'Tis the season for cookies. I find it extremely satisfying to create plates or packages of cookies to share with friends, neighbors and family during the holiday season. It is rewarding to give the cookies away to appreciative recipients, and it is a fun tradition to set aside a day or a weekend in December to bake a variety of baked goods. If I’m lucky I might even get help from one or more of my children, so it is time well spent.

While I have a fairly short list of go-to Christmas cookies, I am always on the lookout for more recipes to add to my have-to-make list. I’m also always reading up on tips and ways to increase the success and appearance of my baked goods.

Bakesandblunders.com has a few ideas that may help you (and me) with our cookie making this year:

• Scoops make perfectly shaped cookies. An ice cream scoop with a release button or specifically made cookie scoops both work well. Have at least two sizes on hand — one large one for big cookies and filling cupcake cups and a heaping-tablespoon-sized scoop for smaller cookies and mini cupcake pans. This makes cookie dough much easier to handle.

• Chill dough before shaping and/or before baking to minimize spreading. This isn’t always necessary, but it can make a big difference if your dough is really soft. Adding cornstarch is supposed to help, but I haven’t added it to a recipe for this purpose as of yet. 

• Pay attention to presentation. When making cookies with chunky ingredients mixed in (chocolate chips, cranberries, peanut butter chips, etc.), press a few into the tops of the cookie dough balls before baking. This looks nice and ensures that every bite is tasty.

• Take cookies out of the oven while they are still slightly under baked. They will continue to cook on the hot cookie sheet for several minutes. Make sure you give the cookies that last few minutes on the baking sheet once you’ve taken them out. Not only do they need to finish cooking, but if you try to move them too soon, they’ll be too hot and soft and you’ll have a giant mess.

• Use parchment paper. Coating the cookie sheet in oil or cooking spray will make the cookies greasy and can cause them to spread. Silpat baking mats or parchment paper provide a non-stick surface without the added issues.

• Placing cookie dough on a hot baking sheet will make them spread and cause them to bake unevenly. Instead, use multiple cookie sheets and alternate which ones you use. While one (or more) is in the oven, have another cooling down on the counter.

Thomas can be reached at janellethomas@charter.net.

Molasses Cookies

3/4 C salted butter, softened

1 C brown sugar

1 large egg

1/4 C molasses

2 1/4 C all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 C granulated sugar (for rolling the cookies)

Optional: white chocolate melting wafers (for dipping), sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Cream for one minute, or until fluffy. Add in the egg and beat until smooth. Next add in the molasses and mix until combined.

Place the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt into a sifter. (If you don’t have a sifter, whisk in a bowl.) Add to the butter mixture. Mix with a spoon, just until combined. Be careful not to over mix. Refrigerate dough 10 to 15 minutes. 

Using a medium cookie scoop (or about 1 1/2 tablespoons), roll the cookie dough into a ball. Place the granulated sugar into a shallow bowl and then roll the dough into the sugar. Place on the baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes and let cool on the pan 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Dip cookies in melted white chocolate half way and place on wax paper or parchment paper, if desired.

Note — If you want a good crackle, place them on the top rack of the oven. Recipe and photo courtesy of iheartnaptime.net

Orange Cookies

1 C butter, softened

2 C sugar

2 eggs

3 oranges, grated and juiced

6 C all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 C milk

2 tsp vinegar

Icing:

16 oz powdered sugar

1 Tsp butter, melted

Juice and rind of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grate orange rinds to get zest. You will want the zest of all 3 oranges. After you have grated, cut open and juice the oranges.

Cream together butter and sugar; add eggs, juice and grated rind of oranges. Mix thoroughly.

Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder. In a small bowl, mix together milk and vinegar or use buttermilk. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients to creamed mixture, mixing well after each addition.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minute or until light brown.

Ice cookies while warm. Whisk together powdered sugar, butter and orange juice and rind to make icing. Drizzle over cookies, or dip cookies into icing while still warm. Recipe and photo courtesy of afewshortcuts.com.

Cherry Almond Amish Sugar Cookies

For cookies:

2 12-oz jars maraschino cherries drained (reserve juice), minced, squeezed very dry

1 C butter, softened

1 C vegetable or canola oil

1 C granulated sugar

1 C powdered sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp almond extract

2 tsp cherry extract

4 1/2 C all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

For icing:

4 Tbsp butter, melted

1/3 C + 1 to 2 Tbsp maraschino cherry juice

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp cherry extract

4 to 5 C powdered sugar

1/2 C slivered almonds for garnish

As noted above, drain the maraschino cherries, reserving the juice, finely mince the cherries, and then pat/squeeze very dry. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, oil and sugars until combined. Beat in eggs, almond extract, cherry extract and minced cherries. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Gradually add flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until just combined after each addition. Do not overmix.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake at 375 for 8 to 11 minutes, or until edges and bottoms are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

For the icing, whisk together butter, maraschino cherry juice, and extracts. Stir in 4 cups powdered sugar, mixing until smooth. Add additional maraschino cherry juice or powdered sugar, as needed, to achieve a thick, but spreadable consistency. It should be thicker than a glaze, and it shouldn't run off the cookie but should be easily spreadable. Frost cookies, sprinkle with slivered almonds, decorate with additional sprinkles, if desired, and allow to set.

Notes — These are good for at least a week, but best within the first 3 days. After 3 days, they get crumbly and a bit on the drier side.

These freeze really well, iced or plain. Recipe and photo courtesy of thegoldlininggirl.com.

Chocolate Croissant Cookies

1 C all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp salt

8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

4 oz cream cheese, softened

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract, optional

6 1.55-oz Hershey's milk chocolate bars, the regular size

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 Tbsp white sanding sugar or granulated sugar

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter, cream cheese and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and beat until mixed in. Add the salt to the flour and then add the flour to the butter mixture in 2 additions, stopping to scrape down the sides of bowl. Beat just until the flour is incorporated into the mixture.

Place dough on a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a disk about 6 inches in diameter, wrap fully, and refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours.

Place oven racks in upper-middle and lower-middle positions, and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Break five of the chocolate bars apart at the seams so you have a total of 20 pieces.

Roll dough on a lightly floured surface into a 20 by 8-inch rectangle. Cut dough into twenty 2 x 4-inch rectangles.

Place a piece of chocolate crosswise across each piece of dough. Chocolate should overhang the edges some. Fold dough around chocolate and place on prepared baking sheets seam side down.

Brush tops with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool 5 minutes and then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Break remaining chocolate bar into pieces, place in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on 50% power for about 1 minute. Stir and drizzle on cookies. Recipe and photo courtesy of spicysouthernkitchen.com.

Thumbprint Snowman Cookies

Cookies:

1/2  C butter, softened

1/4  C granulated sugar

1/4 C packed brown sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 egg

1 Tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

2 C all-purpose flour

Icing:

1 1/4 C powdered sugar

2 Tbsp milk

1/2 tsp almond extract or vanilla, optional

Gel paste food coloring (black, orange) for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until mixture is combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. For each full snowman cookie, on an ungreased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, place 2 dough balls side by side with one side touching. Press thumbs into each ball to form an indentation in each. Repeat with remaining dough balls, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. For heads only, use one dough ball.

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a wire rack. Let cookies cool.  Fill each indentation with the icing (I used decorating bags and #2 or #3 tip). Let icing dry for several hours.

Tint some of the royal icing black, and some orange.  Using a small decorating (#1) tip and black icing, apply buttons and eyes. With the orange, add a carrot nose. Let cookies dry completely.

Notes — To store, place filled cookies in a single layer in covered storage containers and store at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months. Recipe and photo courtesy of inkatrinaskitchen.com.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Meltaway Cookies

For the cookie dough:

10 Tbsp unsalted butter room temperature

1/2 C smooth peanut butter

1/2 C powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 C cornstarch

1/2 tsp salt

For the icing:

4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chopped

2 Tbsp milk

2 Tbsp peanut butter

3/4 to 1 C powdered sugar

To make the cookie dough, beat the butter and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl on medium speed until creamy. Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and blend again until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and gently mix on low until incorporated, scraping down sides with a spatula as needed.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Add the flour mixture in three batches to the creamed butter mixture. Blend on medium-low until each addition is incorporated. Scrape the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop a level spoonful of dough using a 1-inch cookie scoop. Roll each into a tight ball and place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Press each dough ball gently with the flat bottom of a small glass or measuring cup, to the desired thickness. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Slide the parchment paper with cookies onto a wire rack to cool. Repeat with a new piece of parchment paper placed on a cooled cookie sheet. Cool cookies completely before icing.

To make the icing, combine the chopped chocolate, milk and peanut butter in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of lightly simmering water (do not allow the water to touch the bottom of the bowl). Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the stove. Add the powdered sugar and stir until combined.

The icing may seem somewhat thin but it will thicken and harden. Immediately ice each cookie with about 1 teaspoon of the chocolate mixture. Quickly sprinkle each cookie with chopped salted peanuts before the chocolate has a chance to set. Place on a wire rack and allow the icing to harden before storing cookies.

Notes — To help the icing stay at a good spreadable consistency, keep the bowl over the pan of hot water while icing the cookies. If you feel the dough is a little dry, add another tablespoon or two of peanut butter. The moisture content in butter and peanut butter varies from brand to brand. Makes 36 cookies. Recipe and photo courtesy of savingdessert.com.

Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidati)

For the dough:

½ C unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ C granulated sugar

¼ C packed light brown sugar

¼ tsp baking soda

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp salt

1 ¾ C unbleached all-purpose flour

For the fig filling:

1 C dried, diced Calimyrna or Mission figs, stems removed (6-or 7-oz bag)

½ C chopped, pitted dates, finely chopped

½ C fresh squeezed orange juice

1/3 C diced, candied orange peel

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

1/3 C blanched almonds, chopped fine

2 Tbsp dark, spiced rum or Grand Marnier orange liqueur

For the lemon glaze:

1 C powdered sugar, sifted

2 to 3 Tbsp lemon juice (just enough to make a glaze you can slowly drizzle)

Sprinkles for decoration, if desired

Prepare the dough by placing the butter into a mixing bowl and beating on medium-high speed for 1 minutes. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar and baking soda. Beat until combined. Add the egg, vanilla and salt and mix until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat again for a few seconds.

Add the flour in three additions, mixing on low to incorporate.

Divide the dough in half and form each into a small rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

To prepare the filling, combine the figs, dates, orange juice, candied orange peel, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until the fruit is soft and the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and add the chopped, blanched almonds and 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, if using. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap once cooled until needed.

To assemble and bake the cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling out.

Place a piece of wax or parchment paper on a clean work surface. Lightly dust with flour. Roll one portion of the dough into a 10 x 8-inch rectangle. Cut each rectangle into two 10 x 4-inch strips. Portion ¼ of the filling down the center of each strip in a rounded mound. Use the parchment paper as a guide and bring one long side of the dough up and over the filling. Repeat with the opposite side forming a tube and enclosing the filling. The dough should overlap slightly on top of the filling. Gently seal the edges.

Carefully transfer the filled strips to the prepared baking sheet, placing them seam side down on the pan. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and immediately slice each strip using a large, thin knife diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

For the lemon glaze, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Drizzle on each cookie, then top with colored sprinkles if desired.

Notes — Chopped, candied orange peel can be found in the section of your grocery store with fruit cake ingredients. Recipe and photo courtesy of savingdessert.com.

Boston Cream Pie Cookie Bites

Cookie Cup:

1 box yellow butter cake mix

2 eggs

1 stick butter, softened

Vanilla Cream Filling:

1 3.25 oz package instant vanilla pudding

1 C heavy whipping cream

½ C milk

Chocolate Ganache

2 Tbsp semi-sweet baking chips

2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare mini muffin pan by spraying each cup with non-stick cooking spray. Pour yellow butter cake mix into a medium bowl and whisk or sift to remove any lumps. 

Add softened butter and eggs to the cake mix and combine with a hand held mixer until dough is thick and sticky. Using a small cookie scoop or ½ teaspoon, put a mound of cookie dough into each muffin cup. Using your fingers, press the mound of dough down to create a level cookie. 

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Do not overbake, they will set up as they cool.  Remove from oven and let the cookie cool for 4 to 5 minutes. Once cooled, go back and use a tart shaper or the end of a wooden spoon to press middle of cookie down and create an indentation. Move cookies to cooling rack and let them cool completely.

In a medium bowl combine instant vanilla pudding mix, heavy cream and milk. Using a mixer, incorporate ingredients until the mixture is thick and has stiff peaks. Move vanilla cream to a pastry bag or sandwich bag and pipe a generous amount of cream into each cookie indention.

In a microwave-safe bowl combine heavy cream and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and whisk. If you get a silky and smooth consistency, then you are finished. If not, you need to add 10 second increments until you do. Spoon a ¼ to 1/2 teaspoon of ganache onto the top of each cookie cup. Refrigerate until the ganache is set, and serve or refrigerate for up to 4 days. Makes 36 bites. Recipe and photo courtesy of practicallyhomemade.com.