Recipes for Chewy Sugar Cookies; Secret Honey Nut Cookies; Coconut-Chai Meringue Breakaway; Toasted Mint-Marshmallow Brownies; Cinnamon Cookies; Joe Froggers (Ginger Rum Molasses Cookies); Palmiers; and Pumpkin Bread Biscotti.

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Flour, butter, eggs, sugar. Put them all together and you get magic.

Specifically, a cookie.

This time of year, they are all around us. Like Christmas songs on the radio, you can’t escape them.

And you know how it is about making Christmas cookies: Once you’ve made one batch you want to make another. And another. And another.

Here are eight magical cookies to sample this holiday season:

CHEWY SUGAR COOKIES

Makes 36 cookies

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tablespoon milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line three large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (if you don’t have three baking sheets, you can reuse a sheet). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

2. Place 1½ cups of the sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow bowl or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft, homogeneous dough forms.

3. Form balls of dough about 2 tablespoons each (or use a No. 40 portion scoop). Working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and space evenly on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, flatten dough balls until they are 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with sugar remaining in shallow dish, discarding any unused sugar.

4. Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, about 13 minutes, rotating tray after seven minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet five minutes. Using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

— Adapted by St. Louis Post-Dispatch from America’s Test Kitchen

 

Secret Honey Nut Cookies (Matthew Mead/AP)
Secret Honey Nut Cookies (Matthew Mead/AP)

SECRET HONEY NUT COOKIES

These cookies have a delicious secret hidden inside — a crunchy, chewy center of ground mixed nuts and honey. They are insanely good.

Makes 48 cookies

1 cup mixed unsalted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios

¼ cup honey

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

½ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1¼ cups hazelnut or almond flour

Powdered sugar, to finish

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1. Heat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with kitchen parchment.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the nuts until finely chopped but not powdered. Stir in the honey to make a sticky but malleable dough of sorts. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until well combined. Stir in both flours. Scoop into 48 equal balls of dough, about 1 rounded teaspoonful of dough each. A number 70 cookie scoop works well for this.

4. Working one at a time, flatten a ball of dough in the palm of your hand, then place ½ teaspoonful of the honey-nut mixture in the center. Fold the dough up and around the honey-nut ball to completely enclose it. Repeat with the remaining dough and honey-nut mixture, arranging them on the prepared baking sheets as you go. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden brown around the edges. Allow to cool on the pans.

5. Roll the cooled cookies in powdered sugar, then store in an airtight container at room temperature for one week. Roll in powdered sugar again, if desired, just before serving.

— Alison Ladman, The Associated Press

 

Coconut-Chai Meringue Breakaway cookies (Matthew Mead/AP)
Coconut-Chai Meringue Breakaway cookies (Matthew Mead/AP)

COCONUT-CHAI MERINGUE BREAKAWAY

This recipe is incredibly versatile. If you don’t like chai, substitute a few drops of peppermint extract. And if coconut isn’t your thing, leave it out and top the meringue with chopped nuts.

Makes 16 cookies

4 green cardamom pods

2 star anise

2 whole cloves

Pinch of fennel seeds

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground dry ginger

2 teaspoons hot water

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2 teaspoons honey

Hefty pinch of saffron

4 egg whites

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

¾ cup sugar

2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. Heat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.

2. Break open the cardamom pods, placing the seeds in a mortar or a spice grinder and discarding the shells. Add the seeds from the star anise, discarding the star shell. Add the cloves and fennel. Pound with a pestle or grind until you have a powder. Stir in the nutmeg, pepper and ginger. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl or cup, combine the hot water, honey and saffron, smashing the saffron with the back of a spoon. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until very foamy. About 1 tablespoon at a time, add the sugar while continuing to beat, beating until all of the sugar is incorporated. Continue to beat until thick and glossy peaks form, five to seven minutes. Gently stir in the spice mixture and half of the coconut.

5. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Drop small dribbles of the saffron mixture onto the surface, then swirl with a butter knife or a toothpick to make bright yellow saffron-honey swirls. Sprinkle with the remaining coconut. Bake for two hours, or until dry. Allow to cool. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature for about one week (if kept very dry and away from humidity).

— Alison Ladman, The Associated Press

 

Mini Toasted Marshmallow Brownies  (Matthew Mead/AP)
Mini Toasted Marshmallow Brownies (Matthew Mead/AP)

TOASTED MINT-MARSHMALLOW BROWNIES

Not so hung up on mint? There are plenty of other ways to go. Try leaving out the mints (and mint extract) and mixing broken chunks of graham cracker into the brownies. Now you have s’mores brownies. Or for the ultimate indulgence, replace the mints with chopped peanut butter cups.

Makes 16 brownies

For the brownie layer:

2 cups packed brown sugar

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup extra-dark cocoa powder, sifted

1 cup chopped chocolate-mint candies (such as Andes Crème de Menthe)

For the marshmallow frosting:

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1½ teaspoons gelatin (less than a packet)

4 egg whites

1 teaspoons peppermint extract

1. Heat the oven to 350 F. Mist a 9-by-12-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the brown sugar, melted butter, salt and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Stir in the flour and cocoa powder just until mixed, then stir in the chocolate mint candies. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just set at the center.

3. When the brownies are done, make the frosting.

4. In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine 1 cup of the sugar, ¼ cup of the water and the corn syrup. Bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, heat until the mixture reaches 240 F.

5. While the mixture boils, in a small bowl or cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining 2 tablespoons of water, ensuring that it all gets moistened.

6. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until very foamy. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until soft peaks form. It’s important to time the sugar syrup and the egg whites to finish at close to the same time. Adjust the speed of the mixer or the heat of the burner to speed up one or slow down the other.

7. Once the sugar syrup reaches 240 F and the egg whites are at soft peaks, with the mixer running, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites. Add the gelatin mixture immediately after, then scrape down the bowl to ensure that it’s all mixed in. Beat until just warm, then stir in the extract. Spread the warm frosting over the cooked brownies.

8. Using a creme brulee torch or the broiler of your oven, carefully toast the top of the marshmallow frosting to the desired degree of brown, turning the pan to prevent any burnt spots. Allow to fully cool before cutting. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for five days.

— Alison Ladman, The Associated Press

 

Cinnamon cookies (J.B. Forbes/TNS)
Cinnamon cookies (J.B. Forbes/TNS)

CINNAMON COOKIES

Makes about 60 cookies

12½ tablespoons (just over 1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1/3 cup light brown sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

21/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar, brown sugar and lemon zest together on medium speed until the mixture becomes pale and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon and mix until combined. Then add the oil and water and mix until fully combined.

3. Place the dough on plastic wrap and roll it into logs that are 2 inches in diameter. Smaller logs are easier to work with than one long one — it may be helpful to use about a baseball-sized portion of dough to form each log. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap as you would to wrap a candy to help you achieve an evenly round log. Freeze for about two hours or until the logs are chilled all the way through. You can freeze the logs, well wrapped in plastic and stored in an airtight container, for up to a month. Defrost frozen logs before using, but be sure they are still chilled all the way through.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon until well combined.

5. With a sharp knife, slice the logs into ¼-inch-thick slices and arrange them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies begin to pick up a little color along the bottom edges. Remove cookies from the oven and let them cool completely on the baking sheet or a cooling rack, then store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a week.

— Recipe slightly adapted by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch from “Payard Cookies” by Francois Payard and Anne E. McBride

 

Joe Froggers (Ginger Rum Molasses Cookies) (J.B. Forbes/TNS)
Joe Froggers (Ginger Rum Molasses Cookies) (J.B. Forbes/TNS)

JOE FROGGERS (GINGER RUM MOLASSES COOKIES)

Apparently named for the man (Joe Brown) who invented them, Joe Froggers begin with a basic ginger snap. But instead of a moderate amount of molasses, this recipe dumps the molasses into it. And then it finds the perfect foil for all that molasses, a healthy shot of dark rum.

Makes 36 to 48 cookies, depending on the size of the cutter.

4 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt

1½ teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup vegetable shortening

¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1¼ cups molasses

3 tablespoons dark rum

Coarse sugar for decorating

1. Whisk the flour, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda together. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until there are no visible lumps. Add both sugars and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, add the molasses, and beat until the mixture is uniform in color.

3. Prepare 1/3 cup very hot water. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the hot water, in three parts, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, add the rum, and mix for 15 seconds. Cover the bowl and chill for at least three hours or overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust a work surface and a rolling pin with a sprinkling of flour. Roll the dough into a ¼-inch round. Cut out the cookies with a 2- to 3-inch round cookie cutter and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle a tiny bit of coarse sugar onto each cookie.

5. Bake for eight to 12 minutes, until they are set (the cookies will be chewier at eight minutes, crispier at 12 minutes). Place the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for five minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

— Adapted by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch from “Baked Explorations; Classic American Desserts Reinvented,” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

 

Palmiers (J.B. Forbes/TNS)
Palmiers (J.B. Forbes/TNS)

PALMIERS

Makes 48 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

Zest from 2 small lemons, chopped

¼ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still chilled

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar, lemon zest and thyme. Spread ½ cup of this mixture onto a counter or other flat surface. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto the mixture (keep the other sheet in the refrigerator for the time being) and spread ¼ cup of the mixture on top of it, covering the pastry evenly. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 13-by-13-inch square, pressing the sugar mixture into it on both sides.

3. Fold the sides of the square toward the center so they go halfway to the middle (that is, they fold over to the one-fourth mark on both sides). Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold one half over on the other half, as if closing a book. You will have six layers.

4. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on the prepared baking sheets. They will spread while they cook, so leave an inch or two between them. Lightly sprinkle the cut sides with a total of ½ tablespoon of the remaining sugar. Do not clean up the sugar mixture that remains on the counter or flat surface.

5. Bake the cookies for five to seven minutes until caramelized and lightly brown on the bottom. Turn with a spatula and lightly sprinkle the new sides facing up with ½ tablespoon of sugar. Bake for three to five more minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

6. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture to the sugar that remains on the counter or flat surface. Repeat the process with the second sheet of puff pastry. You can prepare the second group of cookies while the first one is baking.

— Adapted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Jeffrey Deutsch, adapted from Ina Garten

 

Pumpkin Bread Biscotti (Matthew Mead/AP)
Pumpkin Bread Biscotti (Matthew Mead/AP)

PUMPKIN BREAD BISCOTTI

Makes 40 cookies

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 eggs

¾ cup vegetable or canola oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 cup chopped dark chocolate

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

1. Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat two standard loaf pans with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, oil, vanilla, both sugars, and the salt. Stir in the flour, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice just until well mixed. Divide the mixture between the two pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Leave the oven on.

3. Carefully transfer the pumpkin bread from the pans to a cooling rack and allow to cool. Once cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the loaves into thin slices, about ¼ inch thick.

4. Working in batches if necessary, set a rack over a baking sheet. Arrange the pumpkin bread slices in a single layer on the rack. It’s fine if they touch. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until almost crisp (they’ll finish crisping as they cool).

5. After the biscotti have cooled, melt the chocolate by microwaving in a small microwave-safe dish in 20 second intervals, stirring frequently. Drizzle over the biscotti, then sprinkle them with toasted almonds. Allow to set before transferring to an airtight container to store at room temperature for two weeks.

— Alison Ladman, The Associated Press