat the dipping and decorating process with the remaining cookies and let sit uncovered at room temperature until the glaze is set, 25 to 30 minutes.

      Shortbread holiday cookies

      All-In Shortbreads

      makes about 24 cookies

      Ingredients: 

      2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz / 227g), at room temperature 

      2⁄3 cup granulated sugar (4.7 oz / 133g) 

      ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon Morton kosher salt 

      1 large egg yolk (0.5 oz / 15g), at room temperature 

      1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

      2 cups all-purpose flour (9.5 oz / 270g) 

      1.3 ounces (38g) thin pretzel rods, broken up into small pieces (½ cup) 

      ½ cup pecan halves or pieces (2 oz / 57g) 

      4 ounces (113g) semisweet chocolate (64%-70% cacao), finely chopped 

      ¼ cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes (0.6 oz / 18g) 

      ¼ cup pumpkin seeds (1.3 oz / 36g) 

      1/3 cup demerara sugar (2.4 oz / 67g), for rolling

       

      The step-by-step: 

      1. Make the dough. In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and salt on medium speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth and slightly fluffy, about one minute. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium just until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears, and you have a crumbly dough. 
      2. Add the mix-ins. Add the pretzel pieces, pecans, chocolate, coconut, and pumpkin seeds and fold the mixture with a flexible spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl, until the batter is evenly mixed, and the pieces are thoroughly distributed. 
      3. Form the dough into square logs. Scrape half of the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper and squeeze the dough with your hands into a rough 8-inch-long log oriented lengthwise on the parchment, taking care to squeeze out any air pockets. Pat around the log to make sure it’s uniformly thick (it doesn’t need to be cylindrical) and roll it up in the parchment as snugly as possible. Wrap the entire log tightly in plastic wrap, leaving a bit of overhang on both ends, then twist the ends of plastic (along with any overhanging parchment) to fully enclose the log and compress the dough inside. Press straight down along the length of the log with your palms to flatten it slightly, then give the log a 90-degree rotation and press down again along the length to flatten. Continue to rotate the log and flatten several more times until you’ve created four flat, equal sides (the cross section should be a square). Transfer the log to the freezer, then repeat with the remaining dough. Freeze the logs until the dough is very firm but not frozen solid, 20 to 25 minutes. 
      4. Preheat the oven and prepare the sheet pans. Arrange an oven rack in the upper third and another in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside. 
      5. Coat the first log in the Demerara sugar. Gently sprinkle the Demerara sugar in a thin layer across a clean work surface (it should cover an area equal in length to the logs of dough). Remove the first log from the freezer, unwrap, and place it on the sugared surface. Press down so the sugar adheres to one side of the log, then rotate and press down again to coat another side in sugar. Repeat, rotating the log several times and pressing, until all four sides are completely coated in the sugar (pat the sugar into any bare spots to cover, if necessary). Transfer the coated log to a cutting board and reserve the remaining sugar for the second log.
      6. Slice the cookies and repeat. Use a serrated knife to cleanly slice off about ½ inch of dough from one end of the log, exposing the square interior (discard the end). Then, starting from that end, slice the entire log crosswise into ½-inch-thick squares, periodically rotating the log so it’s resting on a new side to maintain an even shape all the way around. You should end up with about 20 cookies. Place the squares on one of the prepared sheet pans, spacing evenly (they won’t spread much during baking). Refrigerate the first sheet of cookies while you repeat the coating process with the second log and the reserved Demerara sugar, then slice the log just as you did the first and arrange the cookies on the second prepared sheet pan.
      7. Bake the cookies. Transfer the pans to the oven, placing one on each rack, and bake until the cookies are golden brown across the surface, 14 to 18 minutes, switching racks and rotating the pans front to back after ten minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pans for five minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
      Author, video host, and baker Claire Saffitz

      Claire Saffitz is a recipe developer, video host, and author. She’s released two New York Times best-selling cookbooks, Dessert Person and What’s For Dessert? She is also the host of the cookbook companion YouTube series Dessert Person. Previously, Claire was Senior Food Editor at Bon Appétit magazine and hosted the series Gourmet Makes on the  Bon Appétit YouTube channel.

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      What’s For Dessert? Copyright 2022 by Claire Saffitz. Photographs copyright 2022 by Jenny Huang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

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