Cookie recipes to keep your holidays bright

Make one or make them all, choice is yours

By Vaughn Vreeland

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Published: Wed 6 Dec 2023, 2:51 PM

Technicolor Cookies by Samantha Seneviratne

Cookies artfully decorated with royal icing are a holiday classic, but their fine details and beautiful colours can take hours to achieve. Not with these gorgeous cookies. Once the icing is made and stained, it takes only a few minutes to decorate. The icing is simply poured over the cookies, a technique inspired by the one used to pour swirly colours of mirror glaze over smooth cakes. (For a quicker alternative to royal icing, simply dip or drizzle the cookies with melted chocolate.) No two cookies will be the same, and that’s a big part of the charm. Underneath the exterior is a crisp, satisfying shortbread flavoured with heaps of bright orange zest and quintessential winter spices.

Yield: About 48 cookies

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, plus 7 hours chilling and setting

For the cookies:

INGREDIENTS

2 1/2 cups/320 grams all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or 1 teaspoon freshly crushed cardamom

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

3/4 cup/169 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar

2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest (from about 2 large navel oranges)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg, at room temperature

For the royal icing:

6 cups/680 grams powdered sugar (1 1/2 pounds)

6 tablespoons/50 grams meringue powder

4 different colours of gel food colouring

PREPARATION

1. Make the cookies: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, baking powder and salt.

2. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, granulated sugar, orange zest, vanilla extract and egg. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, and beat until combined.

3. Set a 12-by-16-inch sheet of parchment paper on a work surface. Set the dough on top and cover with another piece of parchment. Roll dough into an even 1/4-inch-thick rectangle, squaring off the edges. Set the dough, still sandwiched in parchment, on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 30 minutes.

4. Prepare the royal icing: Combine powdered sugar and meringue powder in a large bowl. Add 2/3 cup water and beat with an electric mixer on medium until thick and glossy, about 7 minutes. Check the consistency of the icing: When you drizzle the icing over itself, it should take 10 seconds to reincorporate. Add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time as necessary, to reach that consistency.

5. Separate icing into 5 bowls and tint 4 as desired, leaving one white. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

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

7. Pull the dough from the fridge, and, working quickly, cut dough into 1-by-2 1/2-inch rectangles. If dough is still cold, separate rectangles and place on prepared baking sheets 1/4 inch apart. If the dough has gotten warm, chill (or freeze) it until cold before baking.

8. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes. Set the rack over a parchment-lined sheet and line up the cookies, sides touching, in rows of 8.

9. Set another rack over a parchment- lined sheet. Into a small (4-inch-diameter) bowl, spoon some of each colour so you have several parallel bands of coloured icing. (Cover any unused icing.) Pour icing in thin ribbons over the cookies moving left to right, then right to left and back again, filling in holes, until you run out. Repeat with more icing. Immediately and carefully separate cookies, one by one, with an offset spatula and transfer to the clean rack.

10. Let the cookies stand at room temperature, uncovered, until set, at least 6 hours.

TIPS

Make the dough and refrigerate it, well wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 1 month. Alternatively, you can freeze the baked cookies, without icing, well wrapped for up to 3 months.

Gingerbread Blondies by Melissa Clark

With the chewy texture of the best fudgy brownie and all the festive flavors of your favorite gingerbread cookies, these spicy bars make a bold statement for the holidays. Browning the butter gives them a deep, caramelized flavor, which rounds out the warming brown sugar and fragrant spices. The white chocolate drizzle on top is purely for looks, so feel free to leave it out if you’re short on time. These bars taste just as good without it.

Yield: 12 to 16 squares

Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling

INGREDIENTS

1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter, plus more for preparing the pan

1 1/2 packed cups/330 grams dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla extract (or bourbon or espresso)

2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of ground cloves

3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

2 ounces white or dark chocolate, melted, for decorating (optional)

PREPARATION

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-9-inch pan and line with parchment paper.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium until melted and flecked with darker brown bits, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour brown butter into a large bowl and add brown sugar, molasses and grated ginger. Whisk until smooth and let cool for a few minutes.

3. Add eggs and vanilla extract, and whisk until smooth and glossy.

4. Add the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, salt, allspice, black pepper and cloves. Whisk well to combine. Stir in nuts, if using.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until the edges are firm but the center is still slightly damp, 18 to 25 minutes. Do not overbake. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Let blondies cool completely in the pan.

6. Once blondies are completely cool, use a fork, spoon or filled parchment cone to decorate the top of the blondies with melted white or dark chocolate if you like. Let chocolate set for at least 2 hours before cutting into bars.

TIP

Blondies will keep in a closed container for up to 5 days at room temperature.

Rainbow Rave Cookies by Sohla El-Waylly

This recipe is adapted from Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook and is originally titled Lisa Frank Cookies. It earns that name by being a big sucker punch of sugary nostalgia. A trio of extracts (pure vanilla, imitation vanilla and almond) is key to giving these cookies the aura of that prepackaged baked good you might’ve tucked into your lunchbox as a kid, but they’re better because you’re making them fresh. Best of all, they come together in a snap, stirred up in one bowl and baked on the same day. You can throw a rainbow rave for your mouth almost instantly.

Yield: About 24 cookies

Total time: 40 minutes, plus cooling

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup/113 grams unsalted butter or vegan butter, melted

3/4 cup/150 grams granulated sugar

1/2 packed cup/107 grams light or dark brown sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg, straight from the fridge

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon clear (imitation) vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 2/3 cups/200 grams all-purpose flour

1/2 cup/115 grams mini M&M's, plus 1/4 cup/58 grams more for rolling

1/4 cup/50 grams large rainbow sprinkles, plus 1/2 cup/100 grams more for rolling

PREPARATION

1. Make the dough: In a medium bowl, using a silicone spatula, stir together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda until the mixture looks like wet sand.

2. Add the egg and the extracts, and stir until smooth and evenly combined. (If you have time, let this mixture sit for 30 minutes, stirring twice. This dissolves some of the sugar and results in a chewier cookie.)

3. Add the flour and stir until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Add the M&Ms and sprinkles, and stir until evenly distributed.

4. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

5. Portion and bake: Using a #40 cookie scoop or 2 spoons, divide the dough into 35-gram portions (about 2 tablespoons each). Roll each portion into a ball and flatten slightly into a 1-inch-thick disk. Mix together some M&Ms and sprinkles, and roll the disks in the mixture. Do not chill the disks before baking — these cookies are best baked the same day the dough is mixed.

6. Arrange disks 2 inches apart on prepared sheet pans. Bake until barely golden at the edges and just set in the centre, 14 to 16 minutes. Using a fish spatula, immediately transfer to a wire rack to cool.

TIP

Cookies keep for 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

These recipes originally appeared in The New York Times


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