Give the Gift of Cookies
These time-saving treats still taste—and look—fantastic.
Breezing through the grocery aisles come fall, it becomes obvious that the serious holiday baking season begins before Halloween, as shelves are stocked with seasonal baking products, like candied fruits, marzipan, whole nuts and colorful sugars. Baking takes on new significance during the holidays when many of us want to give a homemade gift from the kitchen, and for a lot of people, cookies are at the top of the list.
We all have a gazillion things we want to accomplish, and we want to enjoy the holidays without spending hours in the kitchen. For cookie givers and lovers, why not choose cookies that can be made ahead of time, and either frozen or stored? Bar cookies and drop cookies are the easiest and fastest to make, but how about a basic biscotti cookie dough that can deliver four flavors? Now that’s a time saver in my book. Biscotti are durable, dry cookies that often accompany espresso or cappuccino, and they’re great travelers to send to family and friends.
Sliced-and-baked cookies, such as shortbread, are also great keepers, and tri-colored spumoni cookies are fun to make with the whole family.
To get the most out of the time and effort that goes into baking, here are a few tips:
- Use good-quality baking sheets, both rimmed and un-rimmed.
- Use parchment paper to line the baking sheets; this eliminates the need to butter the sheets and makes removing the cookies effortless.
- After the cookies are baked, don’t be in a hurry to remove them from the baking sheets. Let them cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to cooling racks.
- To freeze cookies, wrap them in groups of four or six, and place them in freezer bags. This will allow you to take out what you need and keep the rest frozen.
Giving is the best part of making cookies; clear cellophane bags filled with cookies and tied with a pretty ribbon is my go-to presentation. And your reward for all this effort? You’ll know.
Chocolate-y Coconut Bars
Sinfully rich, these chewy chocolate and coconut bars are perfect for holiday giving.
Tuck some into a pretty tin or box along with the recipe for a really homey and appreciated gift.
2 cups crushed graham crackers
1½ cups whole shelled walnuts, divided
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 14-ounce package coconut
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces dark chocolate, broken into pieces
8 ounces milk chocolate, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the graham cracker crumbs, ½ cup of the nuts and the brown sugar in a food processor, and process until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the butter through the feed tube, and pulse several times to combine the ingredients.
2. Press the mixture into a foil-lined 13-inch-by-9-inch-by-2-inch pan, leaving an overhang, and bake for 10 minutes.
3. Combine the coconut and condensed milk. Remove the crust from the oven, and spread the coconut mixture evenly over the crust. Coarsely chop the remaining walnuts and spread them over the coconut. Bake for 10 minutes.
4. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, and set it in a pan over simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt. Stir in the vanilla.
5. Remove the pan from the oven. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top. Refrigerate for several hours.
6. Lift the foil out of the pan and peel it away. Cut into bars.
Four in One Holiday Biscotti
Biscotti are all the rage right now, and they are a perfect long-keeping cookie to make ahead. In Italian, “biscotti” means “twice cooked” because the cookies are baked first as a loaf, then cut and baked again to harden. Using this one basic dough, you can get four distinct biscotti. Wrap some up in cellophane bags for your cookie-coffee or wine-dunking friends. Biscotti can be made a month ahead.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs
3 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup diced dried fruit, such as apricots, cherries, raisins or figs
½ cup slivered almonds or hazelnuts
1 tablespoon brandy
4 tablespoons baking cocoa
½ cup chopped white chocolate
½ cup diced candied orange peel
1. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or in a bowl with a handheld mixer until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, on medium speed.
2. On a sheet of wax paper, sift together the flour, baking powder and
salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and blend well on medium speed.
3. Transfer half the dough from the mixer to a bowl. Mix the vanilla into the remaining dough on low speed. Scoop half the vanilla-flavored dough onto a sheet of wax paper. Set aside.
4. To the dough remaining in the mixer bowl, mix in the dried fruit. Remove from the mixer bowl. With floured hands, form the dough into a log about 12–14 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Flatten the roll slightly, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
5. Return the remaining vanilla-flavored dough to the mixer bowl and mix in the nuts. Form, wrap and refrigerate as above.
6. Return the unflavored dough to the mixer, and on low speed, blend in the brandy and cocoa until the dough is a uniform chocolate color. Scoop half the dough onto a clean sheet of wax paper. To the dough remaining in the mixer bowl, add the white chocolate and mix well. Form, wrap and refrigerate as above.
7. Return the remaining chocolate dough to the mixer bowl and mix in the orange peel. Form, wrap and refrigerate as above. You now have four logs of flavored dough chilling.
8. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap and place two logs, spaced 3 inches apart, on each sheet.
9. Bake the logs for about 12–15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes before slicing them crosswise on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick slices.
10. Place the biscotti back on the baking sheets and toast them in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until they are lightly brown and dry. Remove and cool.
Optional Biscotti Glaze
½ cup of coarsely chopped white chocolate
1 tablespoon corn syrup
- Bring 1½ cups of water to a simmer in a double boiler. Turn off the heat.
- Place the white chocolate and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl, and place it in the top of the double boiler. Allow the chocolate to melt, then stir to blend and cool.
- Dip the ends of biscotti in the chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off.
- Allow the biscotti to dry thoroughly on a cooling rack, and then store the cookies in tightly sealed plastic or tin containers.
Note: Milk or dark chocolate can also be used for glazing.
These fun-to-make spumoni cookies were given to me by a friend, and I could not eat just one. These are called “spumoni cookies” after the ice cream of the same name because of their pink, white and brown colors. Before baking, the dough is frozen and then cut into slices.
Instead of food coloring, natural beet powder was substituted, and is available online or in health-food stores.
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons sifted beet powder (or substitute 3–4 drops red food coloring)
½ cup sweetened, shredded coconut, finely chopped
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
- Line a 10½-inch-by-4-inch-by-2-inch loaf (or similar) pan with plastic wrap, allowing excess to overhang the sides by 2 inches. Set aside.
- Use a hand mixer to beat the butter with the sugar until well combined and pale-yellow looking. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat in.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well blended.
- Divide the dough into thirds. Add the almond extract and beet powder (or food coloring) to 1/3 of the dough, and mix well to evenly distribute the color. Spread the dough into the loaf pan. Add the coconut to 1/3 of the dough, mix well and, with a rubber spatula, spread the dough evenly over first layer. Add the chocolate syrup to the last 1/3 of the dough, blend it in evenly and spread it over the coconut layer. Cover with the overhanging plastic wrap, and freeze for 2–3 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the pan, lift the dough out and place it on a cutting board. Remove the plastic wrap. With a sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half. Then cut the dough crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space the cookies 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
- Bake until the edges are lightly browned, 12–14 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.
Snow White Nut Balls
Makes 2½ dozen
These little, nutty nuggets melt like snow in your mouth and are a fun addition to a holiday cookie tray.
1 stick butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup finely ground walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts
1½ cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually and on low power, beat in the flour. Stir in the nuts.
- With lightly floured hands, break off small pieces of dough the size of a whole walnut and form balls. Place the balls on parchment-lined baking sheets, about ½ inch apart.
- Bake for about 12–15 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool the cookies slightly.
- Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Roll the cookies, a few at a time, in the sugar to coat them well. Let them cool completely.
- Wrap the cookies in groups of four, and place them in freezer tins or plastic bags. Label and freeze for up to one month. When ready to use, simply defrost.
Mom’s Date Nut Bars
For just about every holiday, we all have favorite family recipes that take center stage, and it just wouldn’t be Christmas in my house without my mom’s date nut bars. These can be frozen.
½ cup plus 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest 1 large orange
2 cups diced dates (10 ounces)
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square pan and dust with additional flour; alternatively, line the pan with aluminum foil, and butter and flour it. Set aside.
- In a bowl, sift together ½ cup of the flour, the baking powder and the salt.
- In another bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and blend well. Add the vanilla and orange zest. Fold in the flour mixture.
- In another small bowl, toss the dates and nuts with the remaining 1½ tablespoons of the flour. This will prevent the dates and nuts from sinking to the bottom of the pan while baking.
- Fold the date mixture into the batter.
- Spread batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown on top and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, and cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
- Cut into squares, and sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar.
Note: These can be made ahead and frozen without the powdered sugar for up to three months.