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Around the world, it’s time for holiday cookies and candy: German springerles rolled out with patterned rolling pins; Dutch speculoos as tall as St. Nick and as intricately detailed as a stained-glass window; internationally beloved gingerbread men, women, children and pets; and, of course, the icon of American holiday baking, the butter cookie, a cookie so satisfying we crave it all year long.

When it comes to holiday cookies, everything depends on the recipe and a few simple techniques.

For candy, it is all about having the right attitude. Yes, it will be time-consuming. No, the results won’t be perfect on the first try. There’s a good chance something will burn, and an even better chance that nothing will come out looking like a Hershey’s bar. And you will definitely get chocolate everywhere: on your hands, on the stove, on places you won’t even know about till weeks later.

But holiday baking isn’t as scary as it seems. And with a bit of patience and the right equipment, the benefits outweigh any extra hassle.

Plus, homemade candy and cookies make great, one-of-a-kind gifts, especially for those hard-to-shop-for family members.


Makes 40 cookies (2-inch cookies)

For the cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2½ cups all-purpose flour

Decorating sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

1. Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt together at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about three minutes. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the vanilla. Add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer on and off a few times to start blending it in.

2. With the mixer on the lowest speed, continue to mix in the flour, scraping the bowl as necessary, until you have what look like nuggets and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and finish blending the dough by pulling off small hunks of it and pushing each hunk across the work table with the heel of your hand. Then gather the smooth dough into a ball, divide it in half and press each half into a disk.

3. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough between two sheets of kitchen parchment or waxed paper to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Slide the paper-sandwiched dough onto a baking sheet or cutting board (you can stack the pieces of dough) and freeze for at least an hour. At this stage, the also dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to two months.

4. When you’re ready to bake, set a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

5. Remove one piece of dough from the freezer, remove the parchment from the dough and cut out cookies. As you cut them, place them on the lined baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. If you won’t be decorating the cookies, lightly sprinkle them with sugar. Save the scraps to combine with the scraps from the other piece of dough.

6. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and on the bottoms. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack, wait a couple of minutes, then lift the cookies off the sheet with an offset spatula and transfer to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheet between batches. Gather any scraps together, reroll them, chill and make more cookies.

— Recipe adapted by The Associated Press from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking Chez Moi,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)


Makes 2 to 3 dozen balls

18 sheets plain graham crackers (use the flavored ones if you want)

2 cups creamy peanut butter (crunchy works, too)

¾ cup (1½ sticks) salted butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

1 (12-ounce) bag Candy Melts, melting chocolate or almond bark (or a bag of semisweet chocolate chips combined with 2 tablespoons shortening or cooking paraffin)

1. Using a food processor or a bag with a rolling pin, finely crush the graham crackers. (Don’t skimp on the crushing. Any chunks of crackers will make it hard to roll out the final ball.)

2. In a large bowl, use a handheld or stand-up mixer to thoroughly combine graham crackers, peanut butter, butter and confectioners sugar.

3. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Using your hands, shape the peanut-butter mixture into 1-inch balls and place on the sheet. Once you’ve formed all the balls, place the baking sheet in the freezer for about an hour, or until the balls are firm.

4. When ready to coat the balls, melt the chocolate in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a double boiler. Use a spoon to coat the balls, one at a time, and return to the baking sheet. Refrigerate to help the balls set, and serve.

— Addie Broyles, Austin American-Statesman


Makes 3 to 4 dozen

¾ cup rendered bacon fat (from cooking 1½ to 2 pounds bacon)

1 cup white sugar, plus extra for rolling

¼ cup molasses or cane syrup

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners.

2. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine all ingredients. Pulse until a smooth, stiff dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to 1 week.

3. Put a thick layer of sugar into a shallow bowl. Use your hands to break off a 1-tablespoon lump of dough and roll into a ball between your palms. Drop into the sugar, roll to coat and place on prepared pans. Repeat with remaining dough, placing dough balls 2 inches apart; they will spread out as they cook.

4. Bake until flat and dark brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough. Store cookies in an airtight container.

— Julia Moskin, The New York Times


Makes 3 to 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, preferably cultured, softened at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups unsweetened peanut butter, creamy or chunky

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 cups all-purpose flour

Coarse sugar and flaky sea salt for sprinkling (or use kosher salt and sugar)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy, at least three minutes. Add the salt, the peanut butter and the eggs, and mix. Add the flour and mix just until well combined, with no white flour showing.

2. Using a small cookie scoop (about 2 teaspoons capacity), scoop dough onto prepared pans. The tops will be rounded but craggy. The cookies will not spread much or change shape when they bake, so they can be placed quite close together, but leave room for air circulation so they can brown.

3. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons coarse sugar with 1 tablespoon sea salt. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sugar-salt mixture, getting it into the crags and crannies. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until cookies are set and golden brown. Carefully lift or slide off baking sheets and cool on racks. Store in layers separated by parchment paper, in airtight containers.

— Julia Moskin, The New York Times


Makes about 5 dozen

For the cookies:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-process

For the coating:

8 to 12 candy canes

About 16 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

¼ to ½ teaspoon peppermint extract

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1. In the bowl of a mixer, cream sugar and butter together until very fluffy, at least three minutes. Add salt, egg, peppermint extract and 1 tablespoon water, and mix until smooth. Mix or sift flour and cocoa together, then add to bowl and mix until combined. The dough will be very stiff (it can be made one or two days ahead and kept refrigerated).

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Using your hands, break off pieces of dough the size of walnuts (about 2 teaspoons) and roll into balls. Place 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or nonstick liners. Use the bottom of a glass to flatten each ball into a round, 1/8-inch thick. (Dust the bottom of the glass with cocoa if it sticks to the dough.)

3. Bake about 15 minutes, until cookies are flattened, firm and beginning to crisp. Remove from baking sheets and let cool on wire racks.

4. Place half the candy canes in a thick, sealed plastic bag and use a heavy skillet or rolling pin to pulverize them into a mix of pink candy-cane dust and striped red-and-white bits. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining candy canes. Set aside in a cool place.

5. To coat the cookies, melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over barely simmering water. When smooth, stir in ¼ teaspoon of each extract and the coconut oil. Taste and add more peppermint extract if needed. Keep chocolate warm and fluid, over hot water. (Or temper chocolate, adding the extracts after tempering.)

6. Working one cookie at a time, use a spatula or shallow slotted spoon to submerge the cookie in chocolate, gently pressing it down to the bottom of the bowl. Slowly lift it out, letting chocolate drip evenly off the sides to make a smooth, thin coating on top. Gently shake off excess chocolate and place cookies on a rack to cool. After about 15 minutes, start checking to see if the chocolate has set. Touch the center with a finger; when chocolate is firm, almost cool, and only a faint mark remains, sprinkle tops evenly with candy cane dust and bits. (If you do it too soon, the candy cane bits will begin to melt.)

7. Store in the refrigerator in airtight containers, in layers separated by parchment paper.

— Julia Moskin, The New York Times


Makes 18 to 24 bars

For the first layer:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ tablespoons instant coffee crystals

For the second layer:

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla or dark rum

1½ cups coarsely chopped hazelnuts, almonds or other mixed nuts

½ to 1 tablespoon sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, brown sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring between additions. Add instant coffee crystals and blend until well incorporated.

2. Pat batter into ungreased 9- by 13-inch baking pan in an even layer. Bake until edges are lightly browned and center is puffy, 12 to 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, stir sweetened condensed milk and butter over low heat until butter melts. The mixture will thicken and become smooth. Stir in vanilla or rum, remove from heat and let sit until bottom layer is done baking.

4. Sprinkle nuts over baked bottom layer and pour hot sweetened condensed milk mixture evenly over nuts, using spatula to spread. Return to oven and bake until top is golden and bubbling, 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately sprinkle desired amount of sea salt over bubbling toffee top. Cool slightly in pan and cut into bars. Bars can be kept up to one week in airtight container.

— Tampa Bay Times


Makes about 3 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1½ teaspoons peppermint extract

2 egg yolks

8 drops green food coloring (more if you want deeper color)

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:

¾ cup dark chocolate chips

3 tablespoons whipping cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

18 Andes mints, unwrapped and cut in half diagonally

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

2. In a large bowl, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in peppermint extract, egg yolks and food coloring until blended.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, add flour mixture to moist mixture until well blended.

4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Using handle end of wooden spoon, press a deep well into the center of each cookie.

5. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until set. Reshape wells with handle end of wooden spoon. Cool two minutes, then remove from baking sheets to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

6. In a medium microwaveable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, cream and butter on high for a minute, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

7. Fill each cookie well with about 1 teaspoon chocolate mixture. Garnish with candy pieces. Let stand about an hour until chocolate is set.

— Tampa Bay Times


Makes about 30 cookies

1¼ cup unsalted butter (2½ sticks), softened

2/3 cup/ sugar

21/3 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup/ finely ground, roasted almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup good-quality raspberry jam, preferably seedless

Powdered sugar for dusting

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking pans with parchment or silicone baking mats.

2. In a bowl or stand mixer, mix butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, cinnamon and salt. Slowly add dry ingredients, a half-cup at a time, to butter mixture.

3. Divide dough into three balls. Place each ball between parchment paper (nonstick works best) and roll into a thin circle, about 11 inches in diameter and just over 1/8-inch thick. Refrigerate flat for at least 15 minutes.

4. Working quickly with one sheet of dough, remove top layer of parchment, then flip onto a clean sheet and remove the bottom layer. Using a tree-shaped cookie cutter, cut 30 shapes for the bottoms of the cookies and place on prepared baking sheets. Reserve scraps to reuse for more cookies.

5. Bake cookie bottoms for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown. Rest for a couple of minutes on the tray, then carefully transfer to a cooking rack. Repeat the process to create the tops, using a pastry tip or a straw to cut out five to seven holes on the trees to resemble ornaments. Open any holes that close during baking.

6. Meanwhile, melt jam with 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar and boil lightly for about a minute. Cool slightly. Assemble cookies by flipping the bottoms, spreading them with a scant teaspoon of jam, dusting the tops lightly with powdered sugar and then gently pressing the tops onto the bottoms. Store airtight between layers of wax paper or parchment for three days. Freeze for up to a month.

— Kim Severson, The New York Times


Makes 24 cookies

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

¾ cup dark cocoa powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

5 ounces 72 percent chocolate, preferably with nibs, chopped

1½ cups chopped, toasted pecans

4 large egg whites, room temperature

½ cup sugar cubes, crushed, for the tops

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir just until incorporated. (Do not overmix.) You can use a stand mixer on low or a sturdy spoon and a large bowl.

2. Crush sugar cubes and place in a shallow bowl. Using a small ice cream scoop or a melon baller, spoon up dough to create a scoop about the size of a golf ball. Lightly dip the top of the cookie into the sugar and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.

3. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 12 to 15 minutes. Rotate sheets if using more than one at a time. The cookies should be dry and crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside and capped with a nice sprinkling of chunky sugar.

4. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. Can be stored in an airtight container for three days.

— Kim Severson, The New York Times


Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1¾ cups flour, plus a little more if batter is too thin

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¼ pound butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon anise extract

1. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat eggs and sugar until blended and slightly fluffy, three to five minutes. Slowly add cooled, melted butter, vanilla and anise and mix until incorporated well. Mix in dry ingredients a cup or so at a time, until batter is smooth but thick.

2. Using two spoons, one to scoop up the batter and the other to ease it onto the iron, drop batter onto the center of a well-heated pizzelle maker. For smaller, 3-inch pizzelles, use a generous teaspoon of batter. For the 5-inch, use about a tablespoon.

3. Cook for 30 to 40 seconds, or until just lightly brown. Gently remove to a rack or plate to cool.

— Kim Severson, The New York Times