3 favorite holiday cookies to gift and eat
Let’s talk about cookies, specifically of the holiday variety. I’d guess that pretty much every single one of you has a cookie that feels like the holidays to you. Whether it’s the traditional rolled sugar cookie with icing, gingerbread, or a family favorite passed down from generation to generation, these treats can put us into the holiday spirit faster than almost anything else.
I’ve long been an advocate of food as a means to connection and there’s really nothing that will bring more joy to those you love (or your neighbors or coworkers) than a tin of cookies.
To help you plan your holiday cookie baking adventures, here are three of my all-time favorites. Combine them in a basket with a savory option (bread! cheese! spiced nuts!) and a bottle of wine and you’ve got yourself a holiday gift basket to please even the pickiest loved one.
Havreflarn (Swedish oat cookies)
These are my most requested Christmas cookies and therefore high on my list for holiday baking. Essentially, havreflarns are super thin oat cookies that nearly caramelize as they bake. Once they’ve cooled slightly, you brush half the top (think of a Black and White cookie) with melted dark chocolate, and sprinkle them with flaked or crunchy sea salt. They’re thin, crunchy, salty and sweet, and chocolatey. If you have vanilla ice cream on hand, you should absolutely crumble one on top. Thank me later.
I do modify these slightly by using almond flour (so they’re gluten free), opting for super dark chocolate on top (love that slightly bitter flavor), and browning my butter (just keep an eye on it while you melt it on the stovetop–it’ll bubble and then take on a golden hew and smell slightly like hazelnuts). I will also warn you that they spread a lot when baking, so pay attention to the spacing and only use about 1 teaspoon of batter per cookie. I find two cookies fit nicely on a standard cookie sheet. More than that and you’ll end up with a supercookie.
Maple shortbread sandwich cookies
I’m often hesitant to make maple-flavored sweets because they can air on the sickly side of the spectrum. These are surprisingly delicious though because the buttery texture of the shortbread helps to cut the heavier maple sweetness. Essentially, it’s a regular shortbread recipe with some added maple syrup and flavoring (you could opt for vanilla or leave it out altogether if you prefer a more subtle flavor though). After chilling the dough, you roll it out, cut it into rounds and use one of my favorite tools, the cookie stamp, to add a cute pattern to the top. The finished cookies are then sandwiched with maple cream.
The main thing to remember is that these cookies require extra time for chilling (at least 30 minutes) and for rolling out/cutting the dough. I’ve found it works perfectly well if you make the cookie portion one day, store them in the fridge in an airtight container, and assemble them with the cream the following day. They’ll still taste fresh, but they won’t eat up your whole afternoon.
Chocolate-almond spice cookies
Imagine a spiced hot chocolate in cookie form. That’s what these taste like. These cookies are chewy, super chocolatey (because they use both cocoa and chopped chocolate bars), and deliciously spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Because they’re made with almond flour, they’re also gluten free without any needed modifications. The thing that I think makes these especially excellent is that they have a slightly toasty flavor and aroma due to toasting the almond flour on the stovetop before combining it with the rest of the ingredients. It makes a huge difference.
One of the best things about these cookies is that they essentially don’t get stale (at least not by the time they’re all eaten). Because they require no grains, they don’t react to air like a traditional cookie would. You could easily make these a day or two ahead of time, wrap them up or put them in a Tupperware, and serve or gift them with no problem. I’ve found that mine do tend to expand a bit more than the picture in the recipe would suggest, but they’re delicious nonetheless. It just has to do with how your oven is calibrated.
Tell me about your favorite holiday cookies! Do you have certain recipes you return to year after year?